Thursday, April 03, 2014

Against Hashtag Warriors: Their Arguments and Why They are Wrong

For the last week, I have had a chance to survey the landscape of opinions regarding the #CancelColbert campaign. Here are the major arguments in favor of the hashtag war, and why they are wrong.

- The Main Argument:  "Regardless of what Stephen Colbert intended, the use of the phrase "ching chong ding dong" is reminiscent of the racism that Asian Americans face. (In other words, it is "triggering".) To remind Asian Americans of racism in such a manner is insensitive and racist."

This is the crux of the #CancelColbert supporters' argument. Note that, under this argument, context in which the phrase is said does not matter, and neither does intent. Whenever the phrase is said, it triggers. Whenever the sound of the phrase is heard, it is racist. This is "magic word racism," pure and simple: if you say the word X, no matter what the circumstance, you are being racist.

#CancelColbert was not a worthy effort in large part because it is just another rendition of the magic word racism. I made this point previously, but it bears repeating and amplifying: magic word racism causes real harm. It distracts the attention from racism's core, which resides in the heart rather than words. Magic word racism lends support to, for example, the incessant whining about why black people get to say "n-----" but not white people. (If word itself is the problem, why do some people get to say it?)

Only by being sensitive to context and intent can one avoid the pitfalls of magic word racism, but #CancelColbert demands that we look away from the context.

- The "What About Black People?" Argument:  "Stephen Colbert wouldn't use African Americans as a topic and use the n-word, would he? So why is it ok for him to use Asian Americans and 'ching chong?'"

This argument, again, displays lack of consideration toward context--in this case, a historical and social one. To state plainly, Asian Americans are not African Americans, and "ching chong" is not "n-----". Historically, we Asian Americans never experienced anything close to what African Americans experienced on account of our race. Even the darkest moments of Asian American history--Chinese Exclusion Acts, the World War II Internment, Vincent Chin--are not comparable to slavery, mass rape and lynching that African Americans historically endured. Currently, Asian Americans are not experiencing a comparable level of discrimination to which African Americans are subjected. There is no stop-and-frisk program targeting Asian Americans. There is no current Asian American equivalent of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

Are African Americans accorded greater deference in the media than Asian Americans are? Yes, and rightly so, considering the historical and contemporary context. Black folks has gone through more shit, and are going through more shit, than Asian Americans have and are. To give African Americans a bit more breathing room is the right thing to do.

Critics of Colbert have argued that Stephen Colbert should not be allowed to try and support one minority group (Native Americans) by using another (Asian Americans) as a prop. But when they raise this argument, it is the critics who use the African Americans as a stepladder. 

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


- The "We are Getting Racist Attacks!" Argument:  "Suey Park received an avalanche of genuinely racist attacks, even death threats. If the Colbert Report is not racist, why do racists support it so extremely?"

This is frivolous. We are talking about the Internet, in which racism and death threats may as well be the wind and the rain. Thoughtful reactions count; crazy ones do not. That an argument attracts a lot of crazy reaction does nothing to support the initial argument.

If this is not obvious, consider this. Before Suey Park, another Asian American woman was subject to vile racism and death threats due to her outspoken position. Her name? Amy Chua. The amount of racist bile that Chua received after her Tiger Mother article was no less than Park's share. Now, ask yourself: did your opinion Amy Chua and the Tiger Mother theory change because of the racist attacks against Amy Chua? The only honest answer is "no." Same is true here.

- The "We Didn't Really Mean 'Cancel'" Argument:  "The word 'cancel' in #CancelColbert was a rallying slogan rather than a literal demand. Why do people focus on 'cancel' rather than focus on the real issue: the Colbert Report's racism against Asian Americans?"

Fundamentally, the answer is this: because there was no racism against Asian Americans in Colbert's joke. "Magic word racism" is not a valid approach, and it is not convincing to say that simply saying the word automatically equals racism.

But even one sets that aside, this is a strange argument. Suddenly, it is the #CancelColbert supporters who are calling for people to get past the semantics and focus on the intent behind the literal meaning of the words. Why can't they apply the same standard for Colbert's joke? If one can say "cancel" without actually conveying the meaning of the word "cancel," is it so inconceivable that a satirical comedian can say "ching chong" without conveying racism?

In an interview with the New Yorker, Suey Park claims that she had to go over top to make a point: “There’s no reason for me to act reasonable, because I won’t be taken seriously anyway. So I might as well perform crazy to point out exactly what’s expected from me.” 

This claim does not pass the laugh test. Suey Park is already an established writer of international fame, having recently come off of the very successful #NotYourAsianSidekick campaign. Park was already at a point where she could get herself published on a major platform at any time she wanted. (And she did, as she published a more detailed explanation of #CancelColbert campaign on the Time magazine.) If she did feel offended by Colbert's joke, Park would have had plenty of audience without having to "perform crazy." But she chose otherwise, harming others in the process. (More on this below.)

