In light of the debate over the past week regarding the Confederate flag across the country, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the South Park episode “Chef Goes Nanners” from 15 years ago. “Chef Goes Nanners” is an obvious allusion to the long-running debate regarding the Confederate flag, with detractors of the flag (represented by Chef in the South Park universe) pointing out the white supremacist symbolism behind it and proponents of the flag (represented by Jimbo in South Park) arguing in favor of respecting historical roots.
There are quite a few things at play going on with this episode. Trey Parker brings the apparent racism behind the Confederate flag to the surface by giving South Park a flag that literally portrays white figures celebrating a black figure hanged on a gallows. This makes any kind of defense of the flag that attempts to ignore its racist context all the more absurd. Jimbo and Ned learn this the hard way when they find the Ku Klux Klan in their corner of this debate. Not only is the side defending the flag called out, even the white people sitting on the fence in the debate (“well I do think it’s racist, but I also think it’s our history”) are called out for being too timid to call out overt racism when they see it.
So far this sounds like South Park is taking a strong partisan stance in this episode, which would be somewhat novel for a show that is famous for sitting on the fence and smugly casting aspersions on both sides of a contentious debate. This episode is no different. If they were completely in Chef’s corner in this debate, they probably wouldn’t have called it “Chef Goes Nanners”. The fact that the town is even having a debate on whether a flag literally showing white people celebrating a black man hanging is racist understandably made Chef extremely outraged. As a lone black man in South Park stuck in between white people defending the racist flag and other white people too wishy-washy to call it out for what it is, Chef radicalized and started calling all the white people “crackers”. At the end of the episode when they figure out a solution for the debate, Chef apologizes for letting his anger at the white townspeople make him racist against white people. I think there’s a false equivalence here. The worst thing that Chef did was call a bunch of people “crackers”. It’s not a nice thing for him to do by any means, but it doesn’t compare to the town’s history of racial violence that’s being celebrated on that flag that he’s so opposed to. Unfortunately, this exist in a greater context in which the media creates false equivalences in order to undermine the concerns of the black community in racially contentious issues. Exhibit A:
I saw this image circulating on Facebook. Whoever created this was attempting to silence voices that pointed out the fact that police apprehended an armed white man, but in numerous cases shot unarmed black men and women dead because they “feared for their life”. Besides the flat-out lie that the killings by the DC snipers were racially motivated, this image ignores the greater context of police brutality towards black men and women that if often fatal and is usually over very minor infractions (if at all). It’s such an epidemic within the black community that the fact that the arrest and trial of the Lee Malvo is more of an outlier than the norm. I could list more examples of this, but I would be here all day if I did.
Getting back to South Park, the solution comes when the town listens to the Mr. Garrison’s class debate the flag. The kids completely ignore the race of the people in the fact and erroneously assume that the controversy over it was over its depiction of capital punishment. Chef interprets this as a testament to how not-racist the kids are and is moved. Both (adult) sides of the debate cool down and work towards a compromise once they get beyond the racial depiction in the flag. Ultimately, the stance Trey Parker advocates in this episode is a colorblind one. I don’t share Chef’s view of this. “Colorblindness” is no solution to racism. It’s easy for Trey Parker to suggest not talking about race when he is a white man that exists in a societal structure in which whiteness is such a default that it isn’t even acknowledged as a race. Whether he likes it or not, our whole society was structured to subjugate people of color to the benefit of white people. If anyone hopes to even attempt to create a truly egalitarian society, they must acknowledge that this structure exists, which is impossible to do by ignoring race. If this structure didn’t exist, South Park never would have even had a town flag celebrating a black man hanging from the gallows. If this structure didn’t exist, there would have been no reason for the Confederacy to secede from the Union in the first place. A wiser man than me, Chef, or anyone in South Park had this to say about “colorblindness” and those who exalt it.