Monday, 29 August 2011

What did that Korean Call Me? 니가 and "ni***r" - a PSA.

[updated/added text in [brackets and italics]]

Yes. I used a word in the title there that I never use in real life. One of only about two I never use. Maybe I'm throwing a rock at a hornet's nest, but I hope not. I'm not an expert on this specific set of race issues, and would never pretend to be one.


But this video came to my attention through The Marmot's Hole.  Korean article. And I think it's good to have this topic google-able, so I'm throwing this out there. The Metropolitician says his piece.
Views from Burndog, I'm No Picasso (who suggests 니가 is altogether too familiar for strangers on a bus), David Wills, and Eve (who doesn't seem to like me).

[update: a late addition is The Bobster, whose satire of the whole thing hit exactly the right note.]

In the video, a (probably, from the accent and mannerisms) American with (probably) African ethnic background is shouting at an old Korean guy.

According to the Marmot's Hole's initial summary of the article, the old guy says he said

"니가 여기 앉아" to the man, which means "you sit here" - he was offering him a seat.

But phonetically, it sounds like this: "nigga, yogi anjah"

Which [by some accounts] led to the scene you can see at the bottom of the Korean article. Or here.

The accuracy of this initial account is being questioned now... but the potential confusion still stands, so this post still stands.

Here's the PSA part:

Folks... in Korean, "niga" (니가) means "you" - "니" (ni) means you, and "가" is a tag that indicates "you" are the subject of this sentence.

When you hear the word "니가" it's not necessarily somebody trying to insult anyone, or trying to sound like a gangster. Many of the Koreans I hear swear are tossing out a word they don't really understand, but heard in a movie, just to see what happens (as when middle school students say "fuck you" or flip the middle finger at foreigners,  kind of the way I used to poke at cats with a stick). People are not necessarily trying to be as insulting as the fella in this video took them to be doing. (not to say Koreans are always not trying to make racist insults, but...)

Here's a song that one of my African-American Korea friends thought was a racist blunder by a Korean popstar.  It isn't, any more than Clint Eastwood was trying to insult the Hmong kid when he gave it a pat on the head in Gran Torino. The song is "Champion" by Psy.




It's common to hear people talk about Korea's racism problem, and it is common to encounter people trying out words whose meaning they don't fully understand... but those aren't always direct attempts to insult, or start trouble, the way it would be if somebody in North America approached this guy and called him that word on the bus [if that's how the incident unfolded]. Maybe this guy was having a bad day, maybe it was the third time that day something had happened to him that he attributed to racism in Korea, and maybe he was right about some or all of them. But if The Marmot's account is correct, this one was a misunderstanding that's now getting play on Korea's internet, and is now reinforcing some negative stereotypes Koreans have of African-Americans, and others with African ethnic background. And that's too bad.

 It serves us expats in Korea well to offer up the benefit of the doubt where we can.

So here's the takeaway: Ni-ga --- not necessarily intended to be an insult.


[added August 30] I'm aware there's a lot more going on here that I'm not really qualified to comment on, either through personal experience or through careful study -- I don't want to be the guy pictured below...

but I think my readers are sharp enough to know I'm not using the word in the title to insult or marginalize anyone, and to see that I haven't spoken on behalf of anyone who didn't ask me to speak of their experiences.




[Update:] Please check the updates below the original post at The Marmot's Hole, for more (still foggy) details on the bus incident.

[Update August 30 Afternoon] The fellow on the bus speaks.

62 comments:

Changmi said...

I'm curious to see whether you get more criticism for using the n-word, or for admitting to poking cats with sticks. If this is the internet I know and love, it may be a close race.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

I'm hoping that, given the context, people will see that I'm using the N-word for the sake of clarifying a potential misunderstanding... as for the cats... I was a little kid, but given that I just wrote a very ambivalent post about eating dogs, who knows what the animal people will say. Should I write some posts about how much I love my and wifeoseyo's two dogs?

David said...