- The "But My Feelings!" Argument:  "Regardless of Stephen Colbert's intent, the phrase 'ching chong' really is triggering to a lot of Asian Americans, causing them to feel alienated from their country. Why is this so objectionable?"

It is objectionable because the #CancelColbert supporters are not simply expressing their feelings; they are calling for the cancellation of the Colbert Report.

Let me be clear: one has a right to feel anything and everything, no matter how frivolous and irrational. Such little irrationalities are important, as they may well be what makes us individuals. Who are we if not a collection of our random characteristics? Likewise, one has a right to express those feelings and discuss them among like-minded people. This is how, for example, great novelists make their names. Those feelings are valid, and so are the expression of those feelings.

However, arguments for a collective action are not like emotions unique to each individual. There is a threshold one must meet before one can persuasively demand another to cater to one's emotions. There really is a line that separates serious arguments from frivolous ones, strong arguments from untenable ones. The precise location of that line may be difficult to nail down, but there should be little dispute that disproportionately shrill reaction to a nonexistent offense falls on the wrong side of that line.

For that reason, #CancelColbert is on the wrong side of that line. It decries racism where there is none, and demands extreme measures to that fictional racism. The argument is indefensible.

- The "What's it to You?" Argument:  "Call me shrill, oversensitive, annoying, a social justice misanthrope without a sense of humor.  . . .  If I’m overreacting then why are you still bothered by it?"

Above are the words of Shawna F., who emailed me for my take. 

The #CancelColbert movement bothers me because it causes several concrete harms.

First, #CancelColbert is based on "magic word racism," which causes harm. It urges people to put a blindfold over themselves, so that they may ignore the intent behind words. Magic word racism does nothing to fight the actual racism, which resides in the intent. Instead, it encourages a version of racism that eschews those magic words while discriminating in a more subtle, insidious manner. Worse, it may be used as a cudgel to deprive self-determination from racial minorities. (E.g. "If whites cannot say the n-word, neither can blacks!")

Second, #CancelColbert distracts from the ongoing, severe issue that Stephen Colbert intended to highlight: the continuing insult to Native Americans in the form of a name of a major NFL franchise. 

Some have objected to this point by claiming that advocacy is not a zero-sum game. I beg to differ: public attention is a finite thing. If it were not, the people and entities who feed on public attention--political parties, media, writers, entertainers--would not be spending the money and effort to get themselves in front of people, trying to get their voice heard. If one topic becomes large enough, it does displace others from the minds of the public.

Do you think listening to the harmed party is important? Then listen to the Native Americans, who are rightly aggrieved that the movement against the offensive racial slur was hijacked by this stupid campaign. As an Asian American and a D.C.-area resident, I am mortified.

Third, #CancelColbert debases the legitimate battles that Asian Americans fight against media bias. There truly are worthy battles to fight in this area, and this hashtag war made a mockery of it.

Credibility is a precious thing: once you lose it, it is exceedingly difficult to regain it. Call this "respectability politics" if you want. All I know is what I have learned by being a licensed advocate my entire adult life: if you don't have credibility, you are finished. You are a Cassandra, over whose words the "mute" switch is on. The #CancelColbert supporters love to talk about how their viewpoint is "silenced." But when you destroy your own credibility, you are silencing yourself.

I am not optimistic that mainstream America would be so discerning to distinguish #CancelColbert from other, more worthwhile fight against media bias in the future conducted by Asian Americans. This hashtag war incurred a cost, and Asian American activists in the future will have to pay it down the line.

Fourth, #CancelColbert divides the Asian American community.

Let me be clear on this point: in certain contexts (hey, there's that word again,) speaking of an "Asian American community" is fallacious. Asian Americans are a hugely diverse group, within which there are a number of different ethnicity, languages, food, custom, socio-economic status, etc. Accordingly, there are many issues regarding which the Asian American community does not speak with one voice, nor should it. 

Media bias against Asian Americans is not one of those issues. Just in case the #CancelColbert folks still don't get it: no one disputes that there is bias against Asian Americans in the media. There truly are worthy battles to fight in this issue. Just to give a few examples: a troubling lack of Asian Americans in the lead role; stereotypical, two-dimensional Asian characters; cultural appropriation and debasement; whitewashing an Asian story or an Asian character. The list can go on.

Addressing this bias helps all Asian Americans, not just a select few. Media representation of Asian Americans will influence the perception of all Asian Americans, not just Asian American men or Asian Americans who are higher on the socio-economic ladder. This is an issue that ought not cause a split among Asian Americans.

