Last week on the Colbert Report, faux-conservative host Stephen Colbert announced his plans start a non-profit titled “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Colbert thanked Washington Redskin’s owner Dan Snyder for the idea after the billionaire announced his real-life non-profit “the Washington Redskin’s Original Americans Foundation.” Because — as Colbert put it on the show — “Redskins is not offensive if you only use it once in your name.”
After the show aired, the official Colbert Report twitter account (not Colbert’s personal twitter) posted a tweet restating the joke. Unfortunately, the tweet provided no link to the actual clip for context and no follow-up mocking Dan Snyder and his actual foundation. As you can imagine, shit got real. Like, real, real.
In almost no time, a #CancelColbert hashtag was up and running, with angry tweets and articles springing up right and left denouncing the tweet as racist or defending the tweet with context.Obviously, while not everyone will agree, it appears now that the dominating opinion is that in context this was a shot at Snyder’s new foundation and that it’s him not Colbert we should be mad at.
I’m ok with this position — after watching the full segment, I walked away more upset at Snyder and the complete indifference he has for anyone who considers the team’s name racist. But at the same time, I did cringe a little bit throughout the clip. You shouldn’t have to be Asian to see how Colbert’s tone might have been a bit grating on the ears.
More importantly, I’m worried about how this conversation has played out. I fear that many of these people who have come in defense of the Colbert Report aren’t really listening to the other side.
Writers and activists Suey Park and Eunsong Kim had a piece on the Time magazine website calling out the indifference and contempt shown by many ‘progressives’ to the individuals who called out Colbert’s segment as racist.
If comedians want to protest the racist name of the Redskins football team and to ban racist mascots, as the comedian’s defenders claim is his goal, there are a variety of ways to organize and to highlight this issue. But this isn’t about white liberals wanting to change the name, or their devotion to destroying settler-colonialism: It’s about their feeling entitled to make jokes about “The Other” in the name of “progress.” This does nothing to alleviate the burden of people of color; it simply perpetuates a part of the entertainment industry in which our marginalization remains profitable.
Think about that. In order to make a joke about Dan Snyder’s marginalization of the pain of Native Americans, Colbert decides to fake-marginalize Asian-Americans. It’s the easy joke. And sure, it’s aimed at Snyder, but it’s hard to argue that Asian-Americans don’t get caught in the crossfire. Adding insult to injury, when a few (note, not all) Asian-Americans, who might have some idea as to what they find offensive, come out in objection, they’re met with indignation and told to laugh at their own expense.
That’s a problem.
Progressives and liberals often have a sore spot when they’re called out for doing or saying sexist or racist things. The response is sometimes to claim that the accuser is being overly sensitive — it’s just a joke, Relax! Valid concerns and feelings are put in a corner and ultimately ignored and no real or productive discourse between the two perspectives ever occurs. No one benefits and no one learns.
I hope that moving forward a more open and honest conversation happens, if not around #CancelColbert then around whatever the next controversy is. If we don’t, this type of thing will only continue to happen again and again.