Our VoiceImmigration

Stephen Colbert Testifies


Chris Bober • Sep 28, 2010

colbertThis past week Stephen Colbert testified before Congress about his one-day experience picking beans as a member of the “Take Our Jobs” campaign. The campaign, initiated by the United Farm Workers, invites Americans to take a position in farm labor in order to shed light on the extremely distressing nature of the work. It also intends to highlight the aversion most Americans have towards taking one of these jobs – even in times of economic hardship. Colbert was invited to testify by Rep. Zoe Lofgren who chairs the subcommittee as a way to use his face to bring more attention to the issue – unfortunately, many in the media have been critical of Colbert’s testimony.

Present at the hearing were several members of the House of Representatives, including Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Judy Chu (D-CA), and Lamar Smith (R-TX). However, notably in attendance was “top political bigot” Rep. Steve King (R-IA).  Rep. King is famous for his strong support for racial profiling. In the past, Rep. King has insisted that one can identify an undocumented immigrant by using a “sixth sense” or by “what kind of shoes” they wear.

Rep. King has consistently used immigrants as scapegoats for many of our nation’s problems including: drugs, murder, drunken driving fatalities, diseases, and sex-crimes. He has also blamed long waits at hospitals on immigrants and their “hangnails” – among other things. After the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, Rep. King argued that it would be a good time to send America’s Haitian immigrants back home. He said, “Haiti is in great need of relief workers, and many of them could be a big help to their fellow Haitians.” Of course, Rep. King is also famous for making a preposterous statement regarding President Obama and Eric Holder,

“When you look at this administration, I’m offended by Eric Holder and the President also, their posture.  It looks like Eric Holder said that white people in America are cowards when it comes to race.  And I don’t know what the basis of that is but I’m not a coward when it comes to that and I’m happy to talk about these things and I think we should.  But the President has demonstrated that he has a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race — on the side that favors the black person.”

Not surprisingly, Rep. King’s reaction to Stephen Colbert’s testimony was self-serving and humorless. He specifically instructed his aides to comb through past episodes of the Colbert Report and locate any episodes that painted him unfavorably. Prior to the event, Rep. King worried that Mr. Colbert would “try to give hard work a bad name” and afterwards accused him of mocking the proceedings.

For some who were concerned about the timing of Stephen Colbert’s testimony or worried he is not taking the immigration debate seriously, consider his audience. Clearly, Mr. Colbert knew he was speaking to a man who has been a leader in absurdity and ugly political posturing. Why not inject some humor into the debate? The truth is, Mr. Colbert may have been the sanest man in attendance.

At one point it did become clear where the “real” Stephen Colbert stands on the plight of farm labors. While most of his testimony was in the style of his television persona and he remained in character, he did drop it when Rep. Chu (D-CA) asked him why he was advocating for immigrant farmworkers. He replied,

“I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come in and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet, we still ask them to come here, and at the same time, ask them to leave. And that’s an interesting contradiction to me, and um… You know, “whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers,” and these seemed like the least of my brothers, right now.”

While one can debate Colbert’s timing or use of humor, we cannot debate his intention to point out the inherent bigotry in our nation’s dialogue on immigration. He speaks of the powerless.

Now if only he’d speak of the powerful.

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