Sunday, March 30, 2014


I don’t normally wade into Twitter shitstorms unless white people are behaving badly, and need to be checked by one of their own, and I've definitely never written about one outside of Twitter. But what's going on in the case of #cancelcolbert right now demands some immediate attention.

A writer named Bob Cesca, managing editor of the Daily Banter, took an activist named Suey Park to task for suggesting that Comedy Central should cancel the Colbert Report because the host Stephen Colbert made a joke about the “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

Cesca annihilates Park, telling her that she doesn’t understand satire, that the joke was made in a racial context that Park either wasn't aware of or doesn't get. He then asks her on his Twitter timeline whether she has seen the show, again implying that maybe she isn't sophisticated enough to get Colbert's brand of humor. 

Piers Morgan mini-me Josh Zepps did the same on Friday during a HuffPo segment, calling Park's opinion "stupid" and dismissing her much like Morgan dismissed Janet Mock in February. 

I'm writing to tell you, Mr. Cesca, Mr. Zepps, and white people who say you are against racism everywhere, that Colbert and his writers could have easily made the same exact point, with identical context, and achieved the same comedic effect with: “I’m going to start the Cracka' Ass Cracker Barrel Foundation to Combat Reverse Racism Against White People.” 

When I find myself laughing at sketches like Colbert’s -- even when I understand the context and agree with his larger point (probably hard for Mr. Cesca to believe) -- I am also often cringing at the same time because it reminds me of my own cruelty as a kid: A hurt, wretched little creature hurling slurs around to make myself feel better while pointing and laughing at my many victims.

And if it makes me wince as a former perp, it's not much of a stretch of empathic imagination to suspect that it would reconjure the inverse for Ms. Park. There she is, sitting quietly on the sidelines, nodding and agreeing substantively with everything Mr. Colbert is saying about Snyder's refusal to understand the offensiveness of his football team's name towards Native Americans, when -- POOF -- suddenly words redolent of the same slurs Ms. Park has experienced throughout her life as an Asian woman are up on the screen while an audience that looks strikingly similar to the people that typically hurl them is roaring with laughter. 

The decision of Colbert and his team to poke fun at a real, historically marginalized group instead of targeting a fictional marginalized group, that included the host, and would have likely been just as funny, is a clean glimpse at the blind spot in the race consciousness of white liberals. That they get to choose to bring a second marginalized group into the scrum, or not, and that they go for it, rather than erring on the side of caution, and that they and the many supporters that rally to their defense unleash their intentions as if they are invincible weapons that disprove claims of harm and delegitimize responsive measures by the marginalized group itself, undermines the entire point of being on the right side and perpetuates a far more insidious and hurtful brand of racism than the open coded attempts of buffoons like Paul Ryan.  

When something like this happens, and someone like Ms. Park, who has experienced these things firsthand -- unlike Cesca, Zepps and me -- we have a stark choice as people who claim to be on the "right" side of racism, ignorance and hate. We can take her word for it, whether or not we agree with, believe in, or understand her injury, because we acknowledge that she has standing that we lack (because we have never personally experienced the pain of such slurs, nor will we). 

Or, on the other hand, we can throw a collective fit and dismiss her, insisting on our right to use the group that she is a member of as a pawn in our satire, though we could have easily refrained. And then, rather than humbly listening, or giving her the benefit of the doubt, we insist that we did not -- and could never -- hurt her because intentions, because context, and because satire is an important tool, as though we are explaining these concepts to a child rather than a woman who at age twenty-three understands the complexity and nuance of race, class and history in America better than the majority of us ever will in our lifetimes. 

Choosing the nuclear hissy fit option proves to Ms. Park, and others like her, beyond any doubt that we as liberal white people with public platforms don't value her emotional well being or her intellect. More tellingly, it demonstrates to her that we are definitively on the "right" side of racism right up until the moment we are asked to change any of our behaviors or humbly entertain the possibility that we may have, despite our very high opinions of ourselves, offended someone. That the Morgans, Cescas and Zeppses of the world continue to operate smack in the middle of such a massive blind spot, without seeming to be aware of it, is tragic proof that we are nowhere near the level of race consciousness needed to identify and eradicate racism in all of its ugly forms in America. 


JennyUnderpants said...

Fair enough, but what about those of us of the Asian Persuasion who are similarly baffled by Suey Park taking offense? I'm not going to be so callow as to dismiss her experience just because it's not the same as my own, but I don't think that "Cracka' Ass Cracker Barrel Foundation" would elicit the same response that "Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation" did (I laughed, lots).

I think Asians were intentionally chosen because yes, we're marginalized, but not as invisibly and callously as Native Americans, but we can trust that nobody, in this day and age, in their right mind would ever name a team "The Coolies", try to defend it saying that they TOTALLY mean "hard-working", and then slap us in the face with some nominal foundation. Mocking white people who comfortably sit in a position of power just wouldn't have the same effect because it crosses from Very Unlikely But Could Have Happened Decades Ago into Would Never Happen.

Do I agree with your greater point, that Suey Park should have been handled with more respect? You bet your your sweet bippy she should have. Not doing so calls into question a lot of intersectionality issues - were they disrespectful because she's Asian? Young? Female? Nuclear hissy fit undermines any legitimate counterargument they may have had.

P.S. You should write more; this is my first blog comment EVER.

SHS said...

I support the Cancel Colbert movement.

Not because I was offended but because he's not funny.

P.S. I agree with the above- you should write more.

Anonymous said...

I also agree. You should write more!!

I'm REALLY late to the table on this-- did this really happen back in March?? Good grief.

Anyway, I was able to articulate my feels about all of this until you did it for me.

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