Friday, March 28, 2014

Hypocrisy thy name is Suey Park

As many people are probably aware, the latest social media drama exploded yesterday when "hashtag activist" Suey Park decided to publicly take issue with a tweet from @ColbertReport. Thus the hashtag #CancelColbert was born and shit promptly set up a meeting with fan.
Now, a little background on this: The twitter user ColbertReport is not controlled directly by Stephen Colbert (who goes by @StephenAtHome) or the writers of The Colbert Report. The offending tweet was taken directly from a sketch that was part of the show's March 26th episode, which was itself making fun of good ol' boy racist and owner of the Washington Redskins Dan Snyder.

So what's the big deal? Before I dive into it I will preemptively defend myself against a couple of criticisms. First, I am not a fan of The Colbert Report. I never was, and I doubt I ever will be. I simply don't find it terribly interesting. Second, yes, I'm white. No, that does not mean any of you know what's going on inside my head beyond what I have told you. Despite my pigment handicap, I understand the concept of privilege and recognize I benefit from it enormously. That said, an inability to directly empathize with people of colour does not mean I can't sympathize with their position. If anyone wishes to accuse me of white-splaining, then I will ask for accompanying evidence that is a little more substantial than "you're white."

I was prompted to dig into this because of an article written by Suey Park, and a collaborator in Time's opinion section. The intent of the article seems to have been to clarify her position and to defend it against the internet hoard that isn't taking her very seriously. Sadly, the article has fallen short of accomplishing the latter.

Suey Park begins by accusing those who disagree with her of believing that "white comedians and their fans are above reproach." That's a pretty bold claim. My disagreement with her has nothing to do with whether or not white comedians can be criticised (obviously they can and should be). In fact, it seems to be that she has taken on the role of the very monster she's trying to fight. The entire opinion piece centers around Suey Park and her supporters being endowed with an almost mystical ability to divine the True™ motives of those critical of her position. Seriously, check it out for yourself. It happens over and over and over again:
But this isn’t about white liberals wanting to change the name, or their devotion to destroying settler-colonialism: It’s about their feeling entitled to make jokes about “The Other” in the name of “progress.”
The outrage surrounding our criticism is about white liberals feeling entitled to engage in hate speech under the guise of “satire.” These white liberals are not mad that we pointed out racism, they are mad that they now have to consider the ways in which they may be racist.
How is this any different from her critics putting words in her mouth (something she rightly finds offensive)? This wouldn't be so bad if there was some kind of accompanying evidence to support these claims, but there isn't. These are assertions made purely on the basis of race alone. How can someone claim to be fighting racist attitudes while simultaneously flinging accusations at people based on the colour of their skin? Sure, we could go all out and get into an argument from a sociological standpoint about whether or not this can be considered racism, but it wouldn't matter. Whatever you want to call this kind of attitude, it is detrimental to any kind of constructive conversation about the issue. Claiming to know what people really think because of their race perpetuates the same racial prejudice that people like Suey Park and others claim to oppose. No one should feel entitled to put words in my mouth or anyone else's because we are in a relatively privileged class/group/race/whatever. Reality check: all of us have privilege of some kind.

There are other flaws in the piece that I could go into (eg. Some people who disagree with Suey Park are using racial slurs therefore she is right), but I simply don't have the time so I will end with a critique of her tips on satire:
Satire Lesson 1: If you need to explain whatever it is that you were trying to do, it’s not working. Your audience is telling you that it’s broken, it’s old. It needs to be reworked.
This simply doesn't work. You are not the grand arbiter of comedy. Even jokes that are great will still go over the heads of a few. This does not mean the routine is "broken."
Satire Lesson 2: Tone is not a shield. “Tone” is one element in a larger construction.
Tone and satire are not the same thing.
Satire Lesson 3: If the only people who “get” your satire are racists — might we suggest some soul searching on your end?
Proof please. I'm sorry. but you don't get to make sweeping generalizations about people who disagree with you without getting called on it. You don't seem to appreciate it when people do this to you so cut your hypocritical nonsense. If you want constructive discourse on this subject then it helps to approach your critics with at least a shred of honesty. If you don't, then you end up making your own position look weak. Your current attitude does nothing but shut the conversation down. You make it impossible for anyone to engage with you because no evidence they present to you can overrule your psychically established conclusion that they must be racists simply for being white and disagreeing with you on this issue.

Suey, you also benefit from privilege. You have an audience that can be and has been used positively to shed light on casual racism. What you are doing right now is not helping. If you want people to take you seriously, try making arguments that involve a little more substance than "if you disagree with me you're a white racist QED."

Finally, you might want to consider what some Native Americans think about your efforts before you dig your heels in further. There's a difference between being an ally and taking the voice of those you claim to want to help.