TIME Television

#Cancel Your Outrage: Stephen Colbert Is Not a Racist

The #CancelColbert campaign shows that social-media life has become a race to be the most offended first.

Yesterday, the Comedy Central Twitter account for The Colbert Report posted a very dumb tweet from a very smart satire.

On Wednesday’s Report, Stephen Colbert’s idiot-pundit character gave a “defense” of Dan Snyder, the Washington Redskins owner who has bitterly clung to the team’s racist nickname. Citing Snyder’s hamhanded attempts at p.r. spin–trying to buy goodwill for the name with a “foundation” and some token donations to Native Americans–Colbert referenced his own show’s racist “mascot,” a Chinese caricature named Ching-Chong Ding-Dong, who the show introduced in 2005 in a meta-skit about the fictional Colbert trying to excuse his own racism. Mimicking Snyder, Colbert offered to make amends “by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” (You can watch the whole thing online.)

Thursday, the Comedy Central account–run by the channel, not Colbert or the show’s staff–sent a tweet consisting essentially of just that line. As a punchline to an extended, constructed bit, it was a searing sendup of Snyder’s creating “the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation” (because, Colbert said, “Redskins is not offensive if you only use it once in your name”). As an individual tweet, it just looked like a non sequitur racist slur from a famous person to about a million followers.

There are a couple ways to react to this kind of situation:

(1) Man, that tweet was really… bad. Stephen Colbert always seemed decent. Is he really an insensitive, raging racist? Is there some kind of explanation for this? Could someone have made a well-intentioned mistake here?

(2) WHAT? THIS IS B.S.! SOMEONE NEEDS TO LOSE THEIR JOB!

These days, social media, Twitter, Facebook–the whole React-o-Sphere–are permanently set to #2.

So once again we went from zero to I Demand Someone’s Head in no time flat. In short order, the hashtag #CancelColbert was trending on Twitter. That’s right. Nine years of brilliant satire demolishing hypocrisy and injustice? Eh, fine. Five seconds of reading a tweet? CANCEL!

Because what else did you need to know? What context did you need? The tweet was right there! Somebody retweeted it! People whose reactions I trust about this sort of thing are angry! It’s not my job to do further research! Stephen Colbert, I declare you #Guilty!

Maybe there are people out there who would argue that the full skit itself was racist–that, in fact, one can never create satirical racism to lampoon actual racism, because the wrong people might take the wrong pleasure from it for the wrong reasons. I would probably disagree with you, but I’d gladly read the argument–it’s a version of the arguments that people have made against Archie Bunker and George Jefferson and Eric Cartman and Borat. Satire is not its own defense; it can be badly executed, or it can be an excuse for actual hate. And if you want to make that argument about Colbert, go ahead, though I’d say you’ve got nine years of his show arguing against you.

But really this goes beyond Stephen Colbert or even racism. It’s about the instantaneous urge now to react fastest and most righteously, to Pick a Damn Side Already and demand the greatest punishment, to always, no matter what, immediately assume the worst of somebody who crosses you the wrong way. Sometimes it’s about a comedian, sometimes it’s about a politician or TV news host blurting something, sometimes it’s the gasoline-fueled flame war over a hot-button nontroversy like the Elan-Diane airplane war that turned out to be fake.

There is simply no prize for taking the most time to consider, posting the most even-handed and nuanced reaction, demanding the most proportionate punishment. If I’m being honest, this post itself is proof of that. No news site is going to get a billion clicks rushing out the headline: Internet User Considers Facts, Decides Tweet Was Maybe In Poor Judgment But With Extenuating Circumstances.

That’s just the media world we live in. Maybe someone like Stephen Colbert could do a late-night satire on it. And if he does, let me be the first to demand, in advance, that he be #Fired.

