Internet / Race / TV

No, We “Get” It: Colbert’s White Male Satire

colbert the satirist

This is interesting. Social justice communities are totally divided over the recent #CancelColbert trend of last week. I am an Asian American woman invested in social justice. I was also obsessed with The Colbert Report in high school, and even made Stephen Colbert’s face the background on my flip phone for an embarassing three months, so I can’t think of ANYONE ELSE more qualified to talk about this debacle. I have thoughts, but first, consider these two statements about the incident.

From Jezebel:

If Michelle Malkin is cheering you on, you are almost certainly doing something wrong. […] Malkin and her ilk are likely excited about the #CancelColbert hashtag because the show makes people who agree with her (but who, unlike Michelle Malkin, are important enough to warrant the show’s attention) look like fools.

And then also from Suey Park:

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.”

The most common reaction I’ve seen is an eye roll in the general direction of the Twitter office. Also, I personally was not offended or harmed by the full Colbert joke (which, if you haven’t seen it yet, can be viewed here starting at 4:45), and understand that the offensive tweet was taken out of context of the actual joke, and just became plain racist. Like, we need to understand that the tweet was racist, regardless of whatever you think of the show.

"I am willingto show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever."

Context is really important when you’re parodying racism.

If you create satire, you must be a clever and aware person, so as to successfully make the distinction between punching upward and criticizing the status quo vs. punching downward and reinforcing racism. In Colbert’s routine, and the aftermath, I will briefly explore this distinction in the form of bullet points because there are some things we absolutely HAVE to consider when talking about this:

  • “It’s satire!” is an oft-used excuse. It may be satire, but why is this excuse so frequently used to shut down minority groups who want to say some shit about satire?
  • Further, does this mean white men have more leniency when they do satire? (Hint: absolutely.)
  • Colbert is a good satirist insofar as he shows a caricatured reflection of the people he makes fun of, and reveals their hypocrisy and bigotry.
  • But Colbert himself is not beyond racism.
  • And that bit could have been just as successful without the cringe-inducing 30-second callback to Colbert’s (blatantly racist) yellowface routine, complete with the one and only racist musical riff in America! By the way, were people laughing during that routine because of Colbert’s “clever” satire? Or were they just laughing because Colbert being a caricature of a pervy Chinese man is just sooooo hilarious? A lot of people know Colbert is satire, but it doesn’t stop him from appealing to racist humor.

11 thoughts on “No, We “Get” It: Colbert’s White Male Satire

  1. This didn’t come from his official twitter. He’s @StephenAtHome not @ColbertReport. He didn’t tweet it in the first place. I’m not gonna weigh in on anything else but that.

    • It’s not really about the tweet. The Twitter controversy was certainly sparked by it, but this article is making points about the Report segment itself, which he was definitely involved in.

    • I feel like I have to make three points in order to be properly understood:

      1) regardless of who made the tweet, the trending hashtag was in response to the racism in it
      2) no one actually wants to cancel Colbert, not even Suey Park who says she likes the show. It’s just Internet snark that trends well, and if white people are actually upset about that then that’s says something
      3) the actual segment had literally 30 full seconds of hardcore racism! (“Ooohhh I ruv tea!”) Easily comparable to blackface and minstrelsy. Anyone who knows anything about that knows that wouldn’t fly on television, but Colbert gets away with it because he’s a comic, and because he’s supposedly putting Asians down to lift up First Nations people.

    • I want to reiterate that if you read this post and then watch the segment, your addition doesn’t change anything I said, but it *does* make you look suspect. Black Girl Dangerous had a very good post about how invested a lot of white people are in defending Colbert because he’s a liberal entertainer.

  2. Further, does this mean white men have more leniency when they do satire? (Hint: absolutely.)

    This is just blatent bullshit, white people have to bend over backwards and walk on eggshells all day, everyday, everywhere, anywhere and will still get called a racist for shit that litteraly everyother race can get away with

    • the problem with and for white people is that their ancestors not only did a bunch of terrible shit, they put their descendants in a position where almost everything they do in everyday life involves perpetuating terrible shit, and at this point, people are recognizing it and calling it out.

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