It all started with the Washington Redskins. When owner Dan Snyder created a foundation to benefit Native Americans, Stephen Colbert spoofed the approach. In late March, his show’s official Twitter account 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.” Suey Park (a pen name), a 24-year-old Korean American activist who now lives in West Town, responded: “#CancelColbert because white liberals are just as complicit in making Asian Americans into punchlines and we aren’t amused.” The hashtag triggered a major backlash from the media and Colbert supporters, thrusting her into the national spotlight.
Obviously #BeaLittleNicerColbert was not going to trend. I also loved the alliteration and how simple it was.
Did you expect the reaction you received?
I didn’t think people were going to take me literally. It was supposed to be a figurative hashtag. I went silent for a few months because I felt like someone had to put out the fire, and if the media wasn’t going to stop, I was. I didn’t accept interview requests, and I didn’t use Twitter for a while because of the death threats and the rape threats. Activism looks different to me now. I have severe PTSD from everything that happened [with Colbert].
You’ve also created the hashtags #NotYourAsianSidekick and #BlackPowerYellowPeril. How do you make a hashtag catch on?
A lot of what I do is pay attention to what’s happening culturally. Are there a lot of dissenting voices? Then I just create a holding place for them [through hashtags], and sometimes they generate a larger voice, and sometimes they don’t.
Did you set up your Twitter account knowing you wanted to use it as a political platform?
The first two years I was on Twitter, I wasn’t political at all. It wasn’t until I went to grad school that I started using it more. I had a lot of problems with being bullied when I was in graduate school [for ethnic studies at Colorado State University], so I took to Twitter not even to rant but just to build relationships and survive.
How did you become a social activist?
It was mainly in college. My dad was very conservative. But I think that’s why I feel so firmly rooted in what I do believe. I’ve actually taken the time to rethink how I’ve been socialized and what my family brought me up to believe.
Recently, you cofounded the Killjoy Prophets Collective, a faith-based group committed to ending “dudebro patriarchy” in evangelical Christian churches, among other institutions. Why?
The name comes from Sara Ahmed’s essay “Feminist Killjoys.” The killjoy is this figure who points to structural unpleasantness and the white hetero patriarchy. Instead of actually fixing the problem, the majority group says, “Let’s get rid of the dissenting voice.” We were like, What if we start a group to support the killjoys? People forget that churches are no different from other institutions. They are just as complicit in white hetero patriarchy.
What campaign is the collective working on?
We have Marissa 418 for Marissa Alexander, who is going up for retrial in December. She’s a victim of domestic violence who fired a warning shot. [Alexander was convicted of aggravated assault in Florida in 2012.] She could spend up to 60 years in prison. We’re going to have a fundraiser in a few weeks.
You are having lunch today with Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union. How did you meet?
She reached out to me on Twitter and asked me to follow her. I was like, What? I don’t know this random person. But then I followed her, and she messaged me. She’s been so supportive. If she runs for mayor, I’ll try to get #CancelRahm trending.