The lessons of Stephen Colbert’s Asian joke

It was hard to tell the other night when Stephen Colbert was in character and when he was just being the real Stephen Colbert when he declared “I’m not a racist.”

He was reacting to the protests that popped up after his writers tweeted a joke he made on the show without any of the context that was evident in his Comedy Channel show’s episode. That prompted Twitter to take to the ramparts to urge that his show be canceled.

Colbert defused the Twitterversy by doing what he does best: revealing the comic absurdity of it by pretending that he’s serious.

End of story? Eric Deggans at NPR’s Code Switch doesn’t think so. He says some lessons have been lost in how to judge incidents like this:

Park (the woman who started the #CancelColbert hashtag) makes another great point by noting comics sometimes seem more willing to make those kind of indirect racial jokes about minority groups that don’t protest as often about stereotyping in media, like Asian-Americans.

But she shouldn’t imply she wants Colbert’s show canceled just for the online juice it brings. And calling him or the show racist for a clumsy use of satire — especially when the original goal was to highlight the real-life institutionalizing of a racial slur — also seems excessive. (It doesn’t help that some Native American activists have complained the whole controversy distracts from the original protest about the “Redskins” slur.)

Sure, the #CancelColbert fight drew far more attention to Park’s complaints. But it also encouraged a lot of Colbert fans to see the whole issue as overblown and unfair, which transfers to all the subtler arguments about race and white privilege she wants the show and its viewers to consider.

For anyone hoping to convince the white mainstream to respect these issues, that sounds a lot like winning a battle to lose the war.

A commenter notes, however, that Colbert’s satirical joke to highlight the Washington Redskins’ owner’s ongoing racism, used an ethnicity that’s “still safe to mock.”

The point is, no matter what Colbert’s political viewpoint is, he would never, repeat NEVER, make the same kind of joke concerning any other racial group. Nobody would.

Could you imagine him making some kind of sambo joke about the NAACP, or some kind of stereotype joke about LaRaza or any other racial/ethnic group?

No, it is perfectly alright to poke fun at Asians. They don’t fight back, and they know their place. The men will work themselves to death, and you can marry their daughters. And they’re always just so polite, aren’t they?