Yet here we are. #CancelColbert has created a schism among Asian Americans. For example, there is now a hashtag civil war among Asian Americans, as those who disagree with Suey Park's tactics have begun a new hashtag campaign called #BuildDontBurn. As I wrote in the previous post on this topic, this is what happens when one chooses an unworthy battle to fight. A large swath of Asian Americans (by my count, the majority) simply cannot sign onto the argument that Stephen Colbert was being racist with that joke, because he was not. 

A large part of the blame for this must rest the feet of Suey Park and her coterie, and the take-no-prisoners tactic that they employ in their hashtag war. To this group, respectful dissent is a foreign concept. When a Native American activist complained that #CancelColbert was distracting from the original issue, Suey Park and her gang bullied her into silence. Any Asian American who disagreed with Park's message or tactics was branded as an Uncle Tom. Jeff Yang, journalist for the Wall Street Journal and arguably the most high-profile Asian American dissenter, was called "Asian in yellow face" and "merkin for the white man." In a height of irony, a white man who is friends with Suey Park called me a "white supremacist", apparently because I did not listen to the white man's directive that I should feel offended, even though I am not.

Juliet Shen, a co-activist for the #NotYourAsianSidekick campaign with Park, was not spared from this flame war. Her description of Suey Park's gang is enough to make one at a loss for words:
Let’s call this what it is: cyberbullying. I’m not saying it’s Suey, but I am saying that it’s her followers. There is a large group of people who have created an echo chamber that repeatedly enables and reinforces bad behavior. Harassment. Stalking. Name-calling. Character assassination. Misinformation. Emotional manipulation. Propaganda. This isn’t calling people out for racist, sexist, homophobic behavior — it’s using these terms so freely that we lose sight of the actual racists and sexists and bigots. It’s hurling the term gaslighting so often at other people and inaccurately while actually gaslighting the same people. I think that there are a lot of people who follow Suey for her politics while not knowing her tactics. I’d probably do the same if I wasn’t aware of the way she treated people. 
I guess this all leads to one question: what now? I’m still hesitant and I’m still scared. I don’t want to post anything and I don’t want to write about politics or feminism or racism. I have seriously considered going completely offline, just getting a job, moving to California, and pretending there aren’t a million things I want to say about the institutional and individual oppression we face every single day. Every time I tweet something relatively political, someone comes after me with academic rhetoric, claims of homophobia and racism, and accusations of being a sell-out. I’ve gone from confident and optimistic speaker glowing about the magic of social media in community organizing to scared and increasingly apathetic college student contemplating leaving activism behind.
Similar revelations from those who had been close to Suey Park and was burned are coming to the public as this saga drags on. With each story like this one, Park's credibility becomes lower and lower, circling around the drain. I wouldn't mourn the loss, except I know already that this will play out. It will play out in a way that damages not just Suey Park, but all Asian Americans.

To make up for the lost credibility, Park's gambits will become more and more outrageous. She herself signaled this exact game plan, in so many words: if people don't take you seriously, do crazy things. By becoming more outrageous, Park will guarantee herself a consistent level of public visibility in the media, which loves no one like it loves circus clowns. Park will join the long heritage of media clowns who generate far more heat than light, the likes of Coulter, Palin, Moore and Sharpton. Similar to those who came before her, Park will become that one example that the opponents use to discredit the entire Asian American experience.

This, to me, is the greatest harm that came from the hare-brained campaign of #CancelColbert, and this is why I am so angry at this stupidity.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

34 comments:

  1. I agree that Colbert’s joke was taken out of context and that he was not being racist by making that joke. I also think TK makes good arguments to defend that point, especially the one about racist intent.

    I am an avid reader of this blog and, purely because of lack of better things to do for the last couple of days, have been surfing through some of the old posts on the blog for my reading pleasure (starting with re-reading the dog meat post after being inspired by the recent interview with Margaret Cho).

    Then I came across this post by TK http://askakorean.blogspot.com/2008/08/discussion-topic-racism.html, in which TK argued that the Spanish basketball team members were being racist by making an arguably “endearing” and funny gesture towards Asian people in a photo. In the post TK seemed to accept that the Spanish basketball team members were not being mean, but argued that the action is still racist because any action prompted by a racially-inclined thought should be deemed racist.

    I do not mean to draw any parallel between the basketball team photo and the recent #CancelColbert scandal.

    I am just wondering whether TK thinks that there is a theoretical contradiction between (1) the racist-intent test vs (2) the racially-inclined-thought test when distinguishing between a racist remark/gesture and a non-racist one.

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    1. I think this post may bridge that gap between the two posts: http://askakorean.blogspot.com/2012/03/chink-in-armor-and-how-to-think-about.html Basically, the "racist intent" test has a bit more gradation.

