Slate has suspended Mike Pesca and his podcast, “The Gist,” after he argued that non-blacks can use the n-word in certain contexts during a Slack chat with other employees. The left-leaning online magazine suspended Pesca because his remarks were allegedly insensitive to “the lived experience of colleagues whose experience is different from ours.”
Last week, Slate employees were discussing Donald G McNeil Jr’s resignation from The New York Times for using the N-word during a talk about race while guiding a high school student’s trip to Peru in 2019.
According to the Times, McNeil used the word “in the context of a conversation about racist language.” However, the paper did formally discipline McNeil for using the term in 2019. However, McNeil felt obliged to leave the paper after The Daily Beast published a story about the trip last week.
As reported by the Defector, during the conversation, Pesca said that McNeil should not have left the Times. “McNeil’s journalism made the Times more valuable to more Americans than having ousted him in 2019 would have,” Pesca argued.
His argument resulted in a back and forth between him and his colleagues, who were against his argument. In an attempt to justify his point, Pesca wrote:
“Here’s my position. Expressing the views, not the word, the views he did on that trip are not fire-able. Worthy of a talking to or a ‘what are you doing as a representative of the Times Don?’ But nothing requirement much angst among management or staff? Or no? – should the Times discipline staffers who question the idea of White Supremacy or who express retrograde ideas on mass incarceration?”
He followed up with: “The question is: Is an out loud utterance of that word, in a work environment, fire-able, censurable, etc… Even as a point of clarification to a question exactly about the use of that word. I thought not necessarily. I agreed with John McWhorter. But that’s (notice the date) 2019 thinking. McNeil was originally disciplined in 2019. Just a little while later society seems to have rendered a different verdict.”
Some of his colleagues did not like that he was defending McNeil.
“Feel like it’s weird that everyone’s dancing around the point that working in an environment where white people feel empowered to say the n-word in service of whatever argument they want to make is incredibly hostile for black people,” said Rachelle Hampton, a black employee at Slate.
In his final point, Pesca said:
“I don’t think it’s proper to use it in casual conversation and I’m in no position to tell Black NY Times workers that they shouldn’t be worried it’s going to pop out of a colleague’s mouth at some point. If you want my opinion it’s that there are some limited reasons why a non African American journalist or professor to use the word when conveying a quote in the name of clarity or factualness […] But it’s not a comfortable point to even pursue right now. If I had the opposite opinion I know a hundred ways I could make the opinion I actually have seem horrible and racist, and you know what, maybe it is.”
The conversation, which lasted hours, was eventually shut down by Slate’s CEO Dan Check.
The next day, Slate’s editor-in-chief Jared Hohlt condemned Pesca’s argument saying, “While we are a workplace where people argue all the time, it’s also a workplace where we must think very hard about the lived experience of colleagues whose experience is different than ours.”
On Friday, Pesca was told that he would be on a one week suspension without pay. However, speaking to the Times, he said that on Monday he was suspended indefinitely pending an investigation.
Speaking to the Defector, a Slate employee said, “I feel outraged,” while referring to Pesca’s arguments on the McNeil discussion. “I cannot believe I had to watch him enthusiastically provoke people on whether or not it is appropriate to use a racist slur,” the anonymous staffer added.
Pesca, who has worked at the current affairs, politics and culture online magazine for seven years, told the Times that he felt “heartsick” for hurting his co-workers. However, he added that, “I hate the idea of things that are beyond debate and things that cannot be said.”
Former chairman and editor-in-chief of Slate, Jacob Weisberg, argued that Pesca’s actions did not merit disciplinary action.
“I don’t think he did anything that merits discipline or consequences, and I think it’s an example of a kind of overreaction and a lack of judgment and perspective that is unfortunately spreading,” Weisberg said.
A spokesperson for Slate confirmed that Pesca had been indefinitely suspended, and also his podcast, “The Gist,” which covers current affairs and culture.