#CancelColbert, Probably Not What You Thought It Was

cancelcolbertWhen President Obama joked that Suey Park and Co’s hashtag CancelColbert worked, I grimaced. Not that I don’t like Stephen Colbert (I’ve been a fan since he and Carrell were on The Daily Show and watched the Report religiously) nor that I’m not happy about him replacing Letterman (I’m glad he outlasted Leno’s generic, bloated show). No, I squirmed in my seat because I realized that while so many mainstream liberals took #CancelColbert seriously – and boy did they ever – they did not understand its message. For CC wasn’t about getting Colbert removed, it was about asking why White people feel it is fine to mock one race or ethnicity for the sake of another, as if racism is a zero-sum game.

I find it necessary under this rubric to clarify some misconceptions about #CancelColbert. I should note that while I travel in many of the same circles as the organizers of this and other e-activism movements, I do not speak for them nor do I want it to appear as such. Here, I am a progressive speaking to other progressives about what I have witnessed.

So, on #CancelColbert:

About context of THE tweet. I knew the context of the original Colbert Report tweet – a joke that I’ve witnessed Colbert do a couple times previously and felt ill about – within seconds of seeing it on the fateful night. I knew it was directed to Human Scumbucket Dan Snyder – he whom loves to make a profit from the genocidal slur of Native Americans while claiming to “honor” them. I know that his mascot and team name do damage to First Nations people. But I also knew, as did Suey Park and many others, that Stephen Colbert mocked one racial minority to bring attention to another. He didn’t need to. Justice is not a zero-sum game. The organizers understood the context of the joke, but THE tweet made the injustice of the joke stand out.

On The Joke. Writing for comedy is hard precisely because you throw so much material away. As an educator and a writer, I toss out a lot of lines and ideas, but nowhere near as many as comedy writers for successful shows (I’m guessing that CBS sitcoms are the exception. They go for the easy jokes). I can guarantee that The Colbert Show writers spend a lot of time crafting their lines, graphics, and deliveries. But sometimes, you have to just say no. This “joke” is one of them. Colbert is brilliant and so is his staff; he attracts the best. Would it have been so hard to craft a bit mocking Snyder and his petty racism without victimizing other racial minorities to do so? Yes, they’d have to work a little bit harder for it – but I expect nothing less from TCR.

On the hashtag itself. I and a lot of people who saw these events unfold were hesitant about using the CancelColbert hashtag for a variety of reasons. Suey Park is a genius mobilizer who knows that she needs to be confrontational and even exaggerate in order to get movements trending on Twitter. That’s just the nature of the game. But in this case, I think she may have overextended it. The hashtag was never meant to be taken literally, so it was third-degree ironic to see White people explain that Colbert shouldn’t be fired and that his detractors don’t understand irony. In this case, the potency of the hashtag overtook the message, which is a shame, because the message needs to be heard still now.

About that message. I want to remind that I am speaking from my experience and what I took out of this ordeal. Others had other messages, but the prominent one I saw was simply this: Liberals and Leftists should stop assuming that just because we’re not conservatives that we don’t also practice racism and sexism. This message became clear in the aftermath of the popularity of the movement, when Ms. Park received racially-charged death and rape threats from White progressives and when a host on HuffPost Live said that she deserved and brought on the threats upon herself (this, my friends, is Rape Culture). Since White Supremacy and Male Supremacy are co-founders of the United States, it’s not just Republicans we need to worry about. It’s a part of our society and needs to be interrogated within our ranks.

About jokes. You know who says “Hey, lighten up; it was just a joke”? Bullies. Anti-Asian jokes in the US are nothing new, from jokes about eyes to jokes about their speech patterns and accents to the assumptions that every Eastern Asian is a martial arts expert – they have all heard them before. People know when a joke insults them. My daughter does, I do, you do. To tell someone that they shouldn’t be insulted because of intent is reminiscent of the school and workplace bullies we’ve all encountered (unless we were those bullies). As union activist Kenzo Shibata puts it“[S]ometimes it’s hard to tell when someone is laughing at you or with you when the punchline is basically the same punchline an actual racist would tell.”

