Stephen Colbert Tweet Exposes Dilemma of Racism, Political Correctness
Stephen Colbert deals in satire. His show, The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, is a satiric show. Judging by the public response to one of “his” tweets (actually tweeted by someone else, but that’s beside the point), many Americans don’t know the meaning of the word. Republicans have bashed political correctness so many times in an effort to dismiss actual racism that it’s easy to forget that, in fact, excessive political correctness can be a problem. Conservatives like Ted Nugent, Paul Ryan and Rush Limbaugh have drawn legitimate accusations of racism. Stephen Colbert did something much different, but the reaction has been similar. Politics can account for some of the outcry. But can it account for all of it?
The ability to joke about racial stereotypes is actually a good thing. It is a sign that we have come far enough as a society that we can distinguish actual racism from racial humor. Political correctness, taken to the extreme, prevents us from recognizing this important distinction. It consigns discussion on race to a serious, self-righteous hypersensitivity that uses a lot of big words and reveals little from casual public discourse that, counterintuitively, yields greater meaning.
That being said, a lot of racial humor IS in fact racist. It is an old trick to say something legitimately offensive and disguise it as a joke in order to deflect blame. At times, it is difficult to discern whether this is the case. But in the case of Stephen Colbert’s unfortunate utterance, it is clearly not. His entire schtick relies on the premise that he is a bigoted conservative. When he says things that are racist, it is not an expression of his personal views but rather an attempt to illuminate the harsh realities of racism in America through comedy.
Colbert is far from unique in this approach. Sasha Baron Cohen has made a career out of satire that often tackles racial streotypes, most notably in the critically acclaimed mockumentary Borat. Those who frequent comedy clubs will regularly encounter racial humor far more extreme than Colbert’s comparatively benign jest. Thus, public reaction to Colbert’s joke is baffling.
Those who seek racism in every nook and cranny of life lose credibility when they point out real racism. The accusation loses all meaning when applied excessively. Liberals and conservatives alike must come to understand that racism is all about context and intention. Treating it like a technicality and having a kneejerk reaction to certain words or phrases diminishes the true evil of racism. This is why conservatives can’t understand why liberals condemn Ted Nugent’s labeling of Obama as a “subhuman mongrel” and not Colbert’s satire. The reaction from the left to Colbert’s joke reveals that, although far more enlightened, some liberals engage in the same false equivalence.