April 5, 2014

rotifers asked: I really appreciate your insightful article-length posts about racism and racial conflicts in America. They are thought-provoking and deserve to be read by a larger audience.

I appreciate that deeply, thank you for reading.

March 30, 2014
Friendly Fire: When Social Advocacy and Social Satire Collide

Late last week, enraged at an out-of-context and now deleted joke tweeted from the “Colbert Report” account, Asian-American feminist activist Suey Park began a twitter campaign to #cancelcolbert. The request was by Park’s own admission an unreasonable one, as she intimated in an interview with Huffpost Live’s Josh Zepps.

“Unfortunately people don’t really listen to us if we’re being reasonable,” Park suggested in defense of her hashtag campaign.

Park’s appearance on Huffpost Live was in many ways, emblematic of the reason why many people are so weary of these conversations, and there was plenty of blame to go around for the acrimonious tone. Park began her response with an unwarranted attack on Zepps’ line of questioning, and Zepps for his part met Park with blatant and ugly patronization. I won’t rehash the interview blow-by-blow, but I highly recommend you watch the clip below.

Park and Zepps on Huffpost Live.

Park and Zepps on Huffpost Live.

It would be easy to blame Zepps for the folly of his response, and indeed he deserves much blame. But the exchange also demonstrates the probable dynamic when the hard-headed and perpetually aggrieved activist comes out into these conversations with the “mainstream” or the “privileged,” guns-a-blazing. People shut down and resort to the natural defenses of rhetoric.

I don’t mean to construct a strawman, but I suspect that Park (and advocates of her ilk) would suggest that how people respond to her tone and style is not her problem. Which is technically true, but it doesn’t make that type of advocacy effective, either. Herein lays the irony of Park’s appearance, and her apparent demonization of satire: it served to prove just how indispensable a tool it really is.

What do I mean by that? Let’s take NBC’s “The Office” and it’s Steve Carell heyday as an example. When Michael Scott channels his gloriously offensive “Ping” character, the butt of the joke is emphatically not the Asian-American community, but Scott’s own obtuseness. The power of satire lies in the fact that, many Americans know a Michael Scott in their office or elsewhere in their lives who might play off the same stereotypes, likely (though not necessarily) in a less overt way.

Park suggests in the Huffpost Live segment that “satire is supposed to punch up,” which is true. What she neglects is that often the most effective satire, is one that bombastically “punches down” not to make contact with what is “down,” but to surreptitiously and effectively expose to blows what is “up.” 

 Good satire short-circuits the maladaptive normalization of stereotypes and bigotry by forcing the reader/viewer to come to grips with ideologies and concepts extended beyond the bounds of comfort to their logical extremes. They force an internal conversation which sounds like “if this is totally wrong, then isn’t that at least kind of wrong?” So often it is only within these self-constructed dialectical spaces that we can actually overcome our human tendency to suppress ideas that are discordant with what we already believe.

 It is because of this tendency, the way brains maneuver through cognitive dissonance, that frequently, social grievance blogging and advocacy becomes ensconced in barely permeably intellectual echo-chambers.  Satire is one of the most effective and durable weapons to smash these barriers, and I assure you, if I had the talent for it, it would be my primary mode of social agitation.

I do not, but Stephen Colbert does, in abundance. Over the past decade (which makes me feel really old) I have seen Colbert able to acrobatically lambast the lion’s share of American political, social, economic and cultural absurdities through the complementary performance of parody and satire. Watching him do so, along with his co-conspirator Jon Stewart and the talented folks at The Onion, just to name a few, suggests to me that satire is one of the most indispensable tools of consciousness-raising in the age of ungated digital information.

Indeed I would suggest that satire is demonstrably more effective than the confrontational and accusatory rhetoric of grievance punditry. This isn’t to suggest that there isn’t a place for grievance, or even for confrontational accusation, but merely to suggest that the activist attacking the satirist-ally is like a white blood-cell attacking its own corporeal tissue. It is thoroughly unproductive and self-defeating.

Park has a history of attacking would/could be allies, notably engaging in a Twitter war with the preeminent white anti-racist activist Tim Wise, which was ironically, partially about the validity of Twitter wars. Park made some fair points, and certainly, even as I appreciate Wise’s work immensely, he left himself open to many of the shots she took. This is not the point here, except to note that Park seemingly has little trepidation about attacking those who might otherwise genuinely support her advocacy.

