Late Thursday afternoon, a tweet was posted to the official The Colbert Report Twitter account that upset a lot of people, as it was perceived as offensive to the Asian community. The post referenced a bit about Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder who has refused to change the name despite its blatant racist connotations and history, but created a foundation for Native Americans in order to prove he’s totally cool (except in every single way). While the tweet has been deleted, here’s a screengrab of it:
As a result, tons of Twitter users started angrily tweeting at the account, hashtagging their outraged posts with #CancelColbert. Colbert himself responded, tweeting this:
— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) March 28, 2014
The official Colbert Report Twitter account, which posted the original “racist” tweet, explained that Stephen Colbert himself does not run it and that it was actually from a bit:
— The Colbert Report (@ColbertReport) March 28, 2014
Okay, so we should all be infuriated at whomever is running that Twitter account, right? Grab the pitchforks, find out their real name, and hound them until they weep with heavy shame for their mistakes! Not so fast.
Anybody who watches The Colbert Report knows that it is satire. Stephen Colbert plays a far right-wing character with extreme attitudes that are blatantly offensive to people of all sorts of backgrounds and common sense; really, he just plays an idiot. We all know that. And honestly, when I first started writing this piece, I was sort of erring on the side of “don’t you all understand satire?” which is sort of my least favorite kind of attitude. But then, I saw some of the angry tweets:
I’m sick of my daughter’s ethnicity being a punchline. It sure wasn’t funny for her when she was mocked in kindergarten. #CancelColbert
— Amy D. Cubbage (@amydcubbage) March 28, 2014
When satire becomes as offensive and hurtful as the thing satirized it is no longer satire. It is simply more injustice. #cancelcolbert
— Arlene Adamo (@ArleneAdamo) March 28, 2014
Blk folk mad at #CancelColbert: We shld never tell another group not to be hypersensitive re: racism bc it is wrong when folk say it to us.
— Brittney Cooper (@ProfessorCrunk) March 28, 2014
On the one hand, I do believe in satire. I do! I like it, and I do like Stephen Colbert. But I also think that, particularly when you are not actually part of a specific ethnic group, it’s not a good thing to tell those personally upset by comments made that they don’t deserve to feel upset.
I think sometimes, satire doesn’t work. For example, when The Onion called Quvenzhané Wallis the c-word–satire, yes, but so very unfunny. And while I wasn’t immediately offended by the Colbert tweet, I also tried to put it in perspective; for example, had he made a rape joke, I probably would not have liked that very much. While it would have clearly been satire and simply made fun of those awful humans who do believe rape jokes are hi-laaaarious, I undoubtedly would have made the point of saying, “But if he does it, other people will think it’s okay.”
So, I’m by no means shouting in some Bill O’Reilly voice, “Hypersensitivity! Everyone’s too whiny these days! Can’t you make a racist joke in ‘Merica anymore?” because I think if you are personally offended by this, you’re not wrong. I acknowledge that the tweet itself, especially outside of the context of the show, is offensive. And I do not disagree that it was rather stupid to tweet such a potentially inciting sentence without any real explanation. However, I don’t think it’s something that calls for canceling Colbert.
An apology is in order and I’m sure he’ll address it on his show. TCR should ensure that incidents like this don’t happen, yes, but we should also be encouraging programs with such a wide reach to actually have more guests of different backgrounds. That way, the Colbert breed of satire won’t be necessary to point out how outrageous racist television hosts actually are.