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    2. The Reviewer:
      Then I came across this post by TK http://askakorean.blogspot.com/2008/08/discussion-topic-racism.html, in which TK argued that the Spanish basketball team members were being racist by making an arguably “endearing” and funny gesture towards Asian people in a photo.

      LOL.

      Intent only tells us whether the individual "meant" to be insensitive. It doesn't tell us whether the act is by itself insensitive.

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    3. It is certainly possible to have no malicious intent yet do or say something insensitive and/or in poor taste and/or even outright racist.

      I don't know the intent of the Spanish basketball team in 2008. If we give them the benefit of the doubt that they were trying to be "endearing" rather than mocking Asian facial features, it doesn't negate the fact that their gesture is at the very least in poor taste. It only works as non-offensive if most Asian people would look at the photo and not think it was a mocking gesture rather than an "endearing" gesture. Well clearly that's not the case and most Asians would automatically see it as a mocking gesture.

      The Colbert Report sketch however is entirely different. The "Colbert" character (played by an actor of the same name) on his fake parody of a right wing talk show used of Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation KNOWING that the audience would realize the name is offensive and racist. But it was to point out how offensive and racist a name like "Redskins Foundation for Native Americans" is and how ridiculous Dan Snyder is. If you actually watch the whole clip, its very obvious to MOST PEOPLE including even MOST Asians that this is the point, not to mock Asians but to mock the Redskins name.

      Now I suppose people will say, well we shouldn't utter racist things to point out other racist things. But its sort of awkward logic which means that a statement like "Chink and Niggers are racist words that should never be uttered even in jest." impossible to state simply because they contain two slurs regardless of the intent and context in which those two slurs are used.

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    4. I like how The Korean pointed out that there could be different levels of “intent,” using the example of how criminal law distinguishes among different levels of guilt, depending on whether the guilty party maliciously and straightforwardly meant to commit a crime and committed it or he/she negligently made a mistake that a reasonable person would not make. Either way, the crime would be punished albeit at different levels of severity.

      In this sense, the basketball team members should have known better than to make a gesture that would be deemed offensive and racist by a reasonable person.

      Which leads me to wonder. Would an expression that a reasonable person deem racist vary across cultures? Say between (1) a more racially heterogeneous country in which there is active and lively dialogue about racism, like the USA and (2) a more racially homogeneous country where the issue of race relations is not on the forefront?

      Part of me wants to say yes. I will take the familiar example of the basketball players although it may not be the best example. For the certain gesture, of pulling one’s eyes to make them squint, to have an offensive meaning, there needs to be a history of a group of people mocking or hurting the feelings of another group of people by making that gesture. Without this history/context, it would not have been established in the specific culture that the gesture is offensive. So a reasonable person in a culture without that context would not deem the gesture racist.

      On the other hand, as global citizens, living in the 21st century, with ready access to immense amounts of information on cultural and social dialogue across nations, all of us should be put to similar standards regardless of where we come from when it comes to sensitivity to race issues.

      As a person who travels a lot, I have faced this dilemma many times: What to make of an occasional long stare… a subtly insensitive remark here or there… Should I give a European “offender” an easier pass than an American one because an average European is not exposed to as much racial dialogue as an average American?

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  2. Great post TK, as usual. I think it kinda helped me take step back and reassess everything, now that the whole #cancelcolbert thing is winding down. I didn't like how everything played out in the media, but over the past week the division between Asians, was just as bad, if not worse. It was very eye opening, though I didn't like the bit Colbert did, and I was offended by it, because of my experience, I know the way #cancelcolbert panned out is a far cry from how Asian Am should react and work together regarding these issues and I can see how the whole thing turned out to be quite divisive. I hope if anything we can learn from it. For now, its back to normal life and blogging about my kids =)

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    1. It is not a division between Asians, it is a division between people who are able to get the joke and people who cannot get it and therefore think it is offensive.

      I have read your post about how you found this joke offensive. I understand and respect your feelings, it is just you did not get the joke. If you do not get Colbert, why watch him? I do not get Pollock's paintings, I think they are an insult to humanity, but I am not going to walk around claiming his art is garbage and I am offended by it. I actually did, but I was told that I did not understand art.

      Let me just explain to you the difference in perception:

      1. People who do not get Colbert's joke think that it is a simple joke - Ching Chong Ding Dong sounds like making fun of some Asian name therefore making fun of Asians.
      The segment where he squinted his eyes and pretended to be Asian was making fun of Asians. So when the audience laughs at Colbert pretending to be Asian, they are laughing at Asians.

      2. People who get Colbert laughed at Colbert's character who is racist but does not know he is racist. The effect is achieved by using an oxymoron - foundation for sensitivity that has a racial slur in the name. "The Ching Chong Ding Dong" part is not funny, but the whole sentence is. Again, the butt of the joke is a racist person.

