#CancelColbert for Lampooning Racism?


Comedy Central

The Internet is, for better or worse, an amplifying device. Especially on Twitter, whether it's #FreeBieber and #FreeAlaa, people can really crank their opinions up to 11. Amplification does not mean clarification though, and everyone's favorite microblogging site is at the center of another a hot mess, fighting about Stephen Colbert, racism, and the stinging impact of satire.

The Comedy Central pundit ran a segment about the Washington Redskins on Wednesday, mocking the team's owner for starting the Washington Redskins Original American Foundation. To hit home his point that the charity is an empty gesture, Colbert joked about starting his own Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever. The next day, someone in control of the Colbert Report's official twitter account wrote about the satirical foundation.

Cue the outrage.

Suey Park, a self-described writer and activist, saw the tweet and wrote back, "The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals has decided to call for #CancelColbert. Trend it." She also blamed "white liberals" for not doing enough to end racism.

Cue the outrage getting messy.

Today, #CancelColbert is trending in the U.S. and worldwide. The mosaic of 140 character statements in solidarity with Park constitutes an argument that Colbert's attempted anti-racist satire is still hurtful and racist because it relies on racial stereotyping, and is therefore unacceptable. On the other side of the kerfuffle, people are angry that others want a jokester off the air for making a joke. Given the nature of the debate, a lot of the outrage seems to be satire-on-satire posturing. Even Colbert called for canceling his show while noting that he didn't send the original tweet.

Blurring more lines, Park hasn't shied away from using the same kind of ironic humor Colbert does to address race-related issues. She previously started a Twitter campaign called "#NotYourAsianSidekick" and embraces Asian stereotype jokes to make her point in the current argument. She contends that it's not a two-way street, though, because of minority marginalization.

"As a white man, I don't expect you to be able to understand what people of color are seeing," Park charged against HuffPost Live's Josh Zepps, who interviewed her today.

Zepps retaliated on Twitter that Park is a "professional umbrage-taker" and "pretending that a silly idea isn't silly because of the race of the person holding it is condescending and racist."

Some Native Americans are mad that the #CancelColbert indignation has overshadowed the Redskins affair.

The caps-lock-because-I'm-shouting confusion hit new highs when Fox News' Michelle Malkin retweeted Park, and people started blaming conservatives for starting the anti-Colbert push.

At Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams, describing herself as a "a full-time, professional offended feminist" offered some advice: "You don't like what you see in the world? Speak up about it. Shine a light on it. But don't insist that other people be shut down."

Park is well within her First Amendment right to speak out against the perceived threat that Colbert poses. But, policing humor threatens a valuable form of free speech that is particularly useful in addressing sensitive issues.