About satire. A number of white progressives defending Colbert said that what he was doing was satire, a special kind of joke immune from the status of regular jokes. In an effort to prove their point, some pointed to Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Swift’s satire directed at British treatment of the Irish? Was there a section where he argued that the British should instead be focusing on oppressing India and followed that up with anti-Indian jokes? No. Swift kept the focus squarely on the murderous actions of the British Empire on Irish people. Keep the focus on Snyder and the satire would’ve worked as a weapon against those in power above. Focus it on those below and it ceases to be satire and now becomes taunting.

On the R*dsk*ns. The #CC crowd was and is fighting on the side of solidarity and intersectionality. When Ms. Park started the hashtag, she got the blessings of Native American activists she is in regular contact with. Park and crew are a diverse group of twitter organizers and supporters, mostly women, mostly of color, who hold some serious clinics on feminism and racism, on classism, appropriation, transphobia, queerphobia, gentrification, genocide, colonialism, prison culture, and street harassment. And while the rest of the mainstream media, which blew up and misapplied this movement, were out throwing Super Bowl parties, these feminists and womanists were holding Dan Snyder accountable for his bullshit. This includes Ms. Park, who lent her blessings and tweets to the #NotYourMascot hashtag, inspired by her own #NotYourAsianSidekick trend.

On progressive harassment. Again, Ms. Park got harassed. This happens when people from oppressed groups speak out about their mistreatment at the hands of the majority. It’s a tool to keep them in their proper place – something we expect from conservatives. Talk about how rape jokes are horrible or against Rape Culture or against religious persecution and then watch the right wingers (like Adam Baldwin and other reprobates from Breitbart.com) ferociously and dangerously prove the point. It’s to be expected for marginalized people groups when they confront those in power, but it’s not acceptable. Online threats are still threats. This shouldn’t be expected to come from progressives – but yet many of those throwing these racial and sexual violent insults at Ms. Park were White progressives. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. Last year while grieving over the Trayvon Martin verdict, my black friends were constantly reprimanded by white progressives who told them to get over it; that not all white people act like George Zimmerman; that it’s not about race, it’s about economics; that they should move on to more important topics.

White people, we grew up believing that it is our place to tell others how they should feel and that we should correct them. We rarely questioned this holdout from White Privilege and White Supremacy. We progressives need to give that Whitesplaining a quick kick in the head and remove it from our spaces. So when People of Color say they feel disrespected, threatened, or hurt by something aimed at (intentionally or not) their race or ethnicity, the least we can do is listen before we explain how they should or shouldn’t react.

jasdye

When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!

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  • Oh please! We’ve got a black president, one that Colbert voted for! This is an example of ignorant folks finding a reason to continue playing the victim card to make themselves feel like everyone owes them something. SO BORED of the victim card and the assholes that play it. As if Colbert would ever ‘mock’ someone based on their skin color. RIDICULOUS, and people need to get over their petty differences. This article is PREPOSTEROUS, and the author, needs to get her head checked.

    • Hey, glad you could join in. Thanks for turning in your Victim Card Card.

      Also, I’m a man, dweedle-dot.

    • What on earth does having a black President have to do with anything?

      Especially given the number of racially-charged attacks thrown at him?

      How does that even slightly relate to a matter of anti-Asian “humor”? Am I to understand that all non-whites are the same to you?

    • William Carr

      WHAT ??

      Stephen Colbert is a RENOWNED Conservative, why would he vote for Obama?

      {snrk}

  • Kiba

    Hey, lighten up. It was just a joke. SERIOUSLY!

    • hahaha.

      Bully.

      • Guest

        hahaha.

        Hack.

  • James82

    Nope, sorry a quick scan of Suey’s twitter and various Internet postings shows it was exactly what I thought it was. A spoiled privileged child lashing out because she either didn’t get the joke or more likely was and still is trying to cling to that tiny amount of Internet fame that comes with being a “professional umbrage-taker” as Josh Zepps so accurately dubbed her.

    • Obviously she didn’t get the joke cuz Women of Color are so slow when it comes to white comedy. #amirite???????

      • James82

        Nope you’re wrong. It would seem that most Women of Color and everybody else got the joke. Thus the spectacular failure of #cancelcolbert. Only the professionally outraged seemed to miss it.

      • Yeah #CancelColbert failed cuz white people still didn’t get it.