TIME Television

Colbert Tweet Draws Accusations of Racism and #CancelColbert

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Stephen Colbert arrives at the White House in Washington on Feb. 11, 2014 for the state dinner in honor of French President Francois Hollande. Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images

A now-deleted tweet from the account linked to his show The Colbert Report has comedian Stephen Colbert on the defensive, saying he wasn't aware who wrote the post that aimed to mock Asian stereotypes and was reportedly taken out of context from a recent show

Stephen Colbert has built his career out of playing the overly offensive character we all know and love on The Colbert Report. But while most viewers realize his non-PC humor and even downright offensive gags are satire, his character’s nuance can get lost on Twitter. Case in point: a tweet from his Colbert Report account attempted to mock Asian stereotypes and, instead, caused real offense and spawned a #CancelColbert hashtag.

The since-deleted tweet read: “I’m willing to show the #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

Colbert later said he didn’t write the tweet and was unsure who did, USA Today reports.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the tweet “was originally a quote from Wednesday night’s show. But during the episode segment, the joke was in a clear context—Colbert was mocking Redskins owner Dan Snyder for responding to complaints about his team name by announcing a foundation to help Native Americans.”

Without that context, Colbert’s tweet read as just plain offensive to some and stirred up a lot of anger and backlash.

Of course, Colbert has always been upfront in the past about the incendiary character he plays on his show, which is meant to be a send-up of offensive conservatism. For his part, Colbert acknowledged—and appeared to agree with—the outrage from his own personal Twitter account:

TIME Japan

A Japanese Soccer Team Plays to an Empty Stadium Because of Racist Fans

First, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes the country on a rightward, nationalist shift. Now soccer fans unfurl banners reading "Japanese only" at stadium entrances

Japanese soccer officials have found a novel way to prevent racist behavior in the stands: Don’t let the fans show up.

Officials ordered one of the top teams in Japan’s professional J-League to play in an empty stadium Sunday as punishment for a “Japanese only” banner that fans displayed during a game in Tokyo earlier this month.

That incident came amid rising concerns in Japan over nationalist sentiments. Japan is mired in ugly disputes with neighboring China and South Korea over territorial claims and historical issues.

Officials of the Urawa Red Diamonds team said a small group of supporters hung a “Japanese only” banner in a stadium entranceway during a home game on March 8. They said the banner was to discourage foreigners from sitting in that section and disrupting group cheers; security guards later reported hearing “discriminatory remarks” toward foreigners.

Team officials said they did not remove the banner until after the game because, initially, they did not deem it racist or discriminatory. The issue went viral after fans posted photos of the banner online.

Urawa Reds’ officials later apologized and said they had banned about 20 members of a supporters’ group. The team president said he would return three months’ salary as a show of responsibility.

That wasn’t good enough for league officials, however. They ordered Urawa Reds to play their next home game — Sunday — in an empty stadium.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has provoked concern over rising nationalist sentiments in Japan.

In December, he drew a sharp rebuke from the U.S., as well as neighboring countries, for visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines 14 Class A war criminals. Abe appointees to key broadcasting posts have disputed Japan’s responsibility for wartime atrocities and other abuses.

It’s unclear how much the Abe Administration’s rightward tilt may have encouraged soccer fans’ behavior, says Robert Dujarric, director of Temple University’s Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, in Tokyo.

“As much as Abe’s been doing all the wrong things, he doesn’t actually spew out the sort of xenophobic stuff that you get in Europe. Overall, I’d say the ‘Japanese only’ banner is not reflective of the bulk of Japanese society,” Dujarric said.

During Sunday’s match, stadium billboards were replaced with signs promoting the U.N.’s Sports for Peace program and players’ uniforms sported matching logos.

In a brief ceremony before the game, team captain Yuki Abe said the players pledged to “stamp out racism, be it discrimination against race, skin color, gender, language or religion or background, and will not tolerate any discriminatory or insulting language or behavior.”

Urawa Reds, one of the few J-League teams without a foreign player, were fined about $50,000 in 2010 when fans taunted foreign players on another team.

Urawa Reds and Shimizu S-Pulse played to a 1-1 draw.

TIME Religion

ABC’s ‘Alice in Arabia’ Is Racist

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Dieter Spears—Getty Images/Vetta

The pilot, which riffs on the Alice in Wonderland tale, reinforces old racist tropes in which an American girl (presumably a white girl) is threatened by scary “other” people of color.