That's embarrassing. There's a similar word in Chinese, except it probably sounds closer to 'nigger' than 니가. My black friends in Hefei think it's quite funny, and were thankfully warned ahead of time. The word for 'black' in Chinese sounds like 'Hey!' and so they also think that it's funny to say that to Chinese people, who look fairly perplexed. "Why's this black guy calling ME black?"

It reminds me a bit of a Jewish girl I met in Korea who went APESHIT after seeing a Buddhist temple apparently with a swastika outside... Yeah. That was embarrassing, too. She calmed down after it was explained repeatedly, but maintained that Buddhists should give up their symbols because of Hitler. Yeah...

I still maintain that there's a lot of racism in Korea, particularly towards people with dark skin. I witnessed it a lot in Korea - especially Koreans making monkey noises at black people. But when you freak out at nothing it distracts people from the real problem, and that guy's fit really doesn't help the struggles of black people (or any other foreigner)in Korea.

asadalthought said...

This is a toughie. I, too, have had a nealry-incident with this. Talking to a friend in the UK in Korea is said 니가 something something something can't remember what, and suddenly became very aware of the man walking right in front of us who turned sharply to scowl. I proceeded to keep talking very loudly in Korean and pretend nothing was up, and hoped he got what happened. I think he did.

In this case, I haven't been able to watch the video with sound as I'm at work. Also, reading the Korean article it doesn't seem as if anyone can accurately verify what sparked the incident, lots of reported speech of reported speech - lots of "ead from someone who heard/read that..." sort of thing.

It could well have been the misunderstanding that you talk about. If so then clearly nothing racist was intended. Even if this man thought the old guy said that, though, surely some contextual understanding would be enough to show him that his was probably an overreaction - as you stated, rob, even if it had been the English phrase and not the Korean, the guy would be very unlikely to be fully aware of what he'd just said to have said it at all and the aggressive guy should have realised that, even if he didn't understand that it was harmless Korean. Sorry for the longest sentence ever.

That said, the stuff I've seen written about it is, typically, borderline racist or just plain racist. I've not yet seen a report that doesn't refer to him as "The black man" or "The black foreigner." The comments are, predictably, worse, and I see no need to translate them. It's clear that even people who are trying to have a balanced view of this see a "black man" or a "black foreigner" befoe anything else, and that's how they're always going to view this situation.

wetcasements said...

"I still maintain that there's a lot of racism in Korea"

Um, you're the loser who refers to Koreans as "rice-tards." Work on your own issues with bigotry first, sparky.

That said, I'll never forget the time I saw a t-shirt in Dongdaemun that read "N*ggas Love Blondes." Besides the obvious racism, I felt bad for whoever bought that shirt and wore it in an English speaking country. Hopefully it never happened.

Also, reminds me of a kerfuffle over the word "niggardly" in my hometown a while back:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controversies_about_the_word_%22niggardly%22

Eve said...

Rob, white people like yourself use phrases like "given the context" and so forth to justify using a word that causes grave offense for good reason. There was absolutely no need for you to use this word. NONE. As you know, another blogger wrote a post addressing this incident http://www.rjkoehler.com/2011/08/29/to-foreigners-in-korea-please-learn-a-little-korean/

and guess what? He didn't need to use the N-word. He used the appropriate term "the N-word." No, you didn't spell it out, but it doesn't matter: as a non-Black person, you do not have the privilege to use that term under any circumstances. Ever.

I realize you think you're doing the community a favor by writing this blog post. But I really have to wonder what your motivations for using that word could possibly be, seeing as how you could very well have written the blog post without using that phrase at all.

It doesn't negate the "message" you seek to spread (a "PSA" as you say) but since you like to educate people, I'd like to educate you: you don't get to use that word.

I'm a Latina/Hispanic woman who is often mistaken for a Black woman here in Korea. I do not speak for anyone but myself. But I don't think I'm alone in finding this distasteful. Additionally, your target audience is primarily white teachers, who won't give a shit. And so, who is this "PSA" really for? Not for Black people.

