Friday, March 28, 2014

Stephen Colbert's Tweet Offends Me, and Here's Why

So, another television celebrity has stepped into the racism deep do-do again. This time it's Stephen Colbert and an offensive Tweet from the account bearing his name. Read about it here.

I am an Asian American, and I am deeply offended by the "Ching Chong Ding Dong" words and the reference to "Orientals or Whatever" in the Tweet from Stephen Colbert’s Twitter account. Stephen Colbert is a brand, and whether or not he is personally writing the Tweets from his show's Twitter account, he is accountable, because it is his brand. He doesn't get to benefit from the profit of his brand without also being held accountable for what his brand sends out into the Twitterverse.

The reference to “Orientals or Whatever” is even more offensive than the “Ching Chong Ding Dong” words, which are comparable to the “N” word when used to describe African Americans. It is not ever okay to use the “N” word, and it is also not ever okay to use “Ching Chong.” Saying “Orientals or Whatever” dehumanizes Asians, likening us to furniture and sending the message that Asians are “Whatever” as in “less than human.” The origin of the use of the word “Orientals” means furniture; it was used to refer to decorative objects like rugs and decorative lacquered boxes and chairs. That's why Asians generally find the word "Oriental" used to refer to Asians and Asian Americans offensive. We are not objects; we are human beings deserving respect like every other human being.

When you use dehumanizing language and it gets a pass from people who say that it’s just satire and comedy, that it’s a small thing and we should develop a sense of humor and get over it, that there are more important things to talk about, you are participating in a systematic denigration of a whole group of people based on their skin color. When that systematic denigration becomes acceptable for the ostensible reasons of “It’s just satire” or “It’s comedy; get over it,” that gives tacit approval to thinking of and treating the group of people at whom the dehumanizing language is aimed, as less than the norm or “regular” people, meaning White people.

So, I would challenge my White friends to reflect on this yet another in a long series of such denigrations in the public and pop cultural eye. The reason People of Color are offended by such incidents is because they are offensive. Saying that they’re not offensive doesn’t make it so.

And yes, I think that Stephen Colbert has a responsibility as the name behind his brand to not just deny responsibility for the offensive Tweet because he didn’t write it, not just say that he is offended, too, but to offer a sincere apology to Asian Americans, because he should own the making of the offense and he should lead the brand and its employees to offer the reconciling gesture of his own, personal apology. As for whether or not Colbert's show should be canceled for this offense, that's an irrelevant discussion, in my opinion, because that decision will be made by the network on the basis of revenue production regardless of the opinions on the subject from any perspective.