As you know, I stand in solidarity with women and men of color and work to bring awareness to instances of racial prejudice, cultural discrimination, and gender bias. My focus is the American Theatre, but I stay informed on these issues in the entertainment industry as a whole and also in the education, judicial, and prison systems.
While I identify as African American, I am also of Native American descent. My paternal grandfather was of Cherokee descent. He was my heart. He taught me how to read the stars, allowed me to sit among the grown folks while they conversed, and defended and then comforted me when I once ate a bowl full of grapes. (Fiber is our friend, but in small doses.) I loved him dearly and being Cherokee is an important part of my heritage.
In allegiance to the Dallas Cowboys, I am not a fan of the Washington R------s and I find the name offensive as I do a whole host of other names. When I read Dan Snyder's letter announcing the creation of the "Washington R------s Original Americans Foundation," I was disgusted. This foundation may end up raising a lot of money and doing a great deal of good, but it was established to justify a name that is hurtful to many people. Truth be told, I don't see the name being changed anytime soon. There's a lot of money backing the pride of that name, which makes the entire situation messy. I don't like messy.
I mention all of this to contextualize why I appreciate, but understand the complex response to Comedy Central's tweet and Stephen Colbert's “Ching Chong Ding Dong” segment.
Last night, before going to bed, I saw the #CancelColbert protest and was confused. I read Comedy Central's @ColbertReport's tweet and trusted it to be in line with his politically conservative satirical view. Still, I watched the “Ching Chong Ding Dong” segment with critical curiosity in order to be informed and to understand the outrage. You can watch it here.
Now, I confess, watching the skit in context was uncomfortable. However, this discomfort was specific and residual to experiencing yellow face characters purposefully played with the intention to ridicule, shame, and diminish people of Asian descent.
On the surface and certainly out of context, this segment may seem an arbitrary dismissal of one community of color at the expense of another community of color. It may also have reminded folks of CBS's How I Met Your Mother's penultimate episode, Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra, which sparked #HowIMetYourRacism by the same twitter user Suey Park. However, I understood that when Colbert carefully walked us through addressing his own critics to "Ching Chong Ding Dong" in the same manner that Snyder did, he was helping us understand why Dan Snyder's foundation was so outrageously offensive in its complete and utter sincerity.
So, where did Colbert falter? He drew a comparison between two communities with a shared oppression to help us understand a complex and messy situation. We see frequent examples of this. For instance, bias against white women and people of color in the workplace are placed at odds against each other. The horrors of the Jewish Holocaust and Black slavery are weighed in the balance of history against one another over who has the right to claim the greatest crime against humanity. And recently, I was speaking with my father about the strong exception taken to comparing the fight for civil Rights and the fight for Marriage Equality. A few days later, I read actress and singer, Frenchie Davis' Facebook message to the white gay community, which she penned the day after the Michael Dunn verdict:
"I need the gay community to STOP comparing our struggle to the Black Civil Rights Movement. You DON’T get to draw that comparison and then remain SILENT when the civil rights of Black teens are being violated. I mean, where the f— are y’all?!?! Yay! For Ellen Page coming out at an lgbt youth conference. I was there. I sang right after. But THAT should not have been our focus yesterday. How in the hell are we having conferences to inspire our youth to live their truths and then have absolutely nothing to offer to THIS conversation???? Dear White Gays, I am HEARTBROKEN by your continued silence on these issues and I DO NOT give you permission to high jack [sic] the Civil Rights Movement while simultaneously IGNORING the inequalites [sic] that youth of color face every f—ing day. It is culturally insensitive to do so and we are either fighting for EQUALITY for ALL or we aren’t. As an LGBT woman of color, I am having an extremely difficult time grasping WHY Matthew Shephard’s life is so much more valuable than Trayvon’s or Jordan’s????!?!?! Help me understand, y’all! Help me understand."
Ultimately, I agree with civil rights leader Julian Bond, who said in an interview for the PBS program “In The Life”:
“Black people, of all people, should not oppose equality. It does not matter the rationale – religious, cultural, pseudo-scientific. No people of good will should oppose marriage equality. And they should not think civil unions are a substitute. At best, civil unions are separate but equal. And we all know separate is never equal.”
But more often than not these comparisons are awkward, hurtful, and only make the situation messier. Because having a shared oppression doesn't guarantee understanding and solidarity doesn't always come in equal measures. Even oppression has a hierarchy.
Did Colbert go too far with this segment? As someone who is part of a community with a shared oppression, but who is not a member of the offended group in this instance, that may not be for me to answer. Arguably, Comedy Central should not have relied on a single line to deliver the entire message of that skit. Equally, those of us fighting for diversity and inclusion must reasonably and responsibly stay informed and gain knowledge and perspective before taking a stance or launching a movement. There is a great deal of racial anxiety right now. Cooler heads must prevail in order for us to move this conversation forward.
As of right now, the stance against Snyder's foundation has been derailed and I remain unconvinced of Twitter "shaming" as a useful and productive tool to inform, enlighten, and educate.
You can read more on the #CancelColbert controversy here:
Here's the full “Ching Chong Ding Dong” segment:
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!