TIME Culture

Anti-Racism Activists on Colbert: We Will Protest This Until It Ends

#cancelcolbert
Scott Gries—Picturegroup/Comedy Central

The marginalization of other voices is now complete.

The cross-promotion of more white male celebrities prove it: The entertainment industry has perfected the development of white, cis, straight, male characters. The marginalization of “other voices” — except when those “others” are brought in only to aid in the cheap punch line of a joke — is complete. This is aggression that we do not have to accept. We will protest this until it ends.

Many dismissed the protest we undertook last month with #CancelColbert, a hashtag we set up in response to a blatantly racist Tweet about Asians from the Colbert show’s account.

We think people are surprised to see that their monolithic view of Asian Americans as a model minority is being challenged. We are not the problem. Your stereotypes and narrow roles for us are the problem.

Some Asian Americans were quick to protect the myth of our being a model minority. They disowned us and said we do not speak for them. We agree. Asian Americans are not a monolithic group, and we do not speak for anyone but ourselves.

Others wanted to silence us immediately. Young Asian American women, with little institutional power, are not supposed to be this loud. Our voices are not expected to be raised — and when they’re raised, they’ve not meant to travel.

Our age and appearance have led to us being infantilized — and therefore our political ideals have been treated as incoherent and immature. We are accused of being ungrateful sidekicks of honorary whiteness. It is baffling that we would reject this role to instead critique white supremacy.

We are supposed to express appreciation for our honorary whiteness by remaining silent and accepting breadcrumbs in return. But accepting the role of model minority only reaffirms the logic of racism. We reject our honorary whiteness.

As women of color, we are rarely heard unless we bend to the conduct codes of whiteness — a way of speaking and operating that massages power. If we reject these politics of respectability, we are easily dismissed and slotted into the crazy/angry Asian archetype.

Our role in mainstream media is the perpetual race commentator — unable to exist in a way that isn’t reactionary and defensive to whiteness. We were only heard when we responded to a beloved white man.

People seem to think that what we’re calling for is fake and overly positive representation of our own minority and others — which would amount to a humorless landscape. That is not what we want.

The irony is that we want complexity, we want nuance, we want critical representations of race, gender, class, sexuality, disability, and more. But we reject the idea of representation being our end goal. We will not mute who we are in order to be accepted into the mainstream. If our liberation is dependent on getting our oppressors to humanize us, then we have already lost.

The main thing we’ve learned from #CancelColbert, and the outcome we now see as Colbert is elevated once again, is that the belittling the voices, activism, and writing of women of color is a profitable venture.

There is so much to gain by correcting us, dismissing us, rewriting our narratives. Duly noted, white, neoliberal heteropatriarchy — we will be sure to march forward with new tactics and strategies. We are not accidental or frivolous; we are intentional and unrelenting. We do not depend on a beloved white man to begin, end, or continue our protest.

This is a distinction between liberalism and radicalism — between reform and the dismantling of structures.

We will never apologize. Apologize for settler colonialism. Apologize for anti-blackness. Apologize for orientalism.

Suey Park (@suey_park) is a writer and activist currently living in Chicago. Eunsong Kim (@clepsydras) is a writer, researcher and educator mostly residing in San Diego.

TIME Race

We Want To #CancelColbert

"The Colbert Report" Salutes The Troops
Scott Gries—Picturegroup/Comedy Central

The problem isn’t that we can’t take a joke. The problem is that white comedians and their fans believe they are above reproach.

There are some common phrases that come out when people want to derail a legitimate debate on the Internet (particularly on Twitter): “You’re overly sensitive” or “If you weren’t so hostile, people would listen to you” or “You’re taking things too personally” or “I don’t find this offensive” or “You probably just misunderstood.”

After observing the progress of the hash tag we started yesterday, #CancelColbert — which we set up in response to a blatantly racist Tweet about Asians from the Colbert show’s account — we’ve seen some new variations: “Get Over It,” “Deport Suey,” “You’re Anti American,” and even a petition to have Suey Park’s First Amendment rights revoked. This last one is particularly ironic, as Suey and other tweeters to #CancelColbert had simply dared to challenge the First Amendment rights of a white male comedian. It seems “freedom of speech” has the assumed caveat “freedom of speech — for white men.”

If comedians want to protest the racist name of the Redskins football team and to ban racist mascots, as the comedian’s defenders claim is his goal, there are a variety of ways to organize and to highlight this issue. But this isn’t about white liberals wanting to change the name, or their devotion to destroying settler-colonialism: It’s about their feeling entitled to make jokes about “The Other” in the name of “progress.” This does nothing to alleviate the burden of people of color; it simply perpetuates a part of the entertainment industry in which our marginalization remains profitable.

These white liberals are not mad that we pointed out racism, they are mad that they now have to consider the ways in which they may be racist.The logic of those who argue “Get Over It” is set up to privilege reckless behavior by placing the blame on the audience. But if the joke isn’t actually racist, then why have so many racist slurs been hurled at those of us promoting #CancelColbert? The outrage surrounding our criticism is about white liberals feeling entitled to engage in hate speech under the guise of “satire.” These white liberals are not mad that we pointed out racism, they are mad that they now have to consider the ways in which they may be racist.

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.

We are proud to be what Sara Ahmed defines as Feminist Killjoys — meaning we “Will not laugh at jokes designed to cause offense.” We refuse to believe we have created racism by pointing to it and naming it. As Dave Zirin tweeted in our defense: “if Suey Park pointed at a burning building, then she must be an arsonist.” We don’t accept such silly logic.

#CancelColbert was started by tweeters who wanted to speak back to Colbert’s racism. These protesters were disingenuously labelled the “TwitterPolice” by journalists, even as their hashtag and trend was immediately trolled and the “ColbertNationers” took it upon themselves to educate “the others” on the Art of Satire.

We have some tips of our own that we’d like to share:

  • Satire Lesson 1: If you need to explain whatever it is that you were trying to do, it’s not working. Your audience is telling you that it’s broken, it’s old. It needs to be reworked.
  • Satire Lesson 2: Tone is not a shield. “Tone” is one element in a larger construction.
  • Satire Lesson 3: If the only people who “get” your satire are racists — might we suggest some soul searching on your end?

Satire is not making props and metaphors of the history (is it history?) of oppression. The problem isn’t that we can’t take a joke. The problem is that white comedians and their fans believe they are above reproach. The standard at ColbertNation for comedy is apparently the throwaway caricature for cheap laughs. We see no reason why this standard must be honored or protected.

The guises of “satire,” “irony,” and “humor” are not shields of armor against criticism. We did not misunderstand satire, “The Colbert Report,” or white liberals. They misunderstood us, and we fought back.

Suey Park (@suey_park) is a writer and activist currently living in Chicago. Eunsong Kim (@clepsydras) is a writer, researcher & educator mostly residing in San Diego.

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