The Era of Hurt Feelings
Oh, the power of a Twitter account and a properly coined hashtag. Late last week, two Twitter dust-ups that, on varying levels, centered on race and identity, went viral and landed on my last nerve. The first and more prominent one involved Suey Park, who has been called a hashtag activist (I know, right? WTF?), and the intern who runs Comedy Central’s Twitter feed. As many of you may know, the intern, or whomever, tweeted the “punchline” from a Colbert Report skit without providing a link to a clip or an actual explanation about where the punchline stemmed. Very quickly: NFL team owner Dan Snyder has made a piss-poor attempt to deflect from his refusal to change his team’s name by starting the Washington Redskins Original Americans Organization. (Yeah, I know.) In response, Colbert, who was in character, said he was going to respond to anger over his Asian “mascot” by starting the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation For Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever. Someone only tweeted the name of the fake organization, Park saw it, responded with the #cancelColbert hashtag, then told her followers to trend it, since she’s clearly boss at this trending topics thing.
Later that same day, Ebony got into a bit of a mess when one of their digital editors, Jamilah Lemieux remarked on Ben Carson and Armstrong Williams’ new magazine for black conservatives or, as my homie Moya and her friends call them, white people of color. Raffi Williams, son of Juan Williams, tried to engage Lemieux about the importance of diversity of thought, and Lemieux said she wasn’t really trying to hear anything about this from a white dude–and not, say, from a grown-ass man who calls himself Raffi in public, which is where I would have gone, but whatevs. But, of course, conservatives who are actually white lost their shit because Raffi isn’t white. They wanted Lemieux to apologize for calling him white, but she said no. Raffi got on Fox News and cried some figurative #whitegirltears. Ebony apologized. And people got upset. In fact, some of the same people who wanted to #cancelColbert did not want #Jamilahtoapologize even though both “issues” were about #peoplecatchingfeelings over some asinine Twitter game.
Look, despite what some may think, I’m not in the business of defending white men. But I genuinely disagree with the idea that Colbert should be canceled. Granted, the tweet really needed more context–which is, like, an entire mouse click away–but I think in order to support the hashtag and be salty that Ebony said sorry, one has to really make some logical leaps. Because, in my estimation, both “issues” really crystallize what racism talk in this post-racial America has been reduced to: People talking about their feelings and not the systemic and actual real life shit that oppresses people.
I’m not going to say that folks who didn’t find the Colbert bit funny don’t understand satire. What I will say, though, is that Park and the #cancelColbert hashtag have totally obscured the actual commentary that Colbert and others, who have not used satire, have been trying to make: That in 2014, the team that represents the nation’s capital in the nation’s most popular sport continues to refer to itself by an epithet used to describe the people who suffered this fraudulent country’s earliest genocide. And people–and not just white people (Hello, Jeffrey Wright)–are defending its continued use. That’s happening. In 2014. And that’s really absurd. (A kind of absurdity that, when one wants to respond satirically, sort of requires the method Colbert used if one is going to make the proper critique.) In fact, perhaps the thing only slightly more absurd than what Snyder did is that of one of the responses to this absurdity has become the primary story.
But that’s what happens in the era of hurt feelings. When we treat offense and don’t link it to something larger, when we reduce racism to a series of perceived insults hurled at another, what results is the obscuring of the actual issue. As such, conservatives can co-opt the situation to fit them, including joining the #cancelColbert “movement” (which should have been a red flag) and demand apologies over misreading someone’s Twitter picture. But people of color and folks with alleged liberal leanings, as these moments show, have been complicit in this process. We demand and expect apologies and deem them as somehow sufficient, but then act brand new when the other side uses these tactics. And at the end of the day, profiles just get upped.
But how about this? Folks have raised over $60K to help Shanesha Taylor. And there is still time to donate. How about we work to #cancelShaneshasarrest? Trend that.