      Also, when Colbert pretended to be Asian, the butt of the joke was Colbert's character. Here is a segment from 2005:

      http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/xul3qa/intercepted-satellite-feed

      Colbert plays a racist who makes fun of people with different ethnic backgrounds during the show break. However, his feed gets "intercepted" and the whole country gets to see him for who he is - a racist. Again, the butt of the joke is Colbert's character. The Asian parody is only funny when Colbert says, "it was not me." If he only played the character without the context (intercepted feed) that would not be funny, that would be racist.

      Not sure if this is helpful, but at least I tried.

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  3. Great post and I agree with almost everything you wrote. The one point where I would disagree is the "what about black people?" argument, simply because I am uncomfortable with the implication that one has to suffer a great deal as a people in order for your concerns about racism to be taken seriously. What is the threshold beyond which it becomes appropriate to speak out about racism?

    Secondly, I think that there is room to genuinely explore the plausible possibility of greater tolerance for anti-Asian racism - Mexicans, Jews, Arabs, and Muslims have not suffered as much as blacks in America (and arguably, racism against these groups may not be worse than that experienced by Asians), yet prejudice against those groups is taken very seriously, and I would guess that slurs against those groups would not be used in the way Colbert utilized Asian slurs.

    The sad part is that there was a great opportunity to highlight this phenomena, but it was wasted because of the silly way that the issue was approached.

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    1. - I think it is always appropriate to speak out about racism--as long as the racism is there. What I object to is Asian Ams using the African American struggle as a stepladder, to capture something that we ourselves never worked for.

      - I would say Arabs & Muslims are currently undergoing more discrimination than Asian Ams are, because of 9/11. Mexicans too, because they are perceived as a greater threat to racists because of their numbers. Jews, I am not sure, and I do feel that Jewish folks do end up getting a disproportionately louder voice.

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    2. Complicated living is the US?
      Jews surely have been decisive in the history of american business and that is what makes them loud, even when silent
      As for Colbert, well, he is just trying to be funny to make a living, and it is a pity he offended anyone obviously not deserving to be offended
      I honestly feel disgusted about the so called racial questions
      As far as I know there is only one race. The human one.

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  4. Your "Asian Americans using African Americans' struggle as a stepladder" argument is totally wrong. Offensive racial stereotypes are offensive, period. Are you suggesting that before people can decide whether they are offended by certain racial stereotypes, they have to first evaluate the relative levels of persecution that different races have faced in the US? I think even African Americans would disagree with your idea that Asians, Mexicans, Arabs, etc. are not allowed to take offense to racial stereotypes because they haven't gone through the same level of struggle as black people have. You feel Jews "have a disproportionately louder voice." So going by your standard, that means Jews must put up with higher levels of anti-semitism because YOU FEEL they have a louder voice in American society. That's simply wrong.

    And most people who have a problem with this are not missing the context. I, for one, have been watching Colbert for years and am very familiar with his brand of humor. Still, I have always had a problem with his "ching chong ding dong" character. When was the last time Bill O'Reilly (or any other prominent Republican) pretended to be a crass stereotype of Asians or any other race while being unaware that they were doing so? I swear, sometimes the liberal circle jerk is too much. If a Republican media pundit were to do a "ching chong ding dong" character with the stereotypical Asian accent, squinting their eyes, using the word "chinaman," he or she would be raked over the coals. Only Colbert could get away doing all that AND simultaneously be praised by liberals for criticizing racism...or something.




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    1. Offensive racial stereotypes are offensive, period.

      Magic word racism. I gave my argument against it. If you want to counter, you will have to do more than saying "period."

      your idea that Asians, Mexicans, Arabs, etc. are not allowed to take offense to racial stereotypes

      Not my idea, no.

      So going by your standard, that means Jews must put up with higher levels of anti-semitism because YOU FEEL they have a louder voice in American society.

      Not my standard. Please read what I wrote a bit more closely.

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    2. Sean,

      I think we have to remind ourselves that Korean Americans are not a monolith. There are those who went through K-12 in the US. And others who arrived in their late teens or after, like TK. And some who are hapas. It's not surprising feelings will vary.

      Views about racism and insensitivity are not borne of pure logic. It's a perception and feeling informed by experience (personal and collective). We use logic and reason to rationalize what we feel, not the other way around.

      It seems that for those who defend Colbert "ching chong" is no more than incoherent syllables, meaningful only in the context of malevolent intent. And that's fine to the extent that is the consensus, but it's not.

      Further, TK argues:

      Are African Americans accorded greater deference in the media than Asian Americans are? Yes, and rightly so, considering the historical and contemporary context. Black folks has gone through more shit, and are going through more shit, than Asian Americans have and are. To give African Americans a bit more breathing room is the right thing to do.

