Why #CancelColbert Is Divisive and Damaging

So there is this whole #CancelColbert thing happening on Twitter that appears to have triggered in response to the show’s Twitter reposting the following joke from the The Colbert Report: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever”.

In the context of the satirical show, this was in response to the NFL’s Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder starting a Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation due to the continuing controversy over the team’s name, mirroring the racism inherent in Snyder’s actions.

Now, the actual statement by The Cobert Report is definitely racist. In fact, it has to be racist for the satire to work, because the character of Colbert is a blowhard racist conservative and if he said anything that was anything but obviously racist, then it wouldn’t be able to draw a comparison to the racist nature of Snyder’s actions.

Jenn at Reappropriate breaks down how satire works well and then adds her initial support of the campaign, followed by a tempered update after she comes to understand that the Twitter that requoted the show out of context and is run by Comedy Central and not the show.

I agree with Jenn’s post-update sentiment in that the tweet from the show sans context is certainly racist and can possibly be offensive to those that do not know The Colbert Report’s brand of satire (those in the know should necessarily understand the satirical point, even without the context of the Snyder issue). Certainly the limitations of nuance of Twitter’s 140 character format and the speed and thoughtlessness with which people Tweet creates a lot of room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding and explains both how the original Tweet might be a comedic failure and how the following #CancelColbert hashtag campaign occurred.

However, while the tweet from @ColbertReport is a failure of satire because of the lack of context, the #CancelColbert campaign is terribly flawed and even damaging to the cause of racial reconciliation.

Let me explain: Because The Colbert Report actively satirizes racism on a regular basis and is broadly known as a satirical commentary on some segments of American conservatism, anyone that knows The Colbert Report would immediately recognize that anything tweeted from its Twitter account as satire, especially in the context of coming from the mouth of its obviously idiotic spokesman. If it were said by anyone other than a well-known satirist, then I could definitely see the offense, but in the case of a nationally recognized satirist, such a response is clearly from a lack of knowing Colbert or from willful ignorance perhaps stemming from an immediate emotional reaction to the words.

But I could absolutely understand a call for an apology in that case. However, it’s not a call for an apology that #CancelColbert is about. Rather, it’s a call for the show to be cancelled. Not just any show, but a show that has repeatedly skewered racist statements and actions throughout its long history.

A call to #CancelColbert is an overly extreme reaction at best and immediately divides and damages racial discourse. It’s emotionally tantamount to calling for the death of those who say racist things. Most of us become aware that saying racist things is wrong. However, most of us have also said or done racist things in our lifetimes, usually in a semi-innocent way before we realize just how racist such a statement or action is. To call for the cancellation of a show that is frequently the enemy of racism because it failed to deliver its comedy correctly once is overkill.

What’s worse is that we live in a climate that is hypersensitive to claims of racism. And one of the reasons why this climate exists is because of how merciless we can be to perceived racism. During the Linsanity craze, one ESPN editor got fired for using the common phrase “chink in the armor”, which, in context of Jeremy Lin being Asian American and “chink” being an ethnic slur against Chinese people, was certainly insensitive, but many in the anti-racist camp didn’t just want an apology, they called for someone’s head. And the editor responsible was fired.

How can we expect anything but hypersensitivity and defensiveness to claims of racism if we always demand blood? In fact, that might be part of the reason why even calls for apology, which are totally reasonable, are met with non-apologies, because peoples’ careers and livelihoods might be on the line if there was an actual admission of guilt. We simply cannot demand perfection of human beings, nor their institutions and organizations and then punish them brutally when they fail.

This engenders discord and not reconciliation because the anti-racist movement ends up seeming both militant and unreasonable. But reconciliation, by necessity, requires mercy and forgiveness. Therefore seeing the call to cancel a show because it made a mistake, not just apologize, but cancel, is going to further harden the sentiment that anti-racist people of color are utterly unforgiving and hyper-reactionary. People who are allies will lose favor with our cause.

With an allied show like The Colbert Report, it would have easily been sufficient to simply call out the racist tone that the tweet takes without context and that should be enough for the show to pull the tweet and apologize. But now, if you actually follow the hashtag, you have hundreds of Twitter users who understandably think that Asian Americans don’t have a sense of humor, don’t understand Colbert, and are over-reacting. And these people will further harden themselves to our cause of racial reconciliation rather than support it. A call to cancel or fire someone isn’t a call for justice. It is a call for blood and we should know by our lengthy human history that blood shed only leads to more bloodshed.

And by now, we should also know that the only way to break this chain of violence is not with additional calls to combativeness, but with mercy, forgiveness, and the gentle push for us to respect each other as one in the same humanity.

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    If anyone is curious about The Colbert Report drama, here is something explaining what happened and how its being way...
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