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This Week in Racism - The #CancelColbert Debate Is the Funniest Thing to Ever Happen

The controversy around Stephen Colbert's use of Asian stereotypes to make a satirical point about racism is finally starting to die down, so now's the perfect moment to admit it was the most hilarious controversy of all time.
April 4, 2014, 4:29pm

Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons

Welcome to the #CancelColbert edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking racial jokes on a scale of one to HILARIOUS, with “one” being the least hilarious and “HILARIOUS” being the most hilarious.

-If there's one thing I believe the human race can totally agree on, it's that comedy only gets better the more you dissect it. For instance, the classic joke, "Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side," surprises the recipient of the joke with its literal, non-punchline. It's a pure form of anti-comedy, the "Nick Cannon in whiteface" of one-liners. Isn't that joke so much funnier now that I've explained it? I thought so.

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Last week was a real golden age of comedy, thanks in no small part to the #CancelColbert controversy. Like with all the best art (textbooks, CliffsNotes, the Transformers movie series), the meaning needs to be super clear, or it's not good. That's not a suggestion. That's, like, a rule.

Writer/activist/excellent comedian Suey Park and TV personality/white person Stephen Colbert both learned this powerful lesson through the course of last week's controversy over Colbert's joke about the Washington Redskins' Native American outreach foundation. The Twitter account for The Colbert Report tweeted an out-of-context quote on the subject that contained a racial slur against Asians. That caused Park to create the #CancelColbert hashtag and blow up the internet for a few days. Conservative pundits, often the ones getting accused of racism, jumped at the chance to give their hybrid-driving competition a taste of their own medicine. You go, Michelle Malkin! You've really earned it.

Eventually, Colbert went on his show and explained that what everyone was upset about was a joke, specifically a satirical dig at Redskins owner Dan Snyder's insistence on his football team having a racially insensitive nickname. At that point, the joke took off, growing from a mildly amusing larva of social commentary into a full-blown comedy butterfly. And yet… something was missing. What if there was yet another layer of sarcasm at play here? What if… Suey Park was just kidding the whole time too?

Shit's about to get real.

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In an interview with popular comedy blog Salon.com, Suey Park explained—in agonizingly funny detail—how she's actually a fan of Colbert and that she was merely trying to point out how white people are allowed the benefit of context, but minorities don't receive the same privilege. Allow Ms. Park to explain further:

"A lot of white America and so-called liberal people of color, along with conservatives, ask, “Do I understand context?” And that’s part of wanting to completely humanize the oppressor. To see the white man as always reasonable, always pure, always deliberate, always complex and always innocent. And to see the woman of color as literal. Both my intent behind the hashtag and in my [unintelligible] distance, is always about forcing an apology on me for not understanding their context when, in reality, they misunderstood us when they made us a punch line again. So it’s always this logic of how can we understand whiteness better, and that’s never been my politics. I’ve always been about occupying the margins and strengthening the margins and what that means is that, for a long time, whiteness has also occupied the margins. Like, people of color get in circles with no white people in the room and we see that whiteness still operates. So I think it’s kind of a shock for America that whiteness has dominant society already, it also seeps into the margins. What happens the one time when the margins seep into the whiteness and we encroach on their space? It’s like the sky is falling."

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I'm not sure who's being misunderstood, who's lacking context, or what "margins seep into the whiteness" means (maybe a Sarah McLachlan lyric?) What I do know is that the above block of text is very, very funny. I encourage comedians everywhere to explain themselves more. Based on the media's fixation with this story, it seems like a sure way to up your Klout score. HILARIOUS

Photo via Flickr User Bob B. Brown

-Paula Deen's restaurant Uncle Bubba's Oyster House closed its doors after 10 gut-busting years of serving the citizens of Savannah, Georgia. Uncle Bubba's was at the center of the lawsuit that destroyed Deen's reputation as a health-conscious, considerate southern granny. Now, the world knows Paula Deen enjoys casually using the n-word, which potentially led to the shuttering of Uncle Bubba's. I give this a 7, only because I wish I could have eaten there before it closed.

-Speaking of comedy, below is a major missed opportunity for artistic synergy from Nick Cannon:

Game face on. @NickCannon is all set for halftime at the @NYKnicks game tonight - we're filming for #AGT Season 9! pic.twitter.com/u7j1jAJBjC

— America's Got Talent (@nbcagt) April 2, 2014

Instead of "Game face on," what if it said "White face on," and Nick resurrected his Connor Smallnut character? The answer is we'd probably all be begging him to run for President of Comedy right now, but he chose the wrong path and "dropped the ball"—pun intended, obviously. Nick Cannon can really do nothing right! 2

-And finally, In order to really sell this article and take my own advice, I guess I should explain myself too:

I googled "racist jokes" just for fun today and found a site called "Niggermania." It is, as you would expect, a treasure trove of awful shit. These are jokes that don't have to be explained, because the meaning is pretty fucking clear. The same is true of the knuckledragging comments from the boys at Top Gear regarding Asians, Mexicans, and Romanians. These jokes are just not funny, and they are not funny because they are blatantly racist.

Humor is one of the only tools at the disposal of civilized people. Global warming is real, the worldwide economy is stubbornly stagnant, corporations are "people" now, and one day I am going to die and someone will applaud just because of the color of my skin. Maybe I should be allowed to laugh at it all without also getting a critical theory lecture at the same time? If all our society ever does is constantly explain everything, then why even bother trying to be subtle? Subtlety separates that which is creative from that which is purely didactic. If all you want to do is tell the world how you fit within the socio-economic context of 21st century-American patriarchy, then stop calling yourself a comedian. Does that mean comics can't be political? Certainly not. Any artist can be political if they so choose, but art is not the same as criticism, and it never will be. NOT FUNNY

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