ABOVE: A teenage Justin Bieber was caught on tape making a racist joke. Is it right to hold someone accountable for a remark they made when they were a teenager?
TORONTO — Canadian pop star Justin Bieber has apologized for telling a racist joke that was caught on video.
The apology comes after UK tabloid The Sun posted the five-year-old video clip, in which Bieber tells a joke with a racial epithet in the punchline.
In a statement issued Sunday, the 20-year-old singer said he didn’t fully understand “the power of certain words and how they can hurt” when he was younger.
“I thought it was ok to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn’t realize at the time that it wasn’t funny and that in fact my actions were continuing the ignorance,” he said.
“Thanks to friends and family I learned from my mistakes and grew up and apologized for those wrongs. Now that these mistakes from the past have become public I need to apologize again to all those I have offended.”
One of the first to come to Bieber’s defence Sunday was his former bodyguard Kenny Hamilton.
“We all make jokes about people’s size, look, or race,” tweeted Hamilton, who is black. “That doesn’t mean it’s right but comedians make millions of dollars profiting off of these jokes. If someone is racist or prejudice you would know from a persons actions. Not because of a joke a 15 year old says.”
Hamilton continued: “What I do know whole heartedly is @justinbieber is not prejudice nor is he racist. He wasn’t raised that way and his family isn’t either. Yes he said some bad jokes and I know if he could he would take back what was said. He’s grown a lot in 5 years and as we all grow we learn.
In the video, a 15-year-old Bieber asks: “Why are black people afraid of chainsaws?” A friend off camera is heard warning Bieber, “Don’t even say it” but the singer delivers the punchline, “Run n*****, n*****, n*****, n*****, n*****,” while making the sound of a chainsaw.
Bieber is signed to a record label owned by singer Usher, who is black, and he has collaborated with a number of black artists.
In January, Bieber’s friend Xavier Smith (aka rapper Lil Za) was arrested on a drug charge when police executed a search warrant at Bieber’s California home. That same month, Bieber and his friend Khalil Sharief were arrested in Miami Beach on suspicion of DUI.
Both Smith and Sharief are black.
In his statement Sunday, Bieber said he takes his friendships “with people of all cultures very seriously and I apologize for offending or hurting anyone with my childish and inexcusable mistake.
“I was a kid then and I am a man now who knows my responsibility to the world and to not make that mistake again.”
Bieber called the joke a “reckless and immature mistake.”
He added: “Ignorance has no place in our society and I hope the sharing of my faults can prevent others from making the same mistake in the future. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say but telling the truth is always what’s right.”
BELOW: Watch the video clip of Justin Bieber telling a racist joke when he was 15. WARNING: Contains explicit language.