      So implicitly and tacitly, the argument is that some minorities are more equal then others and "rightly so". There is a racial caste and in the stratified society that is America it is only logical that we lie at the bottom and bear the humiliation of lowborn dalits.

      Soft racism and ridicule? Take it like the lowborns you are.

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    3. "It seems that for those who defend Colbert "ching chong" is no more than incoherent syllables"

      Huh? Nobody of consequence believes that. One more time (and try to pay very careful attention, please) the point is that they are *meaningful*, racist syllables used in a satirical context to make an obviously non-racist point.

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  5. I don't dispute the most, if any, of what's in this article, but I find myself agree with Shawna F. about Colbert's show in general. A lot of people have written about "ironic" racism- sometimes referred to as "hipster racism"- and to me this is definitely what Colbert is doing. Essentially Colbert gets to act like a racist and then be praised by liberals for his anti-racism while simultaneously allowing racists in his audiences (which includes many self identified liberals!) to go "Ha ha, them asians is funny." Park's response to this specific instance is disproportionate, but Colbert's brand of satire effectively encourages White Americans to laugh and not question their own biases because they "don't really mean it". That is a kind of harm too.

    I do agree very strongly that hijacking one cause to support another is inappropriate. Advocacy doesn't have to be a zero sum gain, but comments like "You would object if it was about Black people!" are a very blatant attempt to redirect energy from one cause to another, as is the effective lack of interest in First Nation peoples' issues that many people have displayed throughout the whole dialogue surrounding the football team's name in the first place.

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    1. A lot of people have written about "ironic" racism- sometimes referred to as "hipster racism"- and to me this is definitely what Colbert is doing.

      Disagree. Colbert is an established character and there is no chance for mistaking his intent. Not so with hipsters.

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    2. See my link below that states strong conservatives interpret Colbert's statements about liberals as being serious statements about liberals and who interpret Colbert as representing a conservative viewpoint. People regularly mistake his intent, even in major ways, so it is false to say there is no chance of this happening. What I don't think is that an offhand twitter comment made by someone representing Colbert is harmful enough that all on its own justifies canceling Colbert's entire show.

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    3. Regarding the link I mentioned, I feel that it was a bit disingenuous of me to use it as a refutation without having actually read through it, especially given the amount of effort you put into your writing. I had some extra time today that I used to read it. The study actually lends much support to my argument, although I can't use the study on its own as proof since it is a college student study done over a relatively small population. The study also only addresses viewers interpreting Colbert as conservative, but I believe that self identified liberals who have internalized racist viewpoints will likewise interpret Colbert as confirming their viewpoint.

      To bring the ideas in the study to the clip you are writing, let's imagine that I am racist who believes that it is wholly appropriate for me to use slurs whenever I want and that anyone who disagrees is part of the PC culture that is stifling America. This imaginary me thinks there is nothing wrong with calling a football team redskins. She then sees the Colbert clip and thinks "Yes! Asians do talk funny and referring to them as orientals is just as appropriate as the 'redskins' team name." If you believe that this is not a possible interpretation then you greatly underestimate the human potential for confirmation bias.

      Note here that I do agree that it's clear- at least clear to me- that Colbert was attempting to criticize racism and that this should be factored into the response to him. I do not agree that he has generally succeeded in propagating a clear, anti-racist message. What many people will remember from the clip is not the anti-racist intentions but the "funny" asian stereotypes.

      Here's some quotes from the study, in case anyone is interested:

      "Thus, with biased processing individuals actually see and hear different information depending on whether that information will help or hinder their personal goals and needs."

      "Baym (2005) offered a qualitative understanding of how people negotiate this ambiguity arguing that The Daily Show host Jon Stewart provides context for viewers as he interjects commentary during segments, moves in and out of character, and even laughs at himself. From this perspective, it becomes clear that while the satirical messages themselves are ambiguous, Stewart aids viewer interpretation by offering himself as an unambiguous source and providing external cues... In contrast, we outline below how Colbert’s dead- pan satire and commitment to character do not provide viewers with the external cues or source recognition that Stewart offers. Thus, Colbert creates conditions under which biased processing is likely to occur… [S]tudies show that audiences struggle with deadpan and other forms of satire, which have been associated with miscues and errors among message recipients."

      [I personally feel that John Stewart sometimes crosses the line, but that is another discussion.]


      "In a recent content analysis of Stephen Colbert’s show host persona, LaMarre and McCluskey (2007) found that Colbert parodies a conservative political pundit who makes socially con- servative, authoritative, and aggressive statements toward out groups. Thus, a biased or errant interpretation of his statements would be consistent with political and social conservatism, while a negated interpretation of the satire would suggest something quite different."

