JACL objects to Colbert’s use of racist jokes

The following is text from a statement issued by the Japanese American Citizens League on April 2, 2014.

In a recent episode of the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert aired a segment that addressed the controversy surrounding Washington’s NFL franchise owner, Dan Snyder. Snyder, who has already been under fire for refusing to change his team’s name despite protests from the Native American community to stop his use of a racial slur, exacerbated his offense by creating a new foundation for Native Americans that continues to use the derogatory term. Colbert, like many others, chose to poke fun at the tone-deaf nature of Snyder’s gesture.

In his segment, Colbert reprised a stereotypical Asian character he has used in past shows to announce the creation of the “Ching-Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” Colbert’s depiction of this “mascot” of his show was an amalgam of various offensive Asian American stereotypes.

On Monday, Colbert responded to the backlash generated by his segment from the Asian American community. Colbert touted his sensitivity towards the Asian American community, citing the knowledge he gained from Michelle Malkin’s In Defense of Internment, a work that has been widely discredited for its historical distortions and specious conclusions that justified the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Much of The Colbert Report’s humor is based on the premise of the outrageous character played by Stephen Colbert, a caricature of a racist, sexist, over-the-top right-wing conservative media personality. Yet too often, the guise of humor and satire are used to absolve individuals of all responsibility when their humor misses its mark and becomes offensive.

The JACL objects to Colbert’s use of racist jokes to make a larger point about bigotry and ignorance. There is much to criticize around Dan Snyder’s racial insensitivity and the enormous amount of privilege he wields in actively perpetuating the use of a racial slur. However, there is nothing clever or humorous about resorting to tired, racist stereotypes that target another marginalized group in order to make this point.

Founded in 1929, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) is the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization concerned with issues of education, public policy and leadership development. As a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization, the JACL promotes public awareness about the history and achievements of Asian American & Pacific Islanders (AAPI), identifies and trains youth for leadership and service, and pursues public policy issues that affect the AAPI community. The JACL headquarters is located in San Francisco with additional offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C. http://jacl.org

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