Within that, I think this incident demonstrates the danger in honing ones sensitivities to cultural affront so sharply, and letting the language and spirit of grievance become so deeply entrenched in one’s worldview. It seems to lend itself to a mental space in which responses to stimuli become reflexive and vitriolic rather than reasoned and conversational. In an arena governed by rhetoric, that is a recipe for self-destruction.

I flatly reject the “whitemansplaining” type of dialogue which would suggest that as an individual or as a collective, members of a non-dominant group should “lighten up” or “get over it,” or “just take a joke.” Park has a right to be offended, and it is obviously a feeling that resonated with people or her #cancelcolbert movement would never have picked up as much traction as it did. Park is not a “race-baiter” as some on Fox would surely seek to portray her. But I do believe that her narrow definition of satire is blind to one of the most useful aspects of its power. 

The Washington Redskins Logo.

The Washington Redskins Logo.

With all of that said, here is why Colbert’s joke is powerful and useful. The Washington Redskins, notably the last NFL team to integrate, have persisted in the face of constant cries from Native American groups to retire their racist and offensive name and logo. I will assume that if you have read this far, you do not need me to elaborate on the dynamics of appropriation, cultural imagery and power which make Snyder’s obstinacy so egregious.

Snyder’s most recent response to the criticisms has been to found the—- almost inconceivably ridiculous “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” Enter Colbert.

Colbert has two running alter egoes on the show, Esteban Colberto and Ching-Chong Ding-Dong, who function as jokes on his character’s utter ignorance of race and racism. Responding to criticism of the Asian character as a stereotype of Asian-Americans, Colbert declared “Mr. Ding Dong is not American. He is a Chinaman from Guangong.” And, aping Snyder’s declarations about his team’s history, Colbert insisted “Ching Chong is part of the unique heritage of the Colbert Nation that cannot change. But I am willing to show the Asian community that I care by introducing the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or whatever.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2014/03/28/stephen-colbert-was-making-fun-of-dan-snyder-not-asians-and-asian-americans/

 Colbert’s satire comes in a climate where most Americans find the Redskins name perfectly acceptable and we return to the notion of disrupting normalized stereotypes. The idea that the team could make such a ham-handed, disingenuous and patronizing gesture is captured and re-transmitted almost verbatim by Colbert’s joke, and he deserves the praise, not the scorn, of people who seek to raise consciousness about the inner-workings of privilege and race in America. 

March 2, 2014
@nillyfoshilly.

From Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons

#afrocentric #africa

@nillyfoshilly.

From Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons

#afrocentric #africa

February 6, 2014
Happy Birthday to the inspirational, Mr. #Marley. #tattoo #bobmarley

Happy Birthday to the inspirational, Mr. #Marley. #tattoo #bobmarley

January 28, 2014
Why Is Africa So ____? According to Google Auto-Fill Results.
Compiled Jan 28 2013. Jamiles Lartey.

Why Is Africa So ____? According to Google Auto-Fill Results.

Compiled Jan 28 2013. Jamiles Lartey.

January 16, 2014

I stay #beastin- in the studio, the gym or the classroom. Also, I
stay #humble on Instagram.

January 14, 2014
"We told the white missionary that we had such fables too, but kept them for the entertainment of those yet growing up — fables of gods and devils and a supreme being above everything. We told him we knew soft minds needed such illusions, but that when any mind grew among us to adulthood it grew beyond these fables and came to understand that there is indeed a great force in the world, a force spiritual and able to shape the physical universe, but that that force is not something that is cut off, not something separate from ourselves. It is an energy in us, strongest in our working, breathing, thinking together as one people; weakest when we are scattered, confused, broken into individual, unconnected fragments."

— Ayi Kwei Armah

October 13, 2013
Stilt dancers right outside the crib #harlem

Stilt dancers right outside the crib #harlem

6:00pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZXQcUwxaOfVq
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Filed under: harlem 
September 4, 2013

#Afrobeat grooves in the apt.. Hope the neighbors don’t mind! …@scooter615 I wasn’t kidding on Sunday lol.

12:47pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZXQcUwu8rraT
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Filed under: afrobeat 
July 30, 2013
Master #storyteller #ghana #africa

Master #storyteller #ghana #africa

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