American Muslims have lost control of their narratives both online and in the media. While violent Islamic extremists have grown increasingly adept at using social media to craft their messages – as have anti-Muslim activists – more normative voices from Muslims have been drowned out.

This lack of control over self-articulated narratives was exemplified yesterday with the announcement of ABC Family’s new pilot programs, which include a show that got the attention of Arab and Muslim Americans across social media. One such pilot, “Alice in Arabia” — a title cringe-worthy in itself — has been described as follows:

Alice in Arabia” is a high-stakes drama series about a rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy befalls her parents, is unknowingly kidnapped by her extended family, who are Saudi Arabian. Alice finds herself a stranger in a new world but is intrigued by its offerings and people, whom she finds surprisingly diverse in their views on the world and her situation. Now a virtual prisoner in her grandfather’s royal compound, Alice must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil.”

The Twittersphere exploded with the hashtag #AliceinArabia, as people tweeted their offense to ABC Family. The criticisms are plentiful and varied.

The show reinforces old racist tropes in which an American girl (presumably a white girl) is threatened by scary “other” people of color – considering the sordid history of Americans vilifying Native American men and then black men as dangerous to white women, a completely understandable objection. The entire framework of the show is through the kidnap plotline, confirming the kinds of fears about Arabs and Muslims the movie “Not Without My Daughter” established decades ago.

The show certainly pits Americans against “Arabians” (tweeters pointed out “Arabia” is not actually a place), and we can assume the “independent spirit and wit” of Alice the American will prevail as triumphant over the lesser evolved Arabians. Thus the plot both bolsters the highly troublesome binary of us vs. them (Muslims being them), a factor linked to the growth of anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes in the US since 9/11, and confirms American superiority.

But wait, there’s more. Not only will “Alice in Arabia” exacerbate the marginalization of Muslim and Arab men, it perfectly reflects Western attitudes towards Muslim women. Hear that sound? It’s millions of Muslim women snorting as Alice attempts to survive “life behind the veil.” The very idea that the veil is something to be survived strips Muslim women of their intellect and agency and makes them the subjects of this practice rather than sentient protagonists of it.

The pilot also uses the real-life difficulties faced by women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a platform for ratings, and diminishes the work of activists in and outside the country to effect meaningful reform. An imported heroine, who is both the victim and the great white hope, not only smacks of Orientalism but frames serious issues through her narrative alone. In doing so, it reaffirms the fact that overwhelmingly the stories in the West of Muslims and Arabs are not actually being told by Muslims and Arabs.

The challenges of Muslims in the West are many, but there is no question that having control over our narratives and the messages about our faith are paramount. These narratives shape public opinion, impact civil liberties, and even influence our foreign policy. In failing to self-define ourselves, our culture and our faith we lose authority both to religious extremists and anti-Muslim bigots.

It can only be hoped that ABC Family and other media outlets are paying attention. The American Muslim community is ripe with talent and voices who can actually tell these stories in relevant, meaningful, and authentic ways. Portraying Muslims and Arabs as nuanced Americans instead of foreign caricatures would be a good first step for television. Instead of reaching across the globe for “Alice in Arabia,” perhaps we should start here at home with “Ahmed in Austin”.

TIME

‘Don’t Freak, I’m a Sikh,’ Video Seeks to Combat Bias

Sikh fashion blog Singh Street Style' video implores people not to "freak" when they see a man in a turban.

For some in the west, a man wearing a turban can become a target of suspicion, fear and even violence.

In 2013, a Gap add featuring Sikh actor Waris Ahluwalia was famously defaced, changing the slogan “make love” to “make bombs.” The attack implied a connection between Sikhs and terrorists that does not exist in reality. It made apparent something most Sikhs themselves know al too well: that their religion, and the turbans they wear to symbolize it, are greatly misunderstood.

The Singh Street Style blog, an English Sikh fashion site, produced this “Don’t Freak, I’m Sikh” video in an effort to correct misperceptions and explain their culture. Calling their turbans “a crown, a uniform and a symbol against oppression,” it asks viewers to see the turban as a sign of friendship and integrity.

