When I wrote about the ‘other side’ of the #CancelColbert controversy, the side that is being ignored by the mainstream media airtime but is at the heart of why the movement is so important, I realized I was getting myself into tricky territory. I did not realize that I was opening myself up to a fairly toxic and hateful social media backlash. Sure, my friend count only dropped by one (and I did receive three ‘thank you’s for the post), but my heartrate jumped by about 60 bpm as I defended my post. “So this is the life of a social justice blogger,” I thought. The vitriol spewed my way was nothing compared to what Suey Park has had to cope with these past four days, but more on that later.
After posting my article to Facebook, the four main criticisms I saw raised against #CancelColbert and Park all, to different degrees, surprised me: that the initial @ColbertReport tweet that started the controversy was irrelevant, that Park intentionally deceived the public with a misleading hashtag, that Park is anti-white, and that Colbert has resolved the issue, so the entire point should be moot.
Let’s do this one by one.
1. Did the joke even matter? Why?
On Thursday (March 27), the now-closed @ColbertReport account, an unnamed Fox employee tweeted: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” The line was pulled from a piece that aired on that day’s show, in which the host mocked Washington Redskins Dan Snyder owner for attempting to prove his sensitivity to race issues by founding the clumsily-named Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.
Yes, everyone who Tweeted #CancelColbert in the days that followed understands satire, and you can stop saying that we don’t. We understand that the absurdity of the “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation” name was intended to call attention to Dan Snyder’s stunning display of obliviousness.
What’s being missed is that comedy doesn’t take place in a vacuum. There is a sociopolitical structure at play. There are hierarchies being played out. As much as white liberals defending the joke would like to, you cannot take race out of the equation. We’re talking about a joke told by a white man, to be laughed at primarily by white people, at the expense of Asian-Americans, who didn’t need to be thrown under the bus for the purposes of the joke. What should have been a joke about the racism of Dan Snyder was instead a joke about race that invoked harmful language and stereotypes, and that just wasn’t okay.
Going further, #CancelColbert wasn’t just about one tweet. It was about a pattern that has gone on unchecked for decades. “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong,” satire or not, is a character in the vein of Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of I.Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany‘s. Less overt examples of harmful representation, or lack of representation, of Asians and Asian Americans in the mass media (which seep into the silencing of Asian Americans, especially women, in real life), run rampant, as Suey Park previously discussed with her hashtag movement #NotYourAsianSidekick.
So, again, #CancelColbert wasn’t about canceling The Colbert Report. The hashtag was a means to a much larger, much more important end. Which begs another question I’ve been asked over and over:
2. Did Suey Park intentionally deceive the public for attention?
At 23 years old, @suey_park is already a season social media expert. She understands the limitations of what can be accomplished in 140 characters. She knows what makes headlines and what doesn’t. She knows who digs deep into trending hashtags, and who doesn’t.
If #CancelColbert was deceptive, it was because it had to be. Women of color aren’t simply handed the microphone, so the type of boldness that would get people talking (and they sure did, with the detractors’ use of the hashtag keeping it afloat as a trending topic) was necessary. Hyperbole was an effective tool for gaining a national platform, but the “cancel the show” premise also become the most effective tool of Park’s critics, who, as I wrote yesterday, attacked the campaign as “faux outrage” and the work of the “perpetually offended” and focused on the extremeness of calling for a show to be cancelled based on one joke, rather than on the actual issue at hand.
Attempting to delegitimize a person’s right to be “offended” is an act of oppression, period.
“But,” many are saying, “The account is deleted. Why are you still offended?”
3. Was Stephen Colbert’s response enough?
This is an easy one: No. It didn’t miss the point entirely, actually taking some time for sharp satire, including a bit pointing out that people who claim not to be racist are often the most racist. But in a segment of his show devoted to the #CancelColbert story, he, like many others, dwelled on the fact that the tweet had been “taken out of context” and was not posted by him, labeling the entire issue a “misunderstanding.”
He did not acknowledge that the joke was problematic, nor did he apologize for the hurt to which he had contributed. And in the ensuing media narrative, he came out the winner and Park the loser. Who could have predicted that?
4. Is Park anti-white?
In her interview with Josh Zepps, Suey Park told the white host, “I don’t expect you to be able to understand what people of color are actually saying with #CancelColbert,” referring to his white privilege, which had colored the tone of the interview from start to finish. When Zepps and his on-air partner mock the notion that they can’t contribute to a conversation about race, they are missing the point spectacularly.
The notion of white privilege is, evidently, terrifying to some people born with it. Recognizing the advantages that have shaped one’s life, the limitations of their voice in certain conversations, and the obligation we have in rectifying the vast power gaps that made #CancelColbert necessary can be a real challenge for people who lack the exposure and education to realize how their privilege plays out in both daily interactions and a larger societal structure.
Park’s anti-racism and anti-colonialism is not anti-whiteness.