It's kind of funny; you and your fellow white male bloggers always seem to be able to pull race card when it suits you.

This doesn't suit you.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

Eve, thanks for your comment.

The reason I used the word, and used it in the title, is because somebody's going to be called that word, and go to google to find out whether they actually heard the word they thought they heard or not. And if I don't use the word, this post won't show up when they google it, and they won't get the explanation they need. And it's in the title, because Google searches place posts with keywords in the title near the top of the results list.

That's literally, sincerely, the only reason I used it. I hate the word, I hate the sound of it, and I never even use it in jest, because, as you said, "I don't get to use that word." I thought carefully about my choice to use the word where I did, and how I did. You think I'm happy having such an ugly/volatile word on the top of my blog?

That said, I'll happily keep your comment up under my post, for everyone to read, because I probably deserve the tongue lashing.

That said, what's your basis for saying my primary audience is white teachers? I haven't been a teacher for almost a year, and I can't imagine how I would set my blog up to ensure only white people read it. People of all colors use google and blogs to learn more about Korea.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

@wetcasements - I remember a time a U.S. senator caught a lot of heat for using the word "niggardly" - language is a funny thing, but saying that we're not even allowed to use the word "niggardly" with the meaning it actually has, in an appropriate context, is like banning the phrase "hit list" because it sounds too similar to "hitler"... then again, in most cases, I'd use the word "cheap" "ungenerous" or "miserly"

Eve said...

Rob, I understand Google and keywords, but let me ask you this -- how many Black friends or acquaintances do you have?

Although I do NOT under any circumstances speak for anyone but myself, it seems that your justification for using that word would make more sense had you spelled out the word in its entirety.

How many Black people are going to Google, "Did they call me the N-word"? How many people will actually use the spelling you used? Rather than the entire word?

I imagine you will find out when you check Analytics.

I based my opinion that your blog is meant for white folk out of approximately six months of reading it last fall and winter. Of course, we can't keep track of our blog readers' races. But some blogs written by people of color touch upon topics that yours don't (can't). And so that is why I said your blog's primary audience is white people (and specifically white teachers -- you must know that the people who link to you are overwhelmingly English teachers).

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

If other readers believe I should change it to the correct spelling, with "er" I will.

Eve said...

Christ. It's really hard explaining this to white people. I give up.

First you say you used it for the sake of clarifying.

Then you say you used it for Google.

I seriously give up.

Anonymous said...

"Additionally, your target audience is primarily white teachers, who won't give a shit...

It's kind of funny; you and your fellow white male bloggers always seem to be able to pull race card when it suits you."

I hope someday you can step back and recognize that these statements are exponentially more offensive and blatantly bigoted than anything Rob has written today.

JeonjuTanline said...

Eve, you don't teach down in Jeonju, do you? Cause if you do, then I know that you are much better spoken than this.

Rob's point was not to insult or to do stuff like that, but it was to explain to idiots like myself who might become a little too sensitive to what a Korean might say, especially if it's someone who may not have much English in their vocabulary.

It was made for people like me, self-defined idiots in Korea who may be too sensitive to realize what the true meaning of a statement may be.

So, to make my point incredibly plain, Eve: Please think next time before you go off about such things. It'll help your cause a bit better.

Eve said...

@Anonymous and @JeonjuTanline - Are you Black? Are you a minority? How many Black friends/acquaintances do you have? Do they think this is acceptable?

These are not rhetorical questions.

To make myself perfectly clear: "Please think next time before you go off about such things. It'll help your cause a bit better."

Chuck said...

@Eve: there is a problem of metonymy to be confronted in your ideas. This might sound trite but, the Harry Potter series explores this conundrum with the V-word.
Eventually we have to ask about the n-word, if that is the appropriate term:
Is it the phonemes strung together in a certain way that is unforgivable, or the invocation of a certain meaning?

