#CancelColbert accomplished nothing: Why social change movements must be inclusive

A draining debate has left the fight for awareness and understanding in a worse place. So where do we go from here?

Topics: Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, #cancelcolbert, Suey Park, Editor's Picks, Michelle Malkin, Twitter, laverne cox, Katie Couric, Daniel Snyder, , , ,

#CancelColbert accomplished nothing: Why social change movements must be inclusiveStephen Colbert (Credit: Comedy Central)

The kid had used the tips of his index fingers to stretch his eyelids back toward his hairline. This made his round, fishbowl-blue eyes narrow down at the top and elongate out the sides. Now I could see the disturbing outer perimeter of his eyeball and the moist seashell pink of his inner eyelid. He tugged his fingers upward toward his blond bangs. His eyes had the same shape as the cartoon cats in “Lady and the Tramp.”

“My mother is Chinese.”

Then he tugged the corners down. Now he resembled a basset hound. It looked like his eyes were melting.

“My father is Japanese.”

Then he jerked the corners up and down in rhythm with his next line:

“And I’m all mixed up.”

I laughed because I knew he thought it was funny. I was 5 years old, almost 6, and at a new school. I was one of a handful of Asian-American kids sprinkled across six grades. I couldn’t tell if the joke was for me or because of me.

Yes, I went through this rite of passage for Asian-American kids. My kids will not go through it, because they don’t look Asian at all. But I don’t want them to do it to other kids, and kids who look like me at 5 years old shouldn’t go through it, either.

How do we get to this place, where Asian-American kids will never be taunted about the shape of their eyes, for the foreign-sounding tones and syllables of their home languages, or for the pungent smells in their lunch boxes? (“Pickled apricots? Grooooooss.”)

Did you guess, “By canceling ‘The Colbert Report’?”

People of good conscience can disagree about how we get there and what are the right tools. I don’t know a sure path from my past to a future free of anti-Asian prejudice. But at this moment, I can say that the weekend of #CancelColbert did not bring us closer to that future.

By Monday morning, I was left wondering, what have we accomplished? How much coal have we burned by keeping our modems alight and charging the batteries on our laptops and smartphones? At this cost, how many minds have we changed, and how many alliances have we forged to make a better future?



Here’s what I “saw” over social media: A lot of people expend a lot of energy, emotion and time because of a single comedy sketch (one that, for the record, did not offend me personally). I saw long-standing members of Asian American communities who have been working for decades toward that future get blisteringly insulted and attacked. I saw Native Americans wondering how Colbert’s valid point about Dan Snyder doubling down on the 80-year-old football team’s name in service of some cheap P.R. got buried in an avalanche of outraged pro- and anti-AAPI tweets. I saw, predictable as a turning tide, an outpouring of white anger, defensiveness and ridicule. I saw racial epithets explode and hurl around like corn kernels in an air popper.

And I have a bitter, bitter taste in my mouth. Colbert’s satirical Ching-Chong Ding-Dong joke references familiar ground, the kind of belittling and insults that Asian Americans are accustomed to hearing from white folks. But an internecine fight of this scale cuts deep, and the wound to Asian American communities will take far longer to heal than it took Park to initiate it. (The first efforts toward healing have centered around the #BuildDontBurn hashtag.)

Jeff Yang wrote a smart, thoughtful article on the limits of Hashtag Activism. For this, Suey Park tweeted that he was less of a friend to her than Fox commentator Michelle Malkin, notorious conservative and defender of the Japanese internment. Park has certainly borne the brunt of the storm generated by her campaign, however. The crest of the Twitter backlash featured the now-routine gendered discipline: death and rape threats.

Back to the question, how do we get to that future? Every movement I can think of that pushed for greater inclusion, more space for people who have been marginalized in the social/political/cultural landscape required tangible person-to-person interactions to accomplish change. Civil rights activists sat down at lunch counters, marched in the streets and crossed red lines. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals risked their jobs, their families and their lives to come out and become visible in churches, schools and workplaces, so that in this century, a majority of young Americans consider GLBs as an accepted part of their social fabric. (The momentum for trans folk to attain the same gains as GLBs is coming, as you can see in this clip of trans activist Laverne Cox enlightening Katie Couric face-to-face.) On Monday, we celebrated Cesar Chavez Day, a day that honors the man, but also a movement that brought together Latinos, Filipinos, Japanese, African-Americans and whites in city boycotts and on field picket lines.

The paradigm for revolution via Twitter, the Arab Spring, did not actually happen on Twitter. Rather, Twitter provided the means for activists to post and share information, particularly locations and times for protests. The same was true in Moldova.

Twitter is a tactic, not a strategy. It is but one tool in the box. Movements that have used Twitter effectively used it to mobilize bodies. They used it in service of a holistic strategy, not as an end unto itself.

Alone, Twitter will not set us free.

It is also the wrong medium to change people’s minds and influence their opinions. It takes far, far more than 140 characters to tell a story, make an argument, explain why. The way I desire, imagine and strategize liberation comes from hours of reading books and essays, big drifts of time that have accumulated through years of my life. “The Woman Warrior.” “Dogeaters and Dream Jungle.” “Farewell to Manzanar.” “My Year of Meats.” Essays by Gayatri Spivak and Chandra Talpade Mohanty. “From Exile to Diaspora.” “Global Divas.” “The Shock of Arrival.” And yes, “Orientalism” by Edward Said. As well as poems by Joy Harjo, short stories by Sherman Alexie, novels by Louise Erdrich, essays by Winona LaDuke. “The State of Native America.” “Resource Rebels.” “Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance.

#NotYourAsianSidekick gave voice to a collective cri de coeur. It showed breadth of experience, but not depth. And it will take time to see tangible fruits of that action, because it wasn’t tied to the ground.

If I can fantasize for a moment, here’s how I would have liked this to play out instead: I wish a chorus of voices — Kristina WongKevin Kataoka and Hari Kondabolu come to mind — had answered Colbert back in the same satirical language. I would love to see an abundance of comedians of color with access to a national platform (like the late, lamented “Totally Biased”) who could critique Colbert’s Ching-Chong Ding-Dong on equal footing.

We can demand that more people of color be included, be visible and be heard. We can demand that popular media better reflect the America we know. What’s good for that? Twitter.

I witnessed one of the most transcendent activist moments of my life at a march against the invasion of Afghanistan and against racial profiling, detentions and violence against people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. Among the throngs of San Franciscans wearing typical street clothing appeared a small group of older Japanese Americans, the women wearing full kimonos, the men wearing happi coats. They held signs showing photos of Japanese Americans in internment. Above the photos they had written “NEVER AGAIN.” My eyes blurred and hot tears rolled down my cheeks.

If we wish to be good citizens in the struggle for liberation for all people of color, we have to know when to be the megaphone, not the mouth.

To that end, I urge everyone to check out the hashtag #Not4Sale. It’s not too late to kick Dan Snyder’s ass.

Anoosh Jorjorian is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She blogs at ArañaMama.com on the politics of parenting, including the topics of race and gun violence.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...