There’s already been so much written about Suey Park and the #CancelColbert hashtag that erupted on Twitter late last week. In case you missed it: The Colbert Show decided to take aim at Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington, DC NFL Football Team, who had recently announced the formation of a charity whose name included a racist slur directed at the group he’s supposedly trying to “help.”
Colbert ran a piece of satire on last week’s show and followed up afterwards with a tweet about his fake, “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Suey Park, a 23-year-old Korean-American activist who also started the influential #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag last year, then called on her followers to #CancelColbert.
What’s important to understand here is that Park’s aim wasn’t necessarily to get The Colbert Show kicked off the air. Instead, it was to, as point out that satire isn’t always the best activism. “Well-intentioned racial humor doesn’t actually do anything to end racism or the Redskins mascot,” Park told the Jay Caspian Kang at the New Yorker. “That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title of progressivism more comfortable.”
Kang’s take was one of the more useful pieces of writing on the subject over the weekend. In it, he steps back from the singular controversey itself and focuses instead on the unsettling questions it brings up about race and so-called “hashtag activism:”
I do not know if I believe that Park set out to incite this particular riot when she first tweeted #CancelColbert, but I also do not believe that any activist really owes an explanation for the mess she leaves in her wake. Over the past two days, much of the debate about #CancelColbert has been about the efficacy of hashtag activism and whether the act of dissent has been cheapened by the ease, and sometimes frivolity, of Twitter protests. As the debate intensified, I, too, thought that we had reached a point where hashtag activism had circled back onto itself—a moment when the earnestness of a conversation like #NotYourAsianSidekick had been compromised by self-promotion and race hustling. But journalists and pundits are particularly sensitive to charges of self-promotion and hustling because we so often use Twitter to self-promote and hustle. Unlike Park, we usually do this without any particular ideological motivation—and if we are honest with ourselves, I think we can admit that one reason we may find Twitter activism distasteful is because it interrupts our online socializing with questions we might not want to answer.