JACL Comments on ‘Colbert Report’ Incident

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The National JACL issued the following statement on Wednesday:

“In a recent episode of ‘The Colbert Report’ on Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert aired a segment that addressed the controversy surrounding Washington’s NFL franchise owner, Dan Snyder. Snyder, who has already been under fire for refusing to change his team’s name despite protests from the Native American community to stop his use of a racial slur, exacerbated his offense by creating a new foundation for Native Americans that continues to use the derogatory term.

A scene from the March 26 episode of "The Colbert Report."

A scene from the March 26 episode of “The Colbert Report.”

“Colbert, like many others, chose to poke fun at the tone-deaf nature of Snyder’s gesture. In his segment, Colbert reprised a stereotypical Asian character he has used in past shows to announce the creation of the ‘Ching-Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.’ Colbert’s depiction of this ‘mascot’ of his show was an amalgam of various offensive Asian American stereotypes.

“On Monday, Colbert responded to the backlash generated by his segment from the Asian American community. Colbert touted his sensitivity towards the Asian American community, citing the knowledge he gained from Michelle Malkin’s ‘In Defense of Internment,’ a work that has been widely discredited for its historical distortions and specious conclusions that justified the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans.

“Much of ‘The Colbert Report’s’ humor is based on the premise of the outrageous character played by Stephen Colbert, a caricature of a racist, sexist, over-the-top right-wing conservative media personality. Yet too often, the guise of humor and satire are used to absolve individuals of all responsibility when their humor misses its mark and becomes offensive.

“The JACL objects to Colbert’s use of racist jokes to make a larger point about bigotry and ignorance. There is much to criticize around Dan Snyder’s racial insensitivity and the enormous amount of privilege he wields in actively perpetuating the use of a racial slur. However, there is nothing clever or humorous about resorting to tired, racist stereotypes that target another marginalized group in order to make this point.”

Background

On March 26, Colbert poked fun at Snyder’s Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. Subsequently, a tweet sent from the @ColbertReport account, which is run by Comedy Central, read: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Without the set-up to the joke, many took the tweet as a racial insult. Comedy Central later confirmed that Colbert had nothing to do with the tweet. On his March 31 show, Colbert announced that the @ColbertReport account has been shut down and that authorized tweets will come from @Stephenathome.

The hashtag #CancelColbert, started by Chicago-based writer and activist Suey Park, began circulating on Twitter, with many expressing outrage over the tweet as well as the original sketch.

Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Yang commented last week, “I’m sorry, the whole #CancelColbert campaign is ridiculous and makes it seem like those who are leading it either don’t watch Colbert or don’t get him. The whole point of that episode was that he’s satirizing the hypocrisy of the Redskins for trying to distract from their racist name by setting up a lame ‘foundation’ in support of ‘Original Americans.’ He transposed that joke to Asians by way of illustration, but it could have been any race or ethnicity — and in the past it has been, because Colbert is enacting a parody of a racist, elitist, false-populist equal-opportunity offender right-wing noisemaker.

“This shouldn’t require explanation and the people boosting this campaign are sacrificing credibility and damaging our ability to work toward addressing real issues (and real racists).”

Yang has been attacked in tweets calling him an apologist for white racism, while Park has been the target of racist and sexist slurs.

In a piece for Time.com, Park and San Diego writer, researcher and educator Eunsong Kim wrote, “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) …

“After observing the progress of the hash tag we started … 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 …

“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 … It’s about their feeling entitled to make jokes about ‘The Other’ in the name of ‘progress’…

“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?”

Park is also known for the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick, which last year became a trending topic on Twitter and started a conversation on Asian American feminism.

On Friday, Deadspin posted a piece headlined “Gooks Don’t Get Redskins Joke.” The authors, Tommy Craggs and Kyle Wagner, both Korean Americans, wrote, “We find Suey Park’s reading of the joke to be, as the activists like to say, incredibly problematic; it flattens out all meaning and pretends, in effect, that there is no ironic distance between Jonathan Swift’s satire and actual cannibalism …”

They also said that Snyder was the beneficiary of the controversy because it drew attention away from the issue of his team’s name.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the national affiliation of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) civil rights organizations, issues the following statement: “Similar to racial slurs like ‘ching chong,’ which are offensive to Chinese and other Asian Americans, the term ‘redskin’ is offensive to Native Americans and wholly inappropriate to be included in the name of a professional athletic organization or a charitable foundation intended to support the Native American community.

“Asian Americans Advancing Justice stands in solidarity with the Oneida Indian Nation, which is leading the Change the Mascot campaign, in its efforts to stop Washington, D.C.’s NFL team from further propagating and profiting from a racial slur.

“As one of the few AAPI organizational supporters of the Change the Mascot campaign, we encourage more AAPI groups and leaders to lend their support for the original issue at hand — pressuring Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the offensive name of his team.”

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