It was annoying to see the mainstream press cover activist Suey Park’s outrage over a Stephen Colbert satirical bit because the topic was “trending” on Twitter. That now makes it real news?
On his March 26 show, playing his right-wing character, the comedian made fun of Washington Redskins owner Dan Synder, who started a foundation for Native Americans while not changing the name of the football team, which many find racially insensitive. Colbert said he was “willing to show the Asian community that I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
The following day, someone at Comedy Central, which airs “The Colbert Report,” tweeted the phrase without explaining the context for it, which enraged a lot of people, including Park, who used the hashtag #CancelColbert to draw attention to it.
She later admitted she liked the show and didn’t really want to get it off the air, but that in order to get attention for causes, you sometimes have to go a bit over the top.
People attacked Park for not understanding satire, that this is the kind of act this performer does. Sounded familiar to someone accused of the same ignorance in 2001 when he criticized Sarah Silverman for using “chinks” in a joke on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (she was playing an ignorant character). The difference? “Chinks” is the strongest racial slur you can use to put down someone of Chinese descent. Too strong to just put out there in a joke that didn’t actually support Chinese people.
“Ching-chong” is a schoolyard taunt still heard by Asian American school children, often attached to “Ching Chong Chinaman,” which is another slur. It’s just less powerful than “chink.” Colbert played a clip of himself speaking with a Chinese accent from November 2005, which made me cringe. And on the more recent show, referring to “Mr. Dong,” said, “He is a Chinaman.”
Park had the right to question how much a white man was getting away with racist behavior and trying to excuse it by rationalizing that it fell under the umbrella of satire.
I always do the “black test.” Would he speak as a stereotyped black character, say “nigga” and “negro” and the black equivalent of those bits? He’d certainly be more careful because the public is more careful not to offend the black community, satire or not. Well, I haven’t watched Colbert’s show enough to know.
But Park came off terribly in her interview with Josh Zepp of the “HuffPost Live.” Watch it here.
Zepp suggested that “Orientalism” was a stupid word and to get upset over it was “misguided.” He went on to read the — what else? — satirical tweets Colbert wrote in response to the controversy, and Park tried to interrupt him. After Zepp finished, he gave her a chance to speak.
“I feel like it’s incredibly patronizing for you to paint these questions this way, especially as a white man. I don’t expect you to be able to understand what people of color are actually saying with respect to ‘Cancel Colbert.’ He has a history of making jokes …”
The host protested that didn’t prevent him from having a perspective. Park continued speaking in a run-on kind of way, speeding up her delivery even more:
“Well, white men definitely feel like they’re entitled to talk over me [but it was OK when she interrupted him first?]. They definitely feel like they’re entitled to kind of minimalize my experiences. And they definitely feel like they are somehow exempt and so logical as compared to women who are painted as emotional, right?”
Quite a mouthful in 11 seconds.
Zepp responded: “No, no one’s minimalizing your experiences. No one’s minimalizing your right to have an opinion. It’s just a stupid opinion. It’s just a misunderstanding of what …”
Oh, now you did it! “You just called my opinion stupid!” Park pointed out, sounding hurt. “That’s incredibly unproductive. I don’t think I’m going to enact the labor to explain to you why that’s incredibly offensive and patronizing.”
“I just told you I wouldn’t enact the labor!” With that, Zepp thanked her for her time and ended the interview. She came off as a bit too delicate, someone who would use the “gender card” whenever she felt slighted or simply because someone disagreed with her.
Advice to Park: Next time, spend less time expressing your outrage and just make your case. And try not to lose any potential allies (white liberals, white men in general) to your cause. Qualifying these groups as “some white liberals” or “some white men” might keep some of them in the fold, but to attack them for something neither they nor you can change — race and gender — is not going to win you allies.
Disappearing Asian Americans Department: When “Glee” premiered in 2009, Fox was proud of its diversity and the number of Asian Americans in regular and recurring roles. They included Glee Club members Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkovitz) and Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), football coach Ken Tanaka (Patrick Gallagher), and principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba).
By this season, though, the only Asian American left was Tina (Blaine — Darren Criss — is part Filipino/Chinese but neither looks it nor plays it). Three of the four Glee Club members who just graduated and are going to seek their fortune in New York — where the series will move to — and viewers will continue to follow their adventures. Guess who won’t be making that trip? Yep.
I stopped watching the show after the producers insulted its viewers by acknowledging the death of Finn (Cory Monteith) but not telling us how his character died. Apparently, many abandoned the series as well; its last episode hit a series low with the 18-49 audience.
Also disappointing was the end of the “Red John” saga on “The Mentalist,” where Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) finally discovered the identity the serial murderer who killed his wife and daughter and choked him to death (too many mysteries surrounding the villain went unanswered, infuriating many longtime loyalists like me)!
Six months later, the show moved from Sacramento to Austin, jettisoning two regulars but keeping Jane, Lisbon (Robin Tunney) and thankfully, Cho (Tim Kang). Luckily, because Cho joined the FBI ahead of the other two, he outranks them and can even order around his former boss Lisbon (not that he’s gotten much more screen time).
The problem is, the show’s been sinking among 18-49 viewers and may not be back next season.
Sandra Oh will soon be leaving “Grey’s Anatomy,” meaning her Seattle hospital may become Asian doctor-free. And as former MANAA President Jeff Mio tells me from time to time, it’s the same old thing: An over-representation of black doctors, specialists, and patients in a city with a low African American and high Asian American population.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.