If it's the former, then a number of world languages are gravely racists and have been so before the African slave trade even existed. Moreover, making the sound would also make white actors racist when they use the word while portraying racist characters. This position is clearly absurd.

If it's the invocation of a certain meaning that is gravely offensive, then "n-word" is just as offensive as the other word. As is my use of "the other word" in the previous sentence.

No matter how we try to get around it with a metonym (i.e. 'that one word which white people are not supposed to say') it will always invoke the same meaning: I designate sound /x/ to mean that Africans are inferior to Europeans.
Like 'The Artist Formerly Known as Prince'--it works the same way.

The 'etiquette' I have learned from numerous scholars, critical thinkers, and general acquaintances of all different hues, is that racial slurs when used in an analytic context, a discourse meant to understand and reduce the painful scenarios unlocked by 'that' sound/word, is fair game. In this case, everyone must agree that the word is being 'examined' and not 'used'--doing otherwise simply gives the word more power.

Eve said...

@Chuck -
"The 'etiquette' I have learned from numerous scholars, critical thinkers, and general acquaintances of all different hues, is that racial slurs when used in an analytic context, a discourse meant to understand and reduce the painful scenarios unlocked by 'that' sound/word, is fair game."

I learned the exact opposite. That racial slurs (specifically the word we're talking about) are never appropriate in discourse amongst non-Black people. But thanks for letting me know about your education, as it does make sense (it's just something I strongly disagree with). Again, however, there are at least two different rationales given by the blogger and neither one of them is the rationale you described.

Chris in South Korea said...

Did people start forgetting that language can be meant in a countless number of ways? Rob's intentions - to categorize one thing as racist and another thing as not - are obvious.

Rob, in the interest of clarifying, you do have Google Analytics installed on your blog (or some other sort of hit country). Maybe that could tell us something about your readership - not race, gender, or age, but the countries / areas most reading your blog.

Juregen said...

@eve

How many people with African descent do you know.

From an evolutionary point, we all come from Africa, so yeah, I know quite a lot.

Stop being so anal about words, the only "people from African descent" who find offense to the word just like to make people guilty about the whole thing that happened 200 years ago. What if the we would treat Germans, Russians and French like that.

Sjees, maybe it is time America outgrows it's teenage ANGST about words. It is just a WORD, and most younger people don't even know the full extent of the meaning of that words, ME included, ERGO SUM the word has lost that meaning.

damn how uptight can you be.

xoussef said...

Counting one reader who's not white, not a teacher, and not in Korea (nor US), but admittedly not talkative)and who frankly have some trouble understanding why you can't use a word if your intent is clearly and loudly is not to hurt or undermine. And why a group can use it and others not, if its that hideous, shouldn't it be taboo for every one?

I hope the guy gets deported (or flees)as soon as possible. He's going to be public enemy number one. Seriously if this happened here, he'd need the police to fend the lynching mob.

Levi Kaufman said...

More than likely Rob could have chosen a more tasteful title, but I seriously doubt that disregard, blithe or otherwise was a part his choice. I doubt he would deliberately sensationalize an already hot topic, but that seems to be the result, regardless.
I think that leveling this accusation of racism at a blog frequented by people who left their home countries (presumably more varied than some fabled homogenous honky homeland Eve seems to be referring to) is absurd. Even more absurd is questioning whether he has any black acquaintances (he has one that I know of, and I have never met him or that acquaintance)...but you don't last long in this environment unless you're quite open to cultural and racial differences. I think you might be overstating your familiarity with this blog. Although English teachers and other expats in Korea are predominantly Caucasian, that doesn't make them or this blog inherently racist.
I would like to say that I don't agree with the tone of this post and I think that the video shows a third of the entire story, at best. This encounter probably came at the end of a very long day, perhaps one in which this was not a solitary racially charged brouhaha, but one of several. In the wrong circumstances, in the most oppressive humidity, a carefully edited YouTube video could be used to vilify a great many of us. Everyone's got their breaking point, this