Satire shouldn’t call out racism with more racism
An article published in last week’s issue of The Tartan, titled “#CancelColbert fiasco is social justice gone wrong,” argued that the #CancelColbert hashtag was an overreaction which failed to further any legitimate social justice causes.
The definition of satire, according to dictionary.com, is the “use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.” But like all things, this word also has a social context outside of the dictionary definition that must be taken into account. Satire, as history has taught us, is supposed to mock the privileged classes, not the minorities. Satire is supposed to punch up at the oppressive social structure, not down at people who continue to be oppressed. The tweet that started the viral #CancelColbert Twitter hashtag did none of these things.
The tweet — “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever” — was posted by The Colbert Show’s twitter account as an out-of-context reference to a joke Stephen Colbert made on the show several weeks prior.
The tweet was supposed to highlight the hypocrisy in Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder running a charity for Native Americans, considering the racism inherent in the Redskins’ name and mascot. It was supposed to be satire exposing racism, but it used racism in order to do that.
This kind of satire — which uses one oppressed minority to emphasize the wrongs done to another — never works. How many people are actually talking about the Redskins now, rather than talking about Colbert or the tweet itself? Even the article written in this paper last week had very little mention about the cause that Colbert used to justify the tweet — that and his usual play of ducking and covering under the word “satire,” of course. There has been no call to action, no discussions, nothing about the Redskins.
Taken in context, the joke does criticize the name, and the hypocrisy that Colbert wanted to call attention to has been received. But the real issue is that he still used this call-out as a sort of comic relief. The words “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” are indeed reaffirming in the tweet that they are just as racist as “Redskins,” but the problem is that Asian people are still the butt of this joke, even if it may have been criticizing the people in power. Satire should never be used to demean a group that is already oppressed by throwing out words that have always been used to degrade, mock, or patronize that group.
Also, if the point of the tweet was that “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” was just as racist as “Redskins,” what gives Colbert the right to use those words at all? It sets up the idea that Colbert — and other white, heterosexual, cisgendered men in positions of power — can be so obviously not racist that they are above racism. That even if something he said is racist, his intentions were not and, therefore, he’s still not racist.
The thing is that intentions don’t matter in these discussions. The very valid feelings of many in the Asian-American community do matter. While some Asian-Americans might have been okay with the tweet, others were most definitely not, and it’s important to take into account the full range of public response in this discussion.
It’s not just about hurt feelings, either. The words that Colbert used in his tweet have been used against Asian-Americans to systematically oppress for a long time, and that kind of hurt doesn’t just go away because the tweet was supposed to be satire.
Colbert is a white man with huge amounts of privilege and access. He has many avenues through which he can affect change. I’m disappointed that he would flaunt his privilege in such a way.