TIME celebrities

Paula Deen: ‘I’m Still Alive’

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Paula Deen youtube

Disgraced TV chef tells People she's mounting a comeback

Paula Deen’s making a comeback after her racism scandal last year, or at least that’s what she told People this week.

“I’m fighting to get my name back,” the disgraced celebrity chef told the magazine in a cover interview. “I used to have dreams that I lost everything,” she added. “And when it finally happens, you think, ‘I’m still alive.’ “

Deen lost her Food Network contract and other endorsement deals after she admitted in a leaked deposition that she had used the N-word “a very long time” ago, and her plans to host a “Southern plantation-styled” wedding featuring African-American servants were revealed.

“When I woke up each morning, it was like my world was crashing down again,” she said of the months after the scandal broke.

Dean is hoping to get back on her feet with a new company backed by a $75 million injection from an Arizona-based investment firm.

[People]

TIME India

What the Death of Nido Taniam Tells Us About Racism in India

Indians from the northeastern states attend a vigil against racism and the beating and killing of student Nido Taniam, Feb. 2, 2014 in New Delhi.
Indians from the northeastern states attend a vigil against racism and the beating and killing of student Nido Taniam, Feb. 2, 2014 in New Delhi. Hindustan Times / Getty Images

An influx of migrants from India's ethnically distinct northeast has sparked racial tension, and now deadly violence, in big cities like Delhi

Nido Taniam was a young man from Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India. The son of a state legislator, Taniam was like 20-year-olds anywhere, with his trendy haircut and love of music. Last Friday, he stopped at a shop in a market in Delhi, to ask for directions. The shopkeeper and his friends made fun of Taniam’s hair and clothes and a brawl began. It ended with Taniam’s death.

This wasn’t a senseless fight over a haircut, however. It was Taniam’s East Asian features that marked him out for attack and his death highlighted the racism that many from India’s beautiful but impoverished northeastern states are subjected to.

While not every incident ends in such a horrific manner, assaults on young men from the northeast are commonplace in Delhi. Alana Golmei, founding member of the Northeast Support Centre and helpline, says she gets half-a-dozen distress calls a week. “This was waiting to happen,” Golmei told TIME.

It isn’t just physical differences that make people from the northeast stand out in a big city like Delhi. The fact that they hail from societies that are culturally more permissive than mainstream India highlights their otherness in the eyes of other Indians. A series of separatist insurgencies being waged by the indigenous peoples of the northeast also exacerbates tensions. Then there’s the fact that the northeast is geographically distinct from the rest of the country, connected to it by just a narrow strip of land known as the Siliguri Corridor.

“The identity of an Indian man [or woman] is culturally defined and anyone who doesn’t fit that mold is an outsider,” says Pradip Phanjoubam, a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. “Once you are out of the northeast, you have to renegotiate the question of being an Indian as physically the northeast is a part of India but culturally it isn’t.”

In recent years, young people from the northeast — about 15,000 a year — have been making their way to the capital, fleeing the insurgencies and looking for better education and work opportunities. Casual racism is commonplace. They are derided as “Chinkies” (a reference to single-fold eyelids) or “bahadur” (a common term for Nepalese male servants in India).

The authorities have been ineffective in assimilating this new, ethnically and culturally distinct population. In 2007, the Delhi police published a much-criticized booklet, advising migrants from the northeast to avoid wearing revealing clothes and to not cook their native foods, such as bamboo shoots and fermented soy beans, for fear of upsetting Indian neighbors with unfamiliar smells. In 2011, the home affairs ministry made the use of hate-speech like “Chinky” punishable with five years in jail. Enforcement, naturally, is impossible, and legislation without the propagation of a multicultural and multiethnic view of India is meaningless.

“Societies do not change on their own,” says Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research. “We need to create conditions for this change, which includes identifying groups and areas that are perpetrating these kind of hate attacks.”

Taniam’s death might yet prove to be a flash point in addressing the problem. It certainly prompted an unprecedented show of concern from politicians. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal joined protests at Taniam’s killing on separate days, and Gandhi pledged to ensure that people from the northeast get “respect in this country.”

To people like Golmei, that respect cannot happen until mainstream Indian society acknowledges the racism deep within it. “Unless we recognize it and talk about it,” she says, “it’s not going to stop.”