      • James82

        Nope #cancelcolbert failed because it was a dumb idea. Based on failing to understand satire at best, but more likely because almost everyone saw it for what it probably was, opportunistic self promotion.

      • Uh huh. Cuz no one is in it for self-promotion. Colbert is sooooo unselfish!

      • James82

        He’s not the one attempting to hijack a legitimate cause (the renaming of the offensively bamedWashington football team) in order to get more exposure and possibly more paid speaking engagements. He’s at least open about being a right wing parody. Unlike Ms. Park who I truly hope is hiding the fact that she is in reality a parody of SJWs.

      • Ms Park has been openly fighting against the Washington team as well. Thanks for playing.

      • James yah you so know all about Suey’s work. Oh wait you’re ignoring #NotYourMascot.

        Are you being open about being a parody of a progressive dudebro?

      • “opportunistic self promotion”?

        Because she’s making millions off this, right? Or is it the rape and death threats she was looking for? I’m not sure…

        But these are the same claims made against ANY person of color that doesn’t kowtow to the White majority. Sorry, not not not buying it.

      • James82

        Thanks for playing yourself champ. Gain 4 SJW points. Only 12 more and maybe you’ll get a shout out on her Twitter feed.

        The rape and death threats are beyond reprehensible and do not belong I’m any civilised society or discussion.

        However if you watched her feed during the brief height of her latest crusade she certainly seemed more interested in how her hash tags were trending then in any actual good she was doing.

        And it could be quite reasonably argued that her attempts to stir up outrage over satire clearly took away from the positive impact shining a light on the racist name could have made.

        Good night for now but keeping fighting the “good fight” in the most ineffective and possibly counter productive way possible.

      • William Carr

        Nope, it was just HER. Nothing to do with her background; she just didn’t get the joke, and didn’t realize Stephen Colbert doesn’t control that Twitter Account: Comedy Central does.

  • Gurrett William Beigle

    I do believe jokes are immune from reprimand if they are sincere in not being prejudiced. I have enjoyed jokes about groups that I belong to that could be seen as offensive. the difference between offensive and prejudiced is the context in which the joke was said and the intent of the person telling the joke.

    • Intent is not magic. It does not relieve the teller of causing harm nor of the listener of being harmed.

      • William Carr

        Actually, “Intent” is the heart of the Law.

  • guest

    You really missed it. Colbert wasn’t mocking a race, he was mocking a racist. He mocks old white men more than anyone else.

    • Hipster racism is still racism. Period.

      • James82

        Indeed it is. Ms. Park as evidenced by her writing is certainly a racist.

      • Yes. Her writing shows she wants to colonize whole groups of people and put them in chains and enslave them, and then deny that it ever happened! Right on the $$$ partner!

      • James82

        To the exact same extent that Stephen Colbert does.

        No her writing shows she has an inherent dislike or even hatred for a certain race and lumps them all together based on her preconceived stereotypes.

        I’ll wait patiently while you try to redefine racism to only include institutional racism.

      • uMad, bro!

      • James82

        Not even slightly. I’m more amused by the author and others desperately trying to justify a bad idea and failed campaign in a sad attempt to acrue more SJW points.

      • Yes SJW points so we can get into SJW! OOOOOhhhh yeah! Like that sound of that!

      • She doesn’t hate white people. She hates colonialism through whiteness. Nice try.

      • James82

        Nice try yourself. She makes broad generalisations about people and states people can’t speak to an issue because of race. She is a racist. Luckily she is not in a position of power to act on it.

      • Why is it so hard to tell the difference between White Progressives and White Conservatives?

        Oh, because most White people don’t like to acknowledge that there is a distinct advantage to being white in a postcolonial world. And so your definitions of what makes one racist are actually more similar than you pretend. You’re *thinking* of prejudice. You COULD argue that, but I find it odd that she’s labeled a racist but no one talks about the racist joke that was played in the first place. So we make this all about Suey Park, again, and not about using jokes that hurt and oppress Asian Americans.

      • Sandy Greer

        >Why is it so hard to tell the difference between White Progressives and White Conservatives?

        ^^^Not sure, but…I think I’ve just been insulted. Or is that supposed to be a joke? One of those jokes I’m not supposed to take offense at?

