Cancelling Colbert, Chopped Suey, and Winning At Racism

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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.

— J


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9 thoughts on “Cancelling Colbert, Chopped Suey, and Winning At Racism

  1. Thank you for this. We all need to listen a lot more to each other, and particularly listen to the Asian community. I appreciate, too, that you communicated this in a way I could hear it. It’s been far too long, from enslaved railroad workers to forced internment camps to now, we must face facts and turn to healing.

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    1. Thank you. Seeing some of the overly vitriolic comments against Stephen Colbert felt like there was zero interest in dialogue, so I did try be as neutral as I possible could. Thanks for noticing and I hope the dialogue about racism isn’t closed off to quickly on either side.

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      1. I’m just starting to read through your stuff, JS. You’re simply brilliant and eloquent. Honestly, i felt some of those feelings you stated above but you shared with such grace and true feelings. I salute you, bro.

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  2. Thank you for this challenging post. I’ve had to take some time to think instead of replying right away.
    I would have never called myself a racist, but after listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler, I realized that I wasn’t doing all that well. One thing I’ve learned is that the more I associate with people of a certain ethnic background, the harder it is to stereotype them. I work with several people of other backgrounds, and I’ve learned to love their culture, as far as I understand it, because I love them.
    I always feel awkward talking about race, being white. I’d blog about what I’m learning but I’m afraid to come across as smug or condescending.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this. I don’t mean at all to press upon any “white guilt” or anything. I think Anglo-Saxons tend to be unfairly painted as completely ignorant of racism, when really there have always been a remnant of every race and creed that has spoke up in every stand for human rights. It would be unwise of me to say that only minorities can speak for minorities. And I think the point is not to know where we are racist, which every race will always wrestle with, but to find where we can build common ground at the level of our dignity.

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  3. I’m sorry that you have to deal with this Bro. It really stinks to be labeled by outward appearances…whether that’s body size or skin color…the list goes on. I also wish that people would look past my skin and see my soul. It frustrates me when I’m told that I should apologize for slavery and the Trail of Tears and everything else because I have white skin. Like I should be ashamed because God made me pasty (porcelain is maybe a better word lol). I didn’t enslave anyone etc. I shouldn’t bear the shame of whiteness. It’s kind of silly really. I wonder why it’s about skin instead of something like eye color.

    But I’m learning that because of sin, humans will always find reasons to hate you because of the outward. I think everyone (including myself) is guilty of judging others because of their skin. When will we realize that we are one race…the human race? Anywho, yeah this topic always gets out my soapbox. I grew up in the deep south where racism is big among many skin colors. People are even racist against people of the same color who act “too black” or “too white”. It’s absolutely insane. I can see cultural differences but that has to do with environment not skin color. But as a white girl that grew up in trailor parks and came from a broken family…well, I know that cultural stereotypes can be broken too.

    I agree with what geralynwichers said about being around people of different cultures. I’ve had people tell me that were raised up north in places with mixed cultures that they grew a bit racist once they moved to the South. The culture is so different & down here there’s less mixing. Ever since I was little I found myself being upset at those in my family who were racist & then at people who were racist against me….and then at myself if I found racism creeping in. I guess it all started at Babel?

    This article really helped me understand things: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/are-there-different-races

    It’s still a challenge as I live in such a heavily racist society. I’m growing daily though. It’s harder for my older family members though, who grew up in the time when people of different colors threw rocks at each other. I pray the Lord will help them. I have great hopes for my son. As we learn about different cultures I’m trying hard to teach him that God created us all equal and as one race.

    We’re learning about the Native Americans right now and the wars with the Europeans. We’re learning that history isn’t so cut and dry. We have certain tribes that helped the Europeans and others that made war. Same for the Europeans…some that were friendly & treated the Native Americans as equals and some that were racist and took land without paying for it. We can’t say all white people (Europeans) mistreated the Native Americans or all Native Americans went on the war path. Unfortunately many moves, t.v. series, and history books have went to extremes. The slant changes with the times but it’s wrong at either extreme. Men should be judged by their character…not their skin, their class, their job, and so on.

    I pray more bloggers will raise awareness against racism. So thank you for having the courage to make a stand. On my part, I’ve seen movies that were racist against white people but I was afraid to say anything because I’d look racist or whiny because I’m white…but that’s silly and racist against myself. God made me this way and no one should be ashamed of how God made them. I shouldn’t feel scared to give constructive criticism to someone of a minority because I’ll look racist. Or be afraid to call someone that’s committed a crime a criminal because of color. When will everyone come to a middle ground on this issue? Either we tip toe because we’re afraid to offend or we’re blatant racist.

    Anywho, I love you bro and I definitely see you as an equal,if not better. I respect your writing style and your heart for God. I feel somewhat guilty for sharing my opinion but that’s OCD speaking again. I do apologize though for the length. I have a hard time summarizing, if you’ve noticed :).
    God bless!

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    1. Definitely, Amber. As I mentioned in the earlier comment, it’s unwise and unfair for only minorities to speak to minorities. There is quite a thin line between racially motivated and humanly motivated crimes, and in the end they’re all humanly motivated. As you said, racism is traced back to the origin of sin, where we tend to view ourselves as superior and so occasionally this happens to manifest as racism. Even if we were all “one race” or “one religion,” there would always be a dividing line that we would find. It’s so much easier to hate than to love, which makes grace all the more needed. I can only hope that honest dialogue would bump against our behaviors, but more than that, we would dig deeper into why it happens and how we can go beyond it. Thanks for adding your insight here!

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      1. So true, bro. If it’s not race then it’s something else…like how we dress or whether or not the gifts have ceased. And let me step on my own toes a bit…whether to homeschool or not. Praise the Lord for His Grace or there would be a constant shamefest. Thanks Bro for your willingness to read my thoughts and I’m eager for your next posts. God bless!

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