Stephen Colbert

The Colbert Report’s Racist Tweet

Racism against Asians is often “unawares”—a form of racism that flies under the radar due to its widespread acceptance as the norm. Its interactive dynamic resembles that of an unwritten social contract. Asians in the West are expected to accept patronizing remarks and racist taunts so demeaning that perpetrators would think twice before dishing them out with such unwavering consistency to any other minority group, such as Latinos or African Americans. Asians who object to such treatment are typically met with befuddlement and offense at their audacity to make an issue out of it.
Zak KeithHollywood Asian Stereotypes

My guest author today is Andrew Leong. He attended the Thoroughly Modern Millie Talk Back and draws an alarming parallel of racism in the media and on the stage.



We know the Colbert Report uses conservative attitudes as satire. While his use of the “Ching Chong Ding Dong” shtick to critique the Washington DC football team‘s use of the mascot “Redskins” is debatable, questionable, and offensive especially to the Asian American community, it is a great example of how the use of racially charged and offensive language and imagery is acceptable to the network if they are using a racial minority community with less political muscle.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Indecision Political Humor,Video Archive

Watch at 4:48 for segment.

Even as satire for a white liberal show, I can’t imagine them making use of African Americans in the same example … which would have made more sense since one can imagine how many black football players would be boycotting or corporate sponsors pulling out if a team mascot portrayed a racial stereotype offensive to the African American community.

More to the point in relating the above back to the problem at Newton North High School, it’s an example of how when racially offensive material are used without properly contextualizing the content, recipients of the content simply will repeat that offensive material, thus perpetuating the stereotype.

With the Colbert Report we believe the originator of that tweet was an adult working at Comedy Central, but with Thoroughly Modern Millie, we are talking about high school students as cast and audience members. Where’s the proper education?

Andrew Leong


This is the tweet:

I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.— The Colbert Report (@ColbertReport) March 27, 2014

“Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” is a reference to a satirical Asian caricature Colbert has assumed on the show in the past, including a January 2011 segment attacking Rush Limbaugh. It was also part of Wednesday’s segment about the Redskins.

After outrage erupted on the social network, the tweet was deleted, but not before the #CancelColbert hashtag started trending. From USA Today

It is also covered in The Wire.

The perceived anonymity of Twitter gives people the license to express sentiments they wouldn’t dare to in a face-to-face interaction.

However personal the attacks though, this is not just about the cyberbullying that Suey or other Asian women (as a fellow Tweeter points out) experienced last night or abuse theycontinued to receive today. It’s how enforced “harmlessness” of a culture of bullying and marginalization creates an environment in which people feel free to enact and institutionalize this abuse without fear of being held accountable.

Asian Twitter has been labeled as “overly sensitive” and is being told to laugh along with everyone else when in fact, but what gets lost when people are told to simply find the humor achieved at their expense is the fact that one “joke” labeled “satire” is part of a larger cultural acceptance of casual racism and xenophobia. When we decide as a culture that something as “innocuous” as othering Asian people and communities through humor is okay, then we perpetuate a social and political environment where lawmakers can pass policies that use anti-Asian rhetoric as a primary motivation.

From The Daily Dot


Andrew Leong

Andrew Leong is an Associate Professor at College of Public and Community Service at University of Massachusetts Boston. He has taught at CPCS since 1990. His specialty is on law, justice, and equality pertaining to disenfranchised communities, with a focus on Asian Americans. From 1987 to 1993, he was Clinical Director of the Chinatown Clinical Program at Boston College Law School. He was Supervising Attorney of the Asian Outreach Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services from 1986 to 1990.

Professor Leong is a graduate of Drake University (1982- BA) in Des Moines, Iowa and Boston College Law School (1985- JD) in Newton, Massachusetts.

He is active in community and civil rights work, having served on the Board of Trustee of numerous Asian American and civil rights related organizations (e.g. Asian American Resource Workshop, Asian Community Development Corporation, the Chinatown Quincy School Community Council, the Executive Committee of the Greater Boston Civil Rights Coalition, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, The Institute for Affirmative Action, the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, and the Steering Committee of the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law).

Professor Leong also served as the President of the Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts from 1989 to 1994. During the same period he was also President of the Harry H. Dow Memorial Legal Assistance Fund. He has fought numerous episodes of environmental injustice in Boston ‘s Chinatown since 1982 and is the chair of the Campaign to Protect Chinatown.


These are all related posts on Thoroughly Modern Millie at Newton North High School:

My Take on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Talk Back: Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS

NNHS Responds to Concerns About Thoroughly Modern Millie

MTI Advises How to Squelch Dissent on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Throwndown NNHS: Talk the Talk or Walk the Walk? Regarding Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Rebuttal to ‘Millie in Newton: Turn Stereotypes into Lessons

More Than 50% of Asian American Teens are Bullied in School

White Privilege and Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie End of School Year Takeaway

These are other articles and posts related to Thoroughly Modern Millie at Newton North High School:

The Boston Globe: School Play’s Stereotypes Bring Outcry and Apology. “Millie” touches nerve in Newton by Ellen Ishkanian

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ Flag Highlights How Old Plays are Rife with Stereotypes by Don Aucoin

The Telegraph: US high school show triggers race row by David Millward

NECN TV SegmentNECN Broadside with Jim Braude, Historical Musical Sparks Controvery at Massachusetts High School

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ Fight Creates a Chilling Effect by Joan Vennochi

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ in Newton: Turn Stereotypes into Lessons

The Boston Globe: Musical is Little More Than Staged Racism by Jeffrey Melnick (Letter to Editor in response to Joan Vennochi’s article above).

