Monday, March 31, 2014

Be Careful, but Don't #CancelColbert

I just love Stephen Colbert.  Let's get that out of the way first.

Because of that, I don't think his show should be canceled.  He regularly plays with fire, and it's both brave and reckless of him.  I do wish he'd stop with the transphobic jokes, but I watch and enjoy his show.  He's a biting social critic, and generally a voice for morality in public life.

Sometimes he steps over the line of decency, but almost always in a way that ridicules others' cruelty, rather than joining in it.  When he makes a joke that goes, "Ha ha, how can Dan Snyder not know he's being an asshole?" by employing an ugly and hurtful stereotype, he's doing something inherently risky.

I think I've reversed my position on hate speech being necessarily worthy of legal protection.  I used to believe that it needs to be, because it is speech.  Now I believe that it's a luxury of my position to be able to laugh off a slur.

When I say this humor is "risky" I don't mean, "at risk of offending liberal crybabies."  I mean it risks the safety and comfort of marginalized people.  Correlation isn't causation, but the specter of a more-racist society is enough to scare me off of saying the n-word even in private.  A society where the n-word is frequently used is probably an especially dangerous society for black people. I'd  rather not be comfortable with the hallmarks of white-supremacy, in case there's a causal relationship I don't quite understand.  It takes a lot more than just not using a particular word to evolve beyond our legacy of white supremacy, but I think good-hearted people generally agree that a racial slur is something we can give up in service of that goal.  In fact, it's possibly the very least that can be done. It is a limitation on expression, but I find it to be truly tiny.

The joke was unnecessarily offensive.  Stephen Colbert the man did not choose to highlight it, probably for that reason.