Following a comedy bit on the Colbert Report that was intended to satirize Dan Snyder's Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, Stephen Colbert became the target of a grassroots Twitter campaign demanding his cancellation. The #CancelColbert hashtag, launched in reaction to a tweet sent from @ColbertReport, trended on Friday and through the weekend.
The original comedy segment featured Colbert mockingly praising Snyder's foundation, and then announcing his own "Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever."
The idea was simple, and many viewers thought it effective: The public is so inured to the racial slur "Redskin" that Dan Snyder can actually use it in the name of a foundation he establishes to help Native Americans, so perhaps an analogy with another racial group and an acompanying racial slur would put the name of Snyder's foundation in perspective. Colbert wasn't the first to try it; writing in Slate, Josh Levin called the foundation's name "something akin to calling your organization 'Kikes United Against Anti-Semitism.'" The message of both phony foundation names: Society wouldn't tolerate "Ching-Chong" or "Kikes," so why is "Redskins" okay?
Stephen Colbert's Twitter handle is @StephenAtHome, but there is (or was) a @ColbertReport Twitter account run by someone at Comedy Central, and the punchline to Colbert's bit went out over that feed without the context of the Snyder/Redskins story. It looked like this:
Twitter activist Suey Park, who became known for her hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick and helped Native Tweeters publicize tags including #NotYourTonto and #NotYourMascot, reacted to the Tweet swiftly, calling for Colbert's firing with the #CancelColbert hashtag, which became a ubiquitous news story. Meanwhile, Stephen Colbert could only watch it unfold: he'd already taped his Thursday episode and his show does not air on Fridays, so he would not be able to address the controversy on his show until Monday.
This he did, last night, in a long segment, punctuated by sips of a Bud Light Lime, that began with the context of the joke — Dan Snyder and the Redskins, remember — and ran through many of the details above. (You can watch the whole thing at Comedy Central's website.) He also called for the attacks on Park, which had become quite vicious, to stop. In his closing words, he said that he would be donating the money raised by his offensive faux charity to the offensive real-life charity that inspired the joke that caused the kerfluffle: The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.
"…which Twitter seems to be fine with," he said, "because I haven't seen shit about that."
And that's the bottom line for the Native activists on Twitter who saw a real opportunity to open some eyes when Snyder announced his bizarrely named charity: The momentum building for their campaign — #Not4Sale — was stymied by #CancelColbert. In an interview with The New Yorker that only briefly mentioned Dan Snyder and his foundation, Suey Park admitted she likes Colbert Report and didn't actually want to see it canceled. Yet a single Tweet connected to a satirist — whose well-known shtick is to parody arrogant conservatives — made more waves than a campaign against a racist team name that has been with us for decades.
As Jackie Keeler of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry tweeted from her @jfkeeler feed: "Issue is not critique of skit but disproportional outrage vis a vis Actual racist foundation — Snyder wins."
For more Native perspective on what went down, read Jennie Stockle's blog post "CancelColbert Collateral Damage to EONM (Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry)."