#CancelColbert and ‘Radical Choices’ Re: Rhetoric

Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, #CancelColbert


The #CancelColbert supporters have a very valid point in arguing that radical action and racial outrage should not require that people of colour temper our actions and reactions to appear more acceptable to the mainstream, particularly when this is in conjunction with needing to silence valid expressions of racial anger and pain. Race activists should not need to be “well-behaved” to be taken seriously; and we should not be dismissed when we are not. Tone policing is not okay, particularly if it is used to marginalize oppressed voices.

However, what also struck me clearest in watching tonight’s Colbert Report was the disservice that the radical choices made by #CancelColbert had on the very conversation it hoped to start. I tend to be an action-oriented “activist” (in so much as I am an activist): I am focused on  what goals that can be achieved and what changes that can be made; every activist action is, for me, purposeful — and usually with the purpose of educating and convincing others. Consequently I am always viewing campaigns through the lens of how each action will affect the likelihood of achieving certain tangible goals; this is just my starting point, one no more or less valid than any other.

But applied here: if the purpose of radical action in this instance was to initiate a dialogue on an instance of racism for the purpose of either a) expressing a point-of-view and convincing someone who might not a priori understand or agree, or b) agitate for some sort of apology from Colbert Report, I have to wonder whether that conversation was challenged or facilitated by making actual (or unintended) demands to “cancel” Colbert? Such demands could only be expected to inflame defensiveness from the show’s rabid fans, and alienate those who might otherwise agree in principle.

Speaking for myself alone, I cannot fathom structuring a campaign around a political demand that I did not actually want to have happen (or around a hashtag that could reasonably be mistaken as being the actual goal of the campaign). Or, I cannot fathom launching a campaign where the goal of my campaign was not immediately clear to movement members or the casual observer.