      "This set of results supports the idea that conservatives not only processed the messages as targeting liberals, but also processed the source as being conservative, Republican, and disliking liberals. By contrast, liberals perceived Colbert as just kidding and did not perceive the source as conservative, Republican, or disliking liberals… It appears that both groups find Colbert equally funny suggesting that both sides see the humor yet differ in their perceptions of what or who is being parodied and/or satirized in the late-night comedy show."

      - http://www.democracynow.org/resources/63/263/The_Irony_of_Satire.pdf

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  6. Rebeca,

    I am not upset with people not getting Colbert's humor. It is quite understandable - he caters to the elite clientele and the majority of people are dumb. It is a sad fact of life, but it's true. What I am upset about is that people who do not get his humor are trying to explain to others his motives and intentions and claim that his joke is racist. Just because it looks racist, it does not mean it is.

    I also have a problem with your post. You use your own opinion as if it is a fact thus claiming your own guess as the obvious statement. Let me ask you this:

    1. How do you know that there are racists in Colbert's audience?
    2. How do you know that many self identified liberals are racists?
    3. How do you know that racists in his audience go "Ha ha them Asians are funny"?

    Do you have proof? If you don't, those are your assumptions. You can live with your assumptions for the rest of your life OR you can try questioning your own trail of thought.

    I am not a racist and I enjoy watching Colbert. Every single episode, every single show. And when he makes jokes that have something to do with African Americans or Asians, I do not go "Ha ha, them asians are funny!" I go, "Ha ha, Colbert is brilliant and funny!" It is not the Ching Chong Ding Dong part that I found funny, like the rest of us who actually get the joke. It was the whole joke, not taken out of the context. And the whole joke is very anti-racist.

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    Replies
    1. Understanding the joke isn't necessarily the same as appreciating it or thinking it's funny. Likewise, saying that someone could used Colbert's show to justify their racist viewpoint- and this I am genuinely saying- isn't the same as saying that all people who like Colbert's show are racist.

      How do I know that there are racists in Colbert's audience? Because Colbert's audience is the American public and the American public has long been saturated with racist ideas. A quick google search that The Daily Show averages "2.5 million total viewers". I suggest that at least some of these 2.5 million people have internalized various racist viewpoints, where the exact viewpoints vary from from person to person in terms of specifics. Simply put, being able to "get it" by your standards is not a precondition for viewing the Colbert Report.

      To your second example, I am speaking of people in my own life who I have met that see themselves as "progressive" or "liberal" but react to me or other people in bigoted ways. For instance, when I was in high school during one of my classes the teacher asked us to raise our hand if we thought women had achieved gender equality in the United States. All the male students raised their hand, while none of the female student raised their hands. Some of those male students identified as liberals. Throughout my life I continued to have similar experiences, where there is a heavy bias towards men- even "liberal" men- thinking that women have achieved gender equality, while women do not. My conclusion here is that many self identified liberals have internalized sexist ideas because it is my lived experience that this is the truth.

      Similarly, my lived experience regarding American attitudes towards ethnic minority groups is that many people are highly racist. I could give examples, but you most likely wouldn't know the majority of these people. The Korean has talked about media bias towards Asian Americans a fair bit, so since you're already on this blog that would be an okay place to start if you wanted specific examples about American culture generally.

      For number 3, see number 2. It is my lived experience. I also see people online even more blatantly mocking ethnic minority groups when they can escape accountability through the veil of anonymity..

      I understand that you subjectively enjoy the show, which is not something I am challenging. My viewpoint is that the Colbert Report tends towards being objectively harmful by not encouraging accountability in its viewers. It is already easy to laugh when someone seems to be confirming one's previously held viewpoint, but it is hard to be self critical and recognize when we are making mistakes.

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    2. Oh, here is something objective:
      "Strong conservatives appear to have processed Colbert’s statements (which targeted liberals) as representing how Colbert actually feels, an interpretation that most favored their own political ideology."
      http://www.democracynow.org/resources/63/263/The_Irony_of_Satire.pdf

      Note that I have not read this whole document, but when this first came out I saw various articles about it and I remembered it just now. That means there's some objective data that people interpret Colbert in a way that confirms their already held views.

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    3. The only people that could possibly misinterpret Colbert's show AS AN ACTUAL REAL TALK SHOW are people that are morons or don't actually watch the show.

      If you are an actual racist and tune in and watch a few episodes thinking you are watching Rush Limbaugh or something, its becoming pretty obvious, pretty quickly that the Colbert Show is a parody. His mocking of actual racists isn't all that subtle, again if you simply just you know WATCH a whole episode or two.

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    4. Saying the Colbert Report might actually encourage actual and "justify" racism is basically saying that any show which contains fictional racist characters is encouraging racism. So "All in the Family" is encouraging racism b/c of the Archie Bunker character. "South Park" is encouraging racism and antisemitism b/c of the Cartman character. Same could be said of movies like Django Unchained, etc etc.

