The #CancelColbert Kerfuffle: Why Suey Park Got It Wrong


By Greg Watanabe

Regarding the #cancelColbert kerfuffle.

So, there’s two things:

The first being the sketch itself, which is about the Washington Redskins’ owner creating the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation” to mitigate the pr damage from having such a fucked up name. In the segment Colbert uses the following joke:

“Folks, this move by Dan Snyder inspires me, because my show has frequently come under attack for having a so-called offensive mascot, my beloved character Ching Chong Ding Dong….Offensive or not — NOT — Ching Chong is part of the unique heritage of the Colbert Nation that cannot change. But I’m willing to show the Asian community that I care by introducing the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitive to Orientals or Whatever….I owe all this sensitivity to Redskins owner Dan Snyder. So Asians, send your thank-you letters to him, not me.”

So, this is awesome satire to me. It’s a clear send up of Dan Snyder and his “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation”.

The second thing is Comedy Central (apparently separate from Colbert and his writing staff) tweeting out part of that segment via the Colbert Report Twitter account:

“I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

I understand how it could be interpreted to be fucked up and racist if you didn’t know the context of the rest of the joke.

I think it’s good that Comedy Central took it down.

So, they took it down because Suey Park of #NotYourAsianSidekick fame weighed in and created #CancelColbert, which basically accuses Colbert of anti-asian racism and calls for twitter followers to “trend” the hashtag and call for cancellation.

It gets crazy from here. But before going forward, I’ll say this: The accusations of the racism of this bit, and therefore of Colbert, are totally off the mark. The tweet was inexpert and ill-advised and it was good that it was taken down, but seeing that it was clearly derived from the complete segment, it was not racist.

I’d leave it at that, but accusing a celebrity of racism means controversy and backlash. If Suey Park was right, I’d totally be with her, especially in the onslaught of racist and misogynist backlash on Twitter (which, honestly, is constantly awash in racism and misogyny).

But, she’s not right, not in this case. And I feel like there’s a conversation to be had on why I think that and an explanation of why she and others think it is true.

But here’s what’s frustrating to me: it seems like the negative backlash is given as a reason why she’s right. For sure, racism and misogyny abound, and all the fucked up shit directed at Suey Park is a flagrant example of that, but that isn’t proof that her original accusation is well-founded or true.

The same can be said for some of the arguments brought up in defense of Colbert and the joke (again, from the wisdom of the internets): the fact that those arguments are false is not proof that you’re right.

Yes, over simplified arguments of, “it’s just a joke, get over it, and you don’t get it” are lame and often used to defend actual fucked up, racist shit. But that isn’t proof that you’re right.

Then I read this on a Time editorial on the web, by Suey Park:

Andy Smith on Twitter argued: “Folks seem to think that you can effectively address anti-Native American racism by satirically engaging in anti-Asian or anti-Black racism.” Such an approach presumes anti-Native American racism isn’t distinct and that it doesn’t need to be addressed on its own terms.

There are a couple of different things I find problematic with this. One, I think that one can make a point about anti-Native American racism using an example of anti-Asian racism. It’s not the entirety of the argument, not the fundamental crux of the argument of why anti-Native American racism is fucked up, but a point can be made.

And two, I don’t think that making a satirical analogy presumes that anti-Native American racism isn’t distinct or needs to be addressed on it’s own terms. If I only discussed anti-Native American racism in terms of anti-Asian racism and only gauged anti-Native American racism based on the importance and relevance of anti-Asian racism, then I could see that point being made. But that is a far cry from Colbert and his joke.

I’m frustrated by the call for righteous indignation and mobilization in a misguided cause. It’s especially maddening to me when there seems to be a whiff of, “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.”

I’m also frustrated that such a misguided and incorrect assessment of a joke involving API’s has been given so much attention. The majority of folks I’ve talked with or whose commentary I’ve read have not been in alignment with with her accusation of racism and it pains me that this particular opinion is sucking up so much air.

As I look at the joke and try and understand the argument that it’s racist…and I just can’t see it. The joke is clear as a bell.

Colbert has a beloved character called “Ching Chong Ding Dong” which is totally offensive, just like the totally fucked up, ridiculously racist name the Washington “Redskins”. Colbert says his mascot, “Offensive or not — NOT — Ching Chong is part of the unique heritage of the Colbert Nation that cannot change,” which is a direct reference to the argument from Snyder for not being willing to change the name because of the “unique heritage” of the organization and his refusal to acknowledge that the name of his team is a denigrating, racist slur.

Then he says, “But I’m willing to show the Asian community that I care by introducing the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitive to Orientals or Whatever…” which directly references what Snyder is doing with the creation of his ridiculously named foundation, “The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation”. This is why Colbert’s (joke) organization is called “the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for the Senstive to Orientals or Whatever…” because it’s ridiculous to have the racist term Redskins or Oriental or Ching Chong Ding Dong in the name of a foundation that’s supposed to benefit Indigenous peoples or Asian Pacific Islander Native Hawaiian South Asians.

And then he says, “I owe all this sensitivity to Redskins owner Dan Snyder. So Asians, send your thank-you letters to him, not me,” which is another dig at Snyder, mocking the idea that Indigenous people should be grateful to him and his foundation, and that Asians are being treated this way because Colbert is directly emulating the behavior and logic of Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins organization.

And there were other jokes as well, this is just the joke in dispute.

If Colbert does something racist, then I think it’s worth trying to appeal to him and engage in a dialogue or conversation, and I would be supportive of that effort. I just think the accusation in this case is false and needlessly inflammatory.

I hope people unfamiliar with the issue or this person’s campaign consider an alternate, more well reasoned perspective that hews closer to that of most APIA’s I respect and am familiar with.

As Mike Nailat alluded to in a Facebook status: if Michelle Malkin is in your corner, it’s time to reassess your position.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I’m an actor based in L.A., born and raised in So Cal, schooled and seasoned in No Cal. One of the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, an Asian American theatrical sketch comedy troupe.

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