when satire becomes the go-to justification for racism and no one realizes what that actually means
this sequence of events is becoming too predictable:
- a person from a place of privilege and media power (let’s say, a white male tv personality named stephen colbert or jimmy kimmel) states something that perpetuates the dehumanization of a marginalized group.
- people from the marginalized group (let’s say, asian americans), who are rightfully fed up with being on the receiving end of constant dehumanization, speak out.
- white people yell SATIRE!!!!, even though it has become all too clear that white people as a whole have yet to move past their racism enough to be able to joke about it in a “progressive” way.
- asian americans call for actions that are perceived as farfetched, oversensitive, and overdramatic.
- white people (and people-of-color-who-want-everyone-to-know-they-are-not-like-those-other-people-of-color) react about how oversensitive these marginalized people are, and many also take this perceived “overreaction” as an opportunity to claim that racism is totally overexaggerated these days. white people love to dictate what kinds of racism they believe marginalized people have a right to feel bad about, never mind that white people have never experienced racism themselves. apparently, appropriate reactions to oppression are always supposed to get rubber-stamped by the oppressor.
- shitty white journalists, such as Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel (http://jezebel.com/what-we-can-learn-from-the-embarrassing-cancelcolbert-1553680450 ),and Laura Stampler of Time (http://entertainment.time.com/2013/11/12/china-wants-jimmy-kimmel-to-apologize-for-a-third-time/ ), get really excited for their chance to preach about how oppressed they are by all these irrational and oversensitive people of color, and go way out of their way to justify the actions of whatever white bigot of the day. no surprise, considering the pressing cause of american journalism has always been excusing white people in power for wrongdoing.
what both sides often have in common is a great ability to miss the point.
the joke on the colbert report (not just the following tweet) was wrong, plain and simple. if anything, it clarified how deeply white liberals misunderstand racism and anti-racism.
challenging racism never consists of parroting racist statements against another group, to demonstrate just how racist the other stuff was. colbert gave a platform to harmful racist language that is IN NO WAY in the past. anti-asian slurs are a constant source of violence for asian americans, a reminder of our “place” in this society. part of the humor that the colbert report exploits is the perceived “boldness” and transgressiveness of stephen colbert being able to state plainly racist statements on air. in other words, the joke relies on the fact that this language is still violent and painful for asian americans and they’re going to use it anyway. because at the end of the day, stephen colbert knows he will be protected by the white supremacist society that thrives on the continued marginalization of people of color, in constantly evolving forms. he will rely on his status as a white liberal icon as a permit to exploit the greatest sources of trauma for marginalized people toward the white liberal version of the “common good”.
for satire to be worth anything, it should attack and deconstruct the powerful systems that harm our society. it’s beyond ridiculous when you claim SATIRE whenever you make a joke about a marginalized group because you are effectively claiming that the marginalized group IS the societal problem that you are trying to challenge, which goes back to the point that you are a racist. repeating anti-asian slurs does not challenge racism against native americans, it further emboldens and validates the white supremacist society that allows for our collective dehumanization. comparing anti-native racism to anti-asian racism would only work if racism against asians were actually considered ridiculous, not common and daily aspects of american life.
the violence inherent in these smaller incidents originates from a very long, and still thriving, legacy of white supremacy, which white liberals are too eager to deny. it’s incredible to me that white people actually managed to agree upon language for each non-white group that would signal just how worthless they thought we were. they created common parlance that allowed any white person to wield an entire historical legacy of institutionalized violence and exclusion against us with a single breath. white people do not get to use these triggers for any purpose whatsoever. they have shared no part of our pain, only ever caused and benefited from it. they should do more to recognize the ways they actively benefit from racism, rather than spending all their energies gaslighting people of color and trying to dictate when it’s appropriate for us to feel our pain.