The True Redemption Of #CancelColbert’s Suey Park
By Karoline Xu
It’s been two years since Suey Park, a young social activist mostly working through Twitter, became one of the most reviled voices on social media.
Park, who’d previously launched the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick, sealed her fate when she typed the words “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals has decided to call for #CancelColbert.” She was responding to a Colbert Show tweet — “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever” — that mocked Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who propped up a foundation for Native Americans as an apologist measure for the use of “Redskins” in their team name.
Soon, #CancelColbert was trending — and so was Park’s infamy. Colbert fans quickly became Park critics, slamming her with Twitter taunts of “bitch,” “chink,” and “traitor to the Asian race.” The event escalated so extremely that she received death threats, and Stephen Colbert dedicated a segment of his show to address the uproar.
The Internet united to attack the perceived stupidity of Park’s comment — and two years later, it has yet to relent in taunting and bullying her. Articles and tweets still periodically lambast Park’s tweet; her life has been so upended that she was recently featured on a SyFy series called, unsubtly, “The Internet Ruined My Life.” What’s been left in the wake of all this carnage is the perception that Suey was entirely in the wrong, while the white liberals who lambasted her were entirely in the right.
It’s time we laid this dangerous narrative to rest.
Almost all of the negative journalism about Suey has been written by white people. None of these articles reference the use of sexist and racist attacks, examine how this harmful and backward criticism may have adversely impacted Suey, or properly contextualize Suey’s role as an Asian American activist.
In a Salon article published last year, ironically titled “The redemption of #CancelColbert’s Suey Park,” Mary Elizabeth Williams condescendingly suggests that Suey deserves a “second chance” and calls her tweet the result of “clumsy rage.” She also notes that, “For many people who still think of Suey Park at all, she’ll always be the girl HuffPost Live’s Josh Zepps summed up last year as the girl with ‘a stupid opinion’” — an interesting reference, as that March 2014 video interview is perhaps the most egregious example of the problematic reactions to Suey’s tweet.
In that video, Zepps, a white male with institutional authority, patronizes Park, an Asian woman with little traditional authority, for five minutes. Early on, Zepps, his tone light and his mouth flashing with amusement, asks, “Why cancel Colbert? What did you hope to achieve with that?” When Suey responds that his is a “loaded question” and talks about how “Asian Americans are always a punchline,” Zepps responds with a patronizing retort:
“[Colbert’s tweet] was meant to be satire. I mean, do you understand the point of satire, that you say something that’s intentionally absurd in order to ridicule not the people who are the target of what you’re saying, but — but — other people who might say it?”
Zepps goes on to call Suey’s reaction to the word Orientalism “misguided,” claims that she “misunderstands irony,” and denounces her reaction as being the result of a “stupid opinion.”
In one telling exchange, the two even lock horns over the nature of white privilege:
Park: “I was going to say it is incredibly patronizing for you to paint these questions this way, especially as a white man, I don’t expect you to be able to understand what people of color are actually seeing with regards to Cancel Colbert. He has a history of making jokes — ”
Zepps, cutting her off: “Suey, Suey, being a white man doesn’t prevent me from being able to think and doesn’t prevent me from being able to have, uh, have thought — reason and perspectives on things. I didn’t give up my right to be able to have an intellectual conversation when I was born.”
In this exchange, Zepps deflects any institutional privilege afforded to him, while simultaneously using it to employ gaslighting — a type of emotional abuse that focuses on questioning victims’ memory and perception, and encouraging them to doubt their sanity.
Like the general public’s, Zepps’ response was ostensibly rooted in a belief that Park did not understand the point of Colbert’s satire. But Park never stated that Colbert’s joke wasn’t satirical; she just suggested that it was satire that spoke for the Native American issue while also perpetuating damaging stereotypes about Asian Americans. And even in satire, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that this is problematic.
For white liberals, it’s easier to say satire is just satire. It’s easier to believe that someone of Asian descent shouldn’t be offended by an offensive tweet if it helps lampoon apologist views toward Native Americans. It’s easier to believe a joke that supports one minority’s cause is a joke that all minorities should support.
It’s easier because these jokes don’t typically affect white liberals. They have no understanding of what it’s like to live, as Asians constantly do, in the shadow of stereotypes, such as “passive” and “Model Minority” — stereotypes that render Asians as “harmless,” and lead people to believe jokes relying on Asian identity are “harmless” as well.
What happened to Suey hardly exists in a silo; during this year’s #OscarsSoWhite telecast that justly confronted the lack of black representation in cinema, it was nonetheless considered perfectly appropriate to include not one, but two egregiously offensive jokes about Asians. Once again, racism was perpetuated under the guise of “humor,” as if saying “but it was just supposed to be funny” was enough to undo the damage done.
It’s been two years since #CancelColbert, but I am still talking about what happened because I want to remember Suey Park’s voice. Too often Asian American history is erased or talked over, and remembered instead are the words of white America, like the triumph of a modern day conquest. Too often we fail to ever recognize or acknowledge the voices of minorities, only to hear them drowned out again and again.
We cannot, and must not, forget what happened to Suey.
Editor’s note: This story refers to the specific treatment of Park after the #CancelColbert debacle and the racist and sexist nature of attacks she received from predominately white men, and is in no way arguing for forgiveness for her later problematic actions toward black women.
Lead image: YouTube