This Should be the Last Article You Read On #CancelColbert

Photo via William & Mary University

Let me start this off with a short story:

It was my sophomore at Arizona State University. I was still bright eyed, bushy-tailed, and full of hope for the future. In my African American studies class a controversial topic came up: you see ASU had a ‘black out’ game to celebrate their new uniforms. A game that was shown on national TV. During the broadcast the camera panned over the fans and showed a group of girls painted in all black. I mean, all black. In their showing of support, they inadvertently recreated an image of Blackface, an image used in minstrel shows where performers would indulge Black stereotypes to delight an audience.

Not the proudest time to be a Sun Devil…

But hey, at least we don’t have a history with this.

Of course, there was backlash to this from web outlets around the country, which called the students racially insensitive and reckless. My classmates on the other hand felt that these girls were innocent of any wrongdoing because they were ignorant of the history behind the imagery of blackface.
Frustrated beyond belief I argued that ignorance is no excuse for action; if someone dons a symbol, they need to understand the history behind it. To illustrate this I make an hypothetical example: let’s say I wear a t-shirt with a Nazi swastika on it to school. For the sake of argument, I don’t have any knowledge of the history behind this symbol; do I get a “pass” to display this imagery proudly in a public forum?

Big mistake.

The class immediately turned on me, and I soon spent the rest of the period explaining that it was a hypothetical situation and the example I was attempting to make. See, instead of illustrating my point I had undermined it. I took focus from the more important debate and created an empty hypothetical one.

I couldn’t help but think of the empty rhetoric that filled my classroom when I checked out this developing story the other night. Stephen Colbert came under fire when this tweet was release via his show account:


The Colbert Report is a nightly comedy “news” show where Colbert plays the character of an ignorant but ego-driven conservative loudmouth.The tweet, a reference to a segment from his TV show was immediately jumped on by twitter and resulted with #CancelColbert trending most of yesterday and even up to the time of this writing. The post in question has been deleted and Stephen Colbert has denied any involvement with the tweet. The account itself, @ColbertReport jumped to his defense tweeting that its use“ is not controlled by Stephen Colbert or his show.”

The segment this quote was taken from was about Colbert mocking an NFL team owner, Daniel Snyder; Snyder plans to start a foundation to assist Native American tribes while also refusing to back down from the controversial team name, the Washington “Redskins.” The quote in the tweet used to point out the farcicality of using racially insensitive terms while also assisting them in the name of good will.

Why does Snyder want to keep the name? History. Not actual history, where the term was used to describe bounties placed on Native people’s heads while settlers were attempting to shoo them off their own lands.
No, NFL history where a Redskins jerseys is still sitting among the top 20 selling in all of the NFL despite the poor year they had.  There are over 500 different tribes of Native Americans in the U.S. and none of them were known as “Indians,” “Redskins,” or “Braves” until the arrival of European imperialists and later American expansionists. These were not terms of endearment but terms of either ignorance (Indians were actually in India) or fear.

But enough about the use of archaic racist imagery to represent one of the most underrepresented groups in the United States today; apparently that’s not the issue.  A satirist with a fake comedy news show and racial insensitivity is the issue. There will be some that defend Colbert and argue the safety of satire. Others will argue that putting down another race to deliver a message on racial insensitivity is fruitless and does more harm than good. But through all the discourse of right and wrong no one will be talking about the problem.



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