It’s been a turbulent couple of weeks for race relations in America. (But then again, when is it not a turbulent time for race relations in America?) To jog your memory, the latest offenders were a basketball player, a football team owner, a television show host and, of course, a politician.
We heard Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) say that poverty was a cultural problem rampant in inner cities (cue eye roll). Dan Snyder continues his pathetic attempt to try and salvage the Redskins name, this time by donating to his new charity organization, the “Washington Redskins Original American Foundation.”
That stunt led to the social media war we’re seeing play out right now. The Twitter account of the “Colbert Report” sent out this tweet, clearly as a satirical nudge highlighting the absurdity of Snyder’s actions: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
This led to writer Suey Park launching a hashtag called #CancelColbert, a heated stint on Huffington Post Live, and an ongoing campaign that has been buzzing today. The Colbert Report’s tweet was clearly satire meant to capture Snyder’s baffling move, as my colleague Alyssa Rosenberg points out. One thought does come to mind, though: Would Colbert have made a similar such joke using African Americans or Muslims as an example? Probably not. For some reason, it’s easier to poke fun, for satire or for pure comical effect, using Asian Americans. Just watch one episode of “2 Broke Girls” and you’ll cringe. But that’s a part of a larger discussion on race and humor, and any offense was missing from the Colbert tweet. It highlighted the absurdity in Snyder’s new charity, and that’s about it.
That saga should be a side story to another story that garnered some Twitter attention earlier this week: Basketball star Kobe Bryant told The New Yorker that he was not too impressed with The Heat and LeBron James’s support for Trayvon Martin. The Florida basketball team donned hoodies as a symbol for the negative and racial connotation it sparked in light of Martin’s death. Here is what Bryant had to say:
I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American,” he said. “That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, we’ve progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.
It’s hard for me (a Celtics fan) to come to LeBron James and Miami Heat’s defense, but there is so much that is extremely troubling with this statement. For one, the NBA team wore hoodies in an attempt to show solidarity with a deeply disturbing event that took place in their state, as the hoodie came to represent prejudice and racism that ended in the death of a 17-year-old. And two, if Bryant wanted to speak up, he could have. He didn’t, and he wasn’t obliged to do so. Martin died because of the color of his skin, which was a horrifying event that personally touched many people, regardless of race. If it didn’t affect Bryant, so be it. But for him to be uncomfortable by others’ actions condemning the death? That doesn’t make much sense. Fret not, this also resulted in a “Social Media Firestorm.”
It’s so easy to get caught up in a Twitter storm complete with hashtags and racial slurs. (If you need another example, Ebony mag editor and RNC go at it.) But what’s really at the heart of these problems? Why can’t we have better discussions of why some minorities are so often the butt of the joke over others? Or about a perception that racial hate only touches the affected minority group? What about assumptions people make about “inner cities” and poverty? Are we seeing the worst in people through social media, or has the platform encouraged debate about these serious, convoluted and sensitive topics? These are questions worth discussing and debating. But one thing is for sure: They aren’t always easily addressed in 140 characters or less.