TIME Books

Why the Tiger Mom’s New Book Makes You Nervous

Amy Chua is an easy whipping post. After all, she’s the iconic Tiger Mom who blithely bragged about her extreme parenting methods in her book 2011 Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Overnight, she became the archetype of the nightmare Asian mom, hell bent on raising uber-achievers at all cost.

I thought Battle Hymn was a humorous, breezy read, but many people (who probably never read the book) were outraged. No wonder, then, that critics and pundits would be looking for signs of hubris and depravity in Chua’s latest work.

Chua’s most recent book, The Triple Package, written with her husband and fellow Yale Law School faculty member Jeb Rubenfeld, looks at success in America—specifically why certain groups (Jews, Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese, Nigerians, Cubans, and Mormons) succeed. In a recent New York Times article, they offer a synopsis of the book, citing what they regard as the three pillars of success: (1) “a superiority complex—a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality”; (2) “insecurity—a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough”; and (3) “impulse control”—essentially self-discipline.

Already, the criticisms are reaching a crescendo. This time, though, Chua is condemned not just as an arrogant elitist and abusive mother but something else: racist.

Suketu Mehta writes in TIME that the book represents “the new racism—and I take it rather personally.” Mehta adds that “the language of racism in America has changed . . . It’s not about skin color anymore—it’s about ‘cultural traits.’”

In a follow-up to Mehta’s article, Anna Holmes argues that the “new racism” in The Triple Package is just a continuation of “the same old racism.” Her verdict on the book: “It’s the same old garbage, in a slightly different, Ivy League-endorsed disguise.”

The tenor of a lot of the criticism has been angry, hostile and extremely personal (Chua seems to get singled out much more so than her husband). And, I think, racist. The fact that some of the slings come from minority group members doesn’t make the criticisms less vicious.

What gives the attacks a distinct racist tinge is that Chua is reduced to a stereotype—a Dragon Lady, of sorts. This time, though, the Dragon Lady is not the evil seducer of old Fu Manchu movies, but the new evangelist of racial superiority. Maureen Callahan writes in the New York Post: “[Chua] used her heritage and all the worst stereotypes of Chinese women — cold, rigid Dragon Ladies.”

Chua is under attack because she and Rubenfeld are talking about ethnicity in a way that makes people uncomfortable. She’s writing about differences among divergent groups (ethnic or otherwise) and how those differences enter into the equation of success, as measured by education and socio-economic achievement (and yes, that definition of success has become a flash point too). The fear is that acknowledging those differences is to place cultures in a hierarchy, to be elitist. Jie-Song Zhang, for instance, writes in a rambling but somewhat poetic essay on The Huffington Post that Chua is adding “pollutants to our social eco-systems, strengthening the perception of difference, distance, and opposition between our communities.”

Of course, many children of immigrants no longer buy the narrative that their culture has been a primary driver of their success. Mehta, for one, writes that he is chagrined when relatives send him emails lauding the success of Indians. He says his family thrived in America not because of the “triple package” but because “my uncle in Detroit, an engineer, brought us over on the family reunification bill, not in shackles or in steerage.”

And that’s fine. We can all disagree about the origins of success and what success means.

But what’s outrageous about some of the criticism against Chua is that it essentially censors discussions that might touch a nerve. Labeling the speaker or the topic as exclusionary or racist is a quick way to undermine the legitimacy of the whole conversation.

All of this speaks volumes about how uncomfortable we are about talking about race, ethnicity, and success in America. And that this discussion is now being propelled by the Tiger Mom makes a lot of people nervous.

Chen is the creator and chief blogger of the Careerist and a senior reporter at the American Lawyer. The views expressed are solely her own.

TIME relationships

Harvard Study Suggests Racial Bias Among Some Airbnb Renters

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Getty Images/Johner RF /

Researchers analyzed temporary rental listings in New York City and found a pricing gap between races, but is it discrimination?

Black hosts who offer their places for temporary rent in New York City via Airbnb don’t get as much for their rentals as non-black hosts, even though the places maybe in equally good neighborhoods, and have just as many amenities, according to a new study.

(more…)

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