Suey Park, the 23-year-old activist and writer, recently made international news when she launched a Twitter campaign demanding Stephen Colbert of the popular satirical Comedy Central show The Colbert Report apologize for a tweet many found offensive.
The show tweeted: “I am willing to show the Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong, Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever,” which was ripped from a segment meant to mock Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder for refusing to change the team’s name which is Native American slur.
Ironically, Park’s #CancelColbert hashtag became inundated with Colbert fans who lambasted the writer for her inability to take a joke. Then things got ugly. Park was besieged by threats of physical violence, rape, and called names because she dared to call Colbert out on the problematic nature of confronting racism by employing other racial stereotypes.
The moment could (and should) have served as a huge teachable moment, however, it spiraled into a shitshow that seemed to force everyone to take sides.
Recently, Park sat down for an interview with Salon’s Prachi Gupta to discuss the #CancelColbert controversy and her vision for the future.
While I encourage you to read the wide-ranging interview for yourself, a few things stuck out to me.
During their chat, Gupta asked Park what she hopes to accomplish from the #CancelColbert conversation, and the activist said her aim is to “hit the irony and inability of the left to deal with their own racism,” by dismantling the “white ally industrial complex” that has forced people of color “to censor whiteness…to educate their oppressor…to use the right tone, and appease their politics in order to be heard…in an effort to just contribute to the self-improvement of white allies that are often times just racist.”
I didn’t know the “White ally industrial complex” was a thing, but so far so good.
Park continues, explaining her main goal is to force people “to deal with those conversations about race that go beyond micro-aggression and that go beyond being politically correct” in an effort to uproot racism all together.
Sound good? There’s just one problem.
Park says she doesn’t need, or apparently want, White people on her side.
What is the best way to work with white people, to get them on our side?
I don’t want them on our side.
You don’t want them on your side.
This is not reform, this is revolution.
So what do you want to see happen in your revolution?
I mean, it’s already happening I think. The revolution will not be an apocalypse, it’s gonna be a series of shifts in consciousness that result in actions that come about, and I think that like, at this point is really like, ride or die, in terms who’s in and who is out. I don’t play by appeasement politics, it is not about getting my oppressors to humanize me. And in that sense I reject the respectability politics, I reject being tone-policed, I think we need to do away with this idea that these structures are … that the prisons can undergo reform and somehow do less violence as a structure. But any example like that.
Wait, can you ask that question again, I got distracted real quick, there was a bird outside my window.
I was asking you about if you want white people — because they’re still the majority — if you want them to be allies in your goal to end racism?
Well, one, they won’t be the majority for long. And two, I don’t want any ally who is going to use my emotional labor with no guarantee of aiding my liberation. And so I feel like this question that white America asks of us, “Why can’t you be reasonable to get us to work with you?” And I keep saying, being reasonable has never worked in history. All other big racial justice movements, all of the big historical figures in racial justice were never reasonable.
Moreover, Park feels that White men are pretty much “the enemy.”
Would it be inflammatory to say that you think white men are sort of the enemy?
Um. I mean I think they are, and we might as well label it. Whiteness will always be the enemy. It’s not like I want to hurt them, it’s not like I want them to have any pain, but like, I just want them to realize what they have, and to honor the advantages. And I don’t think it’s much to ask to just even acknowledge it.
While I understand Park’s sentiments, that racism needs to be pulled up from the roots, her rhetoric is naïve at best, and downright reckless at worst.
Additionally, I can’t seem to shake my ambivalence toward Park herself and the nagging feeling that she’s co-opting the language of previous (Black) movements (i.e. talking about “the oppressor,” calling herself “an angry Asian lady,” discussing “respectability politics,” and borrowing the term “White ally industrial complex” which seems to be a take on Teju Cole’s “White Savior Industrial Complex”) to further herself as some sort of authority on race, privilege, and battler of Whiteness.
Despite what Park seems to believe, large-scale social movements—like the one necessary to end racism—rely on coalitions of people from the margin and the center. For instance, without both Black and White abolitionists (and outside economic pressure) slavery would have persisted ; without women of all ethnicities joining together we may still be barred from voting; and without the work of the diverse alliances created by the movements of the 50s and 60s, gains in civil rights may never have happened.
Though Park asserts that she isn’t interested in recruiting White allies, it’s hard to envision how any movement can truly undo racism if it refuses to engage a large swath of the population (see: this article here). Furthermore, by declaring that White men—and by extension all White people—are automatically the enemy (instead of the system itself) forces them to become defensive and disengage instead of working in concert to demolish systematic racism and notions of white supremacy.
Like Park, I’d love to see the day when racism no longer exists. But unlike the young activist I’m not willing to write off necessary White allies to make it happen.