      With this logic, basically any show or movie depicting the racism of Nazis or Plantation slave owners or simply having a racist character of any kind is problematic because someone might watch it and use them to justify their racism. This despite the fact that the show's clear intent and context is not to glorify the racism but to condemn it.

      That just seems somewhat of a stretch.

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  7. I think that there are two culprits here. One is the #ColbertReport tweeter (Colbert himself didn't tweet it) who made that tweet. That tweet alone was going to cause a very high chance of misunderstanding. If I knew nothing of the show and just saw that, my initial reaction would be WTF??? Even Colbert admitted this on this show.

    I also think that Suey Park deserves some blame here. When she retweeted that #ColbertReport message, she claimed she knew it was satire as she watches the show. But did she explain that to her followers or did she merely retweet knowing a lot of followers were going to draw the wrong conclusions?

    Again, if you want to be offended by satire and racism of FICTIONAL characters even knowing they are fictional and clearly intended to mock said racism, then I won't argue otherwise. You have a right to your opinion. However, I feel that a lot of people who were offended were people who don't watch the show and therefore completely misunderstood the context of the Colbert Show.

    So IF Suey Park KNEW Colbert Report is a satirical parody fake talk whose "host" is actually a FICTIONAL CHARACTER meant to mock racists, then I think it was irresponsible for her not to at least point that out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Except that Stephen Colbert is one of the most famous comedians and satirists in the U.S. He famously refused to break character in 2 separate "inappropriate" occasions: before President W. Bush and Congress.

      Delete
    2. I'm not sure its fair to say Colbert is so famous that everyone should have known that #ColbertReport was referencing satire. I can tell you that someone metioned this story to me and had no idea who he was or what his show is about. In the end, the tweeter who wrote that out of context #ColbertReport bears a lot of responsibility. Colbert himself admitted as much.

      Delete
  8. I think people should keep in mind that TK did not grow up in the US. His formative years were spent elsewhere and this is germane to the discussion. His feelings about certain "magic words" or slurs will have a bit more aloofness for him.

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  9. The mere existence of racist words is not in and of itself "racism" or "encouraging or justifying racism".

    I mean if I said something mockingly like, "Snyder's Redskins Foundation for Native Americans is ridiculous. While he's at it maybe he should start a Kike Foundation for Jews or something just as absurd" are you going to say that is a racist statement rather than a statement attacking racism? Am I now an antisemite or encouraging antisemitism simply because I used the slur "Kike" regardless of intent or more importantly context?

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  10. Satire should be banned, period. The risk of people not understanding satirical humor and having their racist attitudes reinforced are too great. I speak from experience. After reading Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," I went out and ate 3 Irish orphans. Then someone told me that Swift was actually savagely satirizing English anti-Irish racism. I was like, "Oops. My bad. [burp]" We need to moron-proof society, and getting rid of satire would be a good start.

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    Replies
    1. Well to be fair, the "outrage" WASN'T primarily driven by the actual clip. It was driven by the #ColberReport tweet. And for that you have to put the blame on Comedy Central. They made the mistake of thinking that this clip was only going out to Colbert Report fans who knew the show and forgot it might go out to people who never watched or don't know the show.

      So while it is obvious that the actual clip is satire, it is far from obvious that the #ColbertReport tweet was referencing said satire. If you don't watch the show and don't even know what the show is about all you read is this:

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

      I don't think you can fault people for misunderstanding. Not everyone has heard of Colbert Report and knows what that show is about.

      Again the outrage was driven by the #ColbertReport tweet not by people passing around clips of that segment. And no I don't think people have an obligation to do all sorts of searching and digging to figure out the context. Either Comedy Central should have provided that context or shouldn't have sent the tweet at all. Even Colbert himself said as much.

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  11. TK,

    I agree strongly with #3. I've read through quite a bit of comment threads in various articles covering this #CancelColbert thing, and I've seen a lot of people mocking any kind of Asian American movement because we're supposedly doing better than everybody, including White people, in America.

    This is what we're up against, the idea that there are no worthwhile issues for Asian Americans to address. Frivolities like this don't help. So the next time something truly offensive happens, it will be harder for Asian Americans to gain traction because of things like this.

    I am also getting a KONY 2012 vibe out of this whole fiasco, in that a worthwhile issue has become forgotten and plagued because of one eccentric and attention-seeking individual who has shifted the discussion entirely to him/herself. Social media acts as a multiplier for narcissism as well as cyberbullying, and it makes online activism a very hazardous activity.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "in certain contexts (hey, there's that word again,)"
    If there is one thing I love as much as TK's eloquence, it's his humour!

    ReplyDelete
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