Monitoring, Exposing & Fighting Against Anti-Semitism and Racism: Thoroughly Modern Millie’ play draws controversy in Mass. over racial stereotyping

Company One: In the Intersection, Thoroughly Modern Millie Controvery at Local High School 

A case study published by UMass Peter Kiang almost 20 years ago (see pages 9-13), parallels almost exactly what happened at Newton North High School. ScholarWorks at UMass Boston, We Could Shape It: Organizing for Asian American Student Empowerment by Peter Nien-Chu Kiang.

The Notebook: Racism isn’t entertainment: Why “Thoroughly Modern Millie” didn’t belong on CAPA’s stage

Resist Racism: Thoroughly Racist ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’

Genki Speak: Racism in Our Backyard

Angry Asian Man

Village 14: Decision to Stage ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at North Challenged

AsAm News: Play Filled With Offensive Images Sparks Town Hall Meeting

AsAm News: I Love Newton: High School Production Fails To Address Heavy Dose Of Asian American Stereotypes

Greer Tan Swiston: Kudos to Newton North for a thoroughly modern update of ‘Millie’

The Boston Globe: Oh, by the way, how about a round of applause for the kids? (Letter to the Editor from a grandparent)

The Boston Globe: Choice, execution of musical informed by thoughful education process (Letter to the Editor from the writers who comprise the Theatre Arts Opportunity Committee at Newton North High School.)

The Boston Globe: We miss a vital chance for understanding when we swap out ethnic characters(Letter to the Editor from a great-grandmother, teacher and volunteer)

Arissa Oh ‏@arissaoh  1h

3 white ppl on @GreaterBoston unhelpfully discuss HS prodns of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”  cc: @pragmaticmom

Pawprint: Millard West Student NewspaperThrough with Thoroughly Modern Millie

The Washington PostTwenty-Three Skiddo: ‘Modern Millie’ Doesn’t Dance

It’s an attempt, sort of, at a parody of the old-style musicals of the ’20s and ’30s, the sort jerry-built out of cheerful songs, convoluted plots, elaborate tap demonstrations and derogatory stereotypes.

IMDbThoroughly Embalmed Musical

Project MuseThoroughly Modern Millie (review)

Not Like CrazyAn Easily Overlooked Racism?

In the Spring semester at school, the Musical Theater Department put on Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was overflowing with racism in its portrayal of Asians. I must say, I was thoroughly upset about the whole thing. First, the guys playing the Asians, I believe they were supposed to be Chinese immigrants, had white face makeup and slanty eyes. I couldn’t help but think that if they’d dressed in blackface, surely there’d be an uproar (Of course, they are putting on Ragtime this year, so we’ll see how they handle that– they’re already sending out emails about how they want the black students to try out for roles because there aren’t many black people in the musical theater department *eyeroll*). That wasn’t the only bad thing about the musical, however, the villian was a white woman pretending to be Asian who pronounced her L’s as R’s, and said she used soy sauce to clean a stain. Of course, she also treated the two Asian immigrants who worked for her as if they were stupid, and the silently and humbly submit in front of her, though behind closed doors they argue in Chinese (I guess it was real Chinese), with subtitles projected above the stage. And then one of the Asian men falls in love with one of the white women in the musical, blonde hair, blue eyes, you know the deal. At the end of the musical, they get together, as if his reward for working hard and being submissive, for being mistreated, is the gift of white womanhood, the pinnacle of creation. So yeah, I was pretty pissed about that whole thing.

MyvanwyReview of Thoroughly Modern Millie

Someone sent me video of a local comedian’s youtube video of a character I’ve seen him portray once before. To call it infantile and racially insensitive would be a gross understatement. For the targets of his ridicule, it’s every bit as offensive as a mean-spirited performance in blackface. But because it’s against one of the few groups for whom bigotry, hostility, and ridicule is still acceptable (Chinese Americans and others of Asian and/or Pacific Island descent), it’s seen as okay by most and even encouraged by other local comedians. Kevin Marshall’s America

Zak KeithHollywood Asian Stereotypes

Racism against Asians is often “unawares”—a form of racism that flies under the radar due to its widespread acceptance as the norm. Its interactive dynamic resembles that of an unwritten social contract. Asians in the West are expected to accept patronizing remarks and racist taunts so demeaning that perpetrators would think twice before dishing them out with such unwavering consistency to any other minority group, such as Latinos or African Americans. Asians who object to such treatment are typically met with befuddlement and offense at their audacity to make an issue out of it.


Mia Wenjen blogs at PragmaticMom: Education Matters, here and occasionally at her Asian American blog JadeLuckClub. She resides in Newton with her husband and three kids, with two at Newton North High School. She can be found on PinterestTwitter, LinkedIn, FacebookGoogle +Instagram and YouTube.

Photo credit: Grasshopper and Sensei, my oldest.

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2 Responses to “The Colbert Report’s Racist Tweet”
  1. Chris says:

    I think Asians SHOULD make an issue out of these insensitive taunts and remarks. Look at how the Afro-Americans are now better-perceived and received than they were years 5 or 6 decades ago.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Chris,
      I agree with you! The old method of turning the other cheek just doesn’t seem to work!

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