As a Korean Asian-American who’s always felt the bull’s eye on my back for easy punchlines and Bruce Lee catcalls, I’ve been a huge fan of Stephen Colbert since forever. Through the whole misunderstanding about that satire/racist tweet he never actually sent, I never for a second thought Colbert is a racist. And I don’t think Suey Park, who began the whole #cancelcolbert thing, had illegitimate feelings about it either. However exaggerated those feelings were, she has a right to be an “Angry Asian Woman,” and she chose to pick a fight that has eluded victory for Asians since we were slaves in the 1800s (which no one cares about, ever).
But who really won here? Suey Park was practically disemboweled online by misogynistic death threats, which only exposes the ugliness of the same tweeters who bashed an 11 year old Mexican for singing the national anthem. Colbert’s original target, Dan Snyder’s “Redskins Foundation,” remains completely untouched by the appropriate outrage, to which Colbert rightly says, “I haven’t seen sh_t about that.”
I keep seeing the same headlines and sound bites. “Colbert’s Brilliant Response.” “Colbert Wins.” “He would’ve never said that to blacks, gays, or Jews.” “Five Things Colbert Got Right.” “Suey Park Fail In Huffpost Interview.” “White liberal privilege.” And so on.
All the unthoughtful, un-nuanced, tactless, ungracious responses were worse than the supposed debacle that started it all.
Here’s where I grieve the most. There’s a moment in Colbert’s response from his own show (at the 2:30 mark) where Colbert repeats the joke about Asians. It’s right there that I cringed pretty bad, not at the joke itself, but the way the audience laughed so hard. Like a reflex. Because saying “ching chong” with such inflection is easy to laugh at. It’s satire, yes, but you can pretty much hear the racist undertones in the laughter. I’m reminded of why Dave Chappelle walked away from a $50 million contract: because while taping a sketch about pixies in blackface, a white person on set laughed just a bit too hard. It made Chappelle question what he was really doing: and it should probably drive us to the same questions too.
One time a pastor called me at three in the morning because he was really pissed off about something I did. He proceeded to yell at me for forty-five minutes and used the f-bomb no less than six times. I stayed silent. And honestly, I kept thinking, “If I was a black guy or a gay guy or disabled, this wouldn’t be happening right now.”
It’s such a typical reverse-racist sentiment, yet I’ve seen it play out everyday. I’m more likely to get yelled at during rush hour traffic because I’m the bad Asian driver who won’t say anything back. At mostly white social functions, I’m usually relegated to the side and I get everything explained to me really slowly, as if I’m missing some kind of awareness about life. It sucks to see Asians used casually as props in movies. I’m not sure if anyone could understand watching my dad listen to racist prank messages on his answering machine, rewinding them over and over, trying to understand what they were saying. It grieves me to see an internationally known pastor like Rick Warren brush off his casual racism by yelling “Pharisees” at people who supposedly don’t get a joke. I could keep going.
Despite Stephen Colbert’s strangely smug response and his barely restrained ridicule, I’ll keep watching him. He handled the overblown situation about as well as he could (maybe too well). But I do think the pain that Asians feel over racism is NOT merely projection or oversensitivity or political correctness. Certainly not all of it.
It’s possible to over-use the race card, but it’s terrible to ignore the centuries that we’ve endured such dehumanizing dismissal. Unless you’ve been there, I can’t adequately explain just how much it hurts to be abused and neglected simply because I look different than you. Think of how crazy that is. So I just can’t laugh at “ching chong” no matter how it’s used. There’s still so much work to be done for healing all our racial divides, and this small skirmish only proves it. No one really won here. If only we could truly get to the bottom of this pain together, and listen, will we ever build bridges toward each other instead of to oblivion.