Don’t #CancelColbert: Stephen Colbert Blasted Over Satirical Tweet About Racism That He Didn’t Even Send
You read a tweet that looks like it’s from a celebrity and it says this:
“I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding Dong Foundation For Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
Pretty racist and disturbing, right? Of course it is. Then you realize that it was tweeted from the Twitter handle @ColbertReport, which is run by Comedy Central, and came from the mouth of the character “Stephen Colbert” played by Stephen Colbert.
Oh yes, we are amidst yet another huge Internet outrage shitstorm that grew out of proportion in a New York minute.
The tweet was a reference to Wednesday’s episode of “The Colbert Report” about the Washington Redskins football team and their owner Dan Snyder. The Redskins have long been under fire for their racist team name (a reference to Native Americans) and the ownership’s refusal to change it, despite repeated requests from those in Native communities. (Check out the blog Native Appropriations for lots of backstory on this.) Recently Dan Snyder announced via the team’s website that they created the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, which will “commit to making a real, lasting, positive impact on Native American quality of life.” In other words, he is using the offensive name in the title of the foundation they started to help those affected by the offensive name.
Now, back to that racist joke on Twitter: it addressed a 2005 skit about “Ching-Chong Ding Dong,” a character being spoofed by the character of “Stephen Colbert ” underscoring how his character is bombastically ridiculous and satirical. He says things in jest that Old White Men like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly say in utter seriousness. You can watch the original “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” skit here, which — of course — is clearly disturbing and offensive and intentionally making the character of “Stephen Colbert” look like he’s wearing a Beck-Limbaugh-O’Reilly skin suit. A meta-joke, if you will.
But the group of activists on Twitter who started the #CancelColbert hashtag — spearheaded by activist and #NotYourAsianSidekick tweeter extraordinaire Suey Park — didn’t seem to pick up on any of that. Considering the fact that the Ching-Chong Ding Dong skit is several years old, that’s understandable. But the fact that some hashtaggers are now digging in their heels about how the joke is racist, not spoofing racism, underscores the very problem at hand. So many of us on the Internet have a kneejerk reaction to things without looking at the broader context and meaning.
The #CancelColbert hashtag grew some momentum, enough so that it attracted the attention of Stephen Colbert himself, who addressed the controversy over his personal Twitter handle, @StephenAtHome:
Was last night’s tweet badly timed because it’s so out of context? Yes. Was it fundamentally racist? Yes — and that’s the point. It’s a hyperbolic, satirical joke about racism and the inability for people like Dan Synder and anyone who defends the Redskins’ name to understand why their bigotry isn’t insignificant. It wasn’t even a “racist joke,” it was a joke about racism — a point that seems lost on those tweeting to #CancelColbert. As blogger Sean O’Neal at The AV Club noted:
The difference between being purposefully, broadly racist to illustrate another’s only slightly more subtle racism is a nuance that, strangely enough, does not translate to a medium where 140 characters is the only mode of expression, or social activism is as simple as adding a hashtag.
The offensive tweet from @ColbertReport has since been deleted. The rest of us are out here, fighting on blogs and Facebook and Twitter about how best to do comedy.