        Now, I do acknowledge an ‘advantage’. But, of course, I’m white, so… No reason my (accident of birth) skin color should stop any generalizations you’d care to make about ‘whites’ like me.

        Still, I can’t help feeling dismissed. Too bad, too. ‘Cause I used to enjoy posting your articles, Jasdye; thought you a ‘cut above’.

        I stayed away from this one, because I don’t watch Colbert, don’t tweet, and thus: Know nothing of this controversy. Took a peek this AM, saw the OP by HypG, and came back to see what you’d done with it. I approve, BTW 😉

        But I am surprised, and disconcerted at the generalization. So I said my piece, FWIW

      • That wasn’t meant as a directive against all or most White Progressives (I identify as White and Bi-racial/Puerto Rican), Sandy.

        James82 sounds like White Conservatives who call the likes of Jesse Jackson “the real racists”.

        The pushback that I’m seeing from many White Progressives whenever talking about racism posed against Asian Americans these last few weeks puts me at a position where I feel the question needs to be asked. “Name and shame the devil.” Here, the devil isn’t white people, but unexamined white privilege.

      • Sandy Greer

        I understand. And know you intended no insult.

        I found interesting the exchange between you & Gurrett Wm Beigle. He thought jokes (free of intent to harm) inoffensive. You said “Intent is not magic”, etc. I agree with you both. If that’s possible.

        So I know you meant no harm.

        I just hate being generalized, is all. It’s like I’m not even there – not seen.

        But no biggie. I said my piece. You ‘got’ it. I’ll be back, some other article. One that’s not over my head, like this one. 😉 I told you before, you’re a ‘deep thinker’ – a real Intellectual. I admire that.

        You be sure to have a good night. And thanks for getting back to me so soon.

      • Yeah, I think that we can assume the best out of people and we can show them their error or how they’ve caused hurt, but if they continue to injure but claim they didn’t *mean to*, it says something. All that to say, what I *try* to do is consider criticisms. And if I think I hurt someone needlessly or just out of my own insensitivity, I try to correct that.

      • James82

        Hey look you’re wrong again. This is starting to be a trend. I have never referred to Jesse Jackson as one of the “the real racists”. He has shown himself to have the courage of his convictions and faced real hardship while standing up against real oppression.

        People like Ms. Park simply sit in the comfort of there dorm rooms or family homes and spew divisive racial stereotypes while sacrificing nothing.

        I’m saddened that people like her distract from real issues that need fixing like the biased legal system, gender pay equality, women’s reproductive choice, LGBTQ rights and even the fixing of the Washington team’s name because she was offended by a joke attacking a racist.

        Just as sad are people like you who defend her actions and divisive speech past the point of all reason out of what I can only assume is some overcharged sense of political correctness that makes you believe that a PoC cannot be wrong in criticising the existing power structure no matter how flawed their argument might be.

        You and she are hurting the progressive cause by alienating the very people we need to help fix the real problems of the world.

      • Except that she literally addresses all of those issues – every last one she lends support to and sponsors talks on.She is helping to build a coalition of Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, Black, White, and Latina activists that fight against prison culture, trans-/homo-/bi-phobia, sex worker-shaming, rape culture, appropriations, economic inequity, street harassment, gender violence, and anti-indigenous settling and colonization for starters.

        This is stuff that I addressed within the article itself, including her work with Lauren Chief Elk and others to draw attention to ending the mascot and the violence that these mascots do a while back.

        As far as “the real problems of the world” go, I wonder how many White Progressives understand that the mocking of marginalized people groups is tied in with violence of those same groups. I’m sorry you don’t see this tied into “real” problems. But I know that if someone were to reject *my* humanity, I’d have a really hard time seeing them as an ally or trying to build anything meaningful with them. Not saying others haven’t and don’t do that, I’m just saying that it becomes much, much more difficult and the onus shouldn’t always be on the oppressed to do that.

      • Whiteness is a social position, that homogenizes us to look at all European cultures as the same. And you’re okay with this?

        Okay bro, you insist!

      • wow. wow. wow.

        Are you sure you’re not a conservative? I wish that only white Tea Party peeps use that logic of calling minorities “racist”.

      • James82

        Wait a second there pal. What if for arguments sake I’m a minority in a country that does not have a white power structure. Does that mean I get to never be a racist no matter what I say?

        Sweet oversimplification and uncritical righteous outrage is great!

      • That’s a pretty big “if” you got there.

      • maggie

        Do not believe everything you hear.I am a conservative and I know many and we are not racist!! I think you guys are having an interesting and honest discussion and I love hearing different views. So you are discussing not singling out or putting one race in a box which I agree. But then you basically state as a fact that most white conservatives are racist. I know that is a popular notion but that does not mean it is true. Conservatives are not just the ones you see on tv. Yes there are some cranks in both parties but to brand an entire party racist is so unfair.please give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Thanks!

      • Mike

        I’m just going to post this here. This is an excerpt from Suey’s interview with Salon.

        Q: What is the best way to work with white people, to get them on our side?

        A: I don’t want them on our side.

        So tell me again how she is building an all inclusive coalition. Tell me again how she doesn’t dislike white people. Tell me again how she isn’t a bigot herself.

      • Did you read the rest of the interview, Mike? Because she certainly does welcome Whites, but the context here is that she would need to convince them of her kindness and bend over all ways backwards in order to appease some allies. She rejects that, those are the people she doesn’t want to get on her side.

        If I had to smile and be polite all day in order for my humanity to be taken seriously, I’m not so sure that I’d want to go through the struggle of that myself.

      • Mike

        Yes, I’ve read the article and I’ve also read her tweets and other interviews. My wife, who is Korean, was disgusted as well by the vitriol being spouted by her and her supporters. In my wife’s own words “if you replaced white in any of their tweets or interviews, with any other race, the person would be labeled a racist and possibly a member of the KKK”. But according to Suey, only white people can be racist, lest she forget of the ethnic genocide of her own people by the Japanese or Chinese or Mongols. Also, since I am a white male, according to Suey, I’m not allowed to have an opinion on the subject and I guess neither are you, so I guess nothing either of us say in these comments has any bearing on the subject.

      • Then I doubt you’ve read her work because I’ve seen her address those very issues in #notyourasiansidekick among others, about the fact that not all Asians are the same, nor do they have the same issues, that there was gendercide and genocide and imperialism, etc, outside of the white man.

        But again, this entire thread has become one long derail focusing on Ms Park when no one is bringing up the very real discussion she brought up about the use of Asian Americans as the “model minority” in order to continue the White Supremacy gambit. It’s all ringing a very hollow ad hominem.

        As per your or my role, I think it isn’t so much to focus on what we don’t like about racial/ethnic minorities but to engage and question (and strangle) the hold of White Supremacy and Patriarchy wherever they lie.

      • Mike

        Perhaps the issue surrounding the discussion she brings up is the manner in which she and her supporters brought it up, which is why she has become the focus, instead of her intended message. The way they go about bringing it up is distasteful to say the least.

    • Sigh … No, everyone gets that. But Colbert did it by making a racist joke himself.

  • Very well said. I live in New Hampshire. By virtue of that, most of the people I know are white. A whole lot of them staked out the position that Asians should just get over it and not take it seriously.

    Which is also how they feel about the Washington team name, of course … White privilege and supremacy are very popular here.

  • John Clark

    Some white liberal writers were tone deaf in their bashing, I will agree. As for twitter, I take it w/ a grain of salt. I’m sure some of the hate speech did come from so called “progressives” but it is a world of sock puppets too. I do kinda follow the twitter wars because feminism is being waged, but I read the articles about the issues writers write instead of hashtag following. To me, twitter activism in these cases becomes a collection of the worst tweets and used to call a card. Nobody wins. Nobody learns. As for Cobert, I cannot see any racism in it. In fact, he is mocking the very racist stereotypes the hashtag was excusing him of. There are real examples of racism towards Asian Americans. Hashtag HIMYM or SNL; both do truly anti Asian stereotypes which are not funny. And Asia is a big big place with many peoples and big islands of other peoples and even includes the home state of our President. India & China are both in Asia. Here, the Chinese started coming before many Europeans came. Even before that statue in NY was built. The Americans of Japanese decent we imprisoned during the War to End Fascism were here longer than many who imprisoned them. People of East Asian decent are mostly hit by untrue positive stereotypes. I want to address those too. They are even more dangerous to our neighbors.