People can disagree about #CancelColbert. But why's the response always so vile when people try to talk about race?
By Katie McDonough
Suey Park is a writer and activist, but follow most of the conversation around #CancelColbert and you will read that she is a “hashtag activist” — a coded bit of language meant to communicate that she is not a person who should be taken seriously. (Follow what’s going on in Park’s Twitter mentions and you will see that a frightening number of people believe much worse.)
HuffPost Live invited Park to do a segment Friday morning, but rather than discuss what makes for good satire or mention the racist and misogynistic responses Park received (and tweeted about) while trending the hashtag, host Josh Zepps asked her if she understood comedy and called her opinions “stupid.” After a tense exchange with Zepps, Park said that she was done—that she wasn’t going to entertain inquiries about her intelligence or motives when the question of racism was not being taken seriously. Zepps seemed all too happy to oblige; he said a chipper goodbye and promptly cut her feed, prompting W. Kamau Bell to tweet that Zepps “reigns down the full weight of his #WhitePrivilege” during the segment.
Dave Weigel, who was critical of the hashtag from the start, weighed in at Slate to insinuate Park is somehow bullying Comedy Central—a television behemoth owned by a media behemoth—and question her activist bona fides:
Yes, social media's culture wars can get overheated and silly—because "real" politics is totally broken
By Andrew O'Hehir
But in this case, as in dozens of others of public discourse gone off the rails, I don’t have the right to instruct Asian-Americans or other commentators about whether or not they have been injured or insulted or attacked, or whether Colbert has something to apologize for. Let’s back up a year, to the 2013 Oscars: From the comfort of my sofa, I thought Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” musical number was pretty funny, and that its satirical intention, a takedown of Hollywood sexism and the “male gaze,” was clear enough. But the signal-to-noise ratio of MacFarlane’s shtick turned out to be way off, and millions of viewers received it in the opposite spirit, as a smug white dude making juvenile and offensive jokes about women’s bodies. So in that sense I was wrong. I’m still entitled to my private analysis, of course, but as a social event it wasn’t “funny” at all.
That might sound like I’m adopting a pose of excessive postmodern caution, or being the bearded dude in Birkenstocks who goes to the feminist bookstore to pick up chicks. But it’s more like an important lesson about life in a multivocal and diverse public culture, a lesson that, yes, white guys with media megaphones would do well to take seriously. Each of us needs to remember that our own subjectivity is not a universal condition, and that it was shaped by social and cultural forces we can’t necessarily see. Without any perception of your own possible or actual privilege and bias, you risk becoming the notorious Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, utterly convinced that you are an enlightened and reasonable person and deeply, hilariously wrong.
Once again, the Colbert flap reminds us that it's not just white conservatives who traffic in supremacy online
By Brittney Cooper
In the interview Park explains that the calls to cancel Stephen Colbert’s show were largely tactical. I suspected that, which is one reason I had no trouble supporting the campaign. But Suey also explained that one of the reasons the Colbert joke did not work is because it was a joke about race from a white liberal largely intended to pique the consciousness of other white liberals.
Unfortunately, Josh Zepps demonstrated just how dangerous unthoughtful liberalism can be in his interview with Park; he sneered at her and mocked her for the entire five minutes and even called her opinion stupid. Zepps felt threatened by Park’s analysis, he got emotional, and he verbally attacked her.
I think Suey’s call-out of white liberal complicity in this matter is exactly right. Though I am a big fan of Colbert’s show and though I know many people of color who are—one of my best homegirls from college is the person who turned me on to the show years ago—based on the passionate way in which Colbert’s defenders ran roughshod over many people of color to defend him, I wonder if I have been watching a show that ultimately does not have me in mind as it conceives its audience, even though I’m supposed to believe that satire has my best interest at heart.
I get the sense from at least a few of the Colbert apologists that I’m supposed to be happy with Colbert for the deftness with which he addresses most race issues. I’m supposed to be happy, and I’m supposed to shut up.
He’s one of the good guys.
Look. I suspect Stephen Colbert is one of the good guys. I just don’t know what that has to do with whether he messed up in this instance. Liberal political commitments do not make one’s race politics above reproach, because such arguments traffic in the fallacy that racism only happens if it is intentional.
By Arturo R. García
As Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous puts it:
Where are these theoretical people who were racist until they watched “Colbert,” or “SNL,” or “Chelsea Lately,” or any other show that uses white racial satire, and had their racist minds changed? Do we really believe these people exist? Do we really believe there were hella people watching Colbert’s skit about Dan Snyder’s awful foundation who had their minds changed about it as soon as Asian slurs were thrown into the mix?
Thus, if Park is to be criticized for being supported in public by Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin, what does it say about Colbert that these are the types of sentiments expressed in his defense? ... [D]o these sound like people who are rushing to center Native American activism?
If this tiny group of people even exists, what are the odds that Colbert's "joke" would reach them? What are the much greater odds that the Asian "satire" would offend people who don't like racism in any form?
And if all of Colbert's fans "get it," why are they so vociferously attacking Suey Park and defending Colbert? Wouldn't a proper response be more like, "I disagree with your interpretation of Colbert's joke, but I agree that racism against Natives and Asians is an ongoing problem that we're not doing enough to combat."
The self-satisfied white privilege of Colbert's fans is glaring: "We get the joke, so we don't have to do anything else to fight racism. We get it so much that we can attack racial advocates who are doing the hard work of challenging the status quo while we pat ourselves on the back for our awareness."
Stewart, like Colbert
A related postings tells us more about "liberal racism":
Jon Stewart cursed me out: I dared question a “Daily Show” warm-up comic’s racist jokes
I asked why a "Daily Show" warm-up targeted African-Americans and a woman in a wheelchair. The host wasn't happy
By Alison Kinney
I believed in him. I believed in the subversive political humor of his show; I believed that he was delivering messages in a way the mainstream news media should take notice of. I believed that somebody had to speak for the scapegoats, and that a live-audience question to the boss would change things more effectively than a letter to the network. I believed that, if Stewart knew that his warm-up comic had been making invasive, racist gibes about a black couple’s sex life, he couldn’t possibly countenance it.
So I raised my hand and asked, “Why does your warm-up comedian use ethnic humor?”
In retrospect, I should have phrased it more accurately: Why does your show use a comedian whose politics and belief system are so clearly at odds with the show’s? Why is this kind of prejudice being associated with “The Daily Show”? But I was nervous; I didn’t rehearse my question beforehand; I felt I had no time to lose. My tone wasn’t combative, only curious. I didn’t see Stewart as a big media producer on a schedule: I saw him as a person who cared, who asked the same kind of questions I believed in asking.
Stewart’s face creased with annoyance. He said, shortly, loudly, glaring at me, “BECAUSE. IT’S. FUCKING. FUNNY.” The audience erupted into wild applause.
And I'd guess that comes from being privileged white men surrounded by like-minded people. The kind of people who wear Indian headdresses and cheer Indian mascots because "they don't have a racist bone in their bodies." In other words, because being hip gives them a pass to do the same things conservatives do, but claim it's "ironic."
For more on the subject, see Debating Colbert's "Ching-Chong" Joke and Colbert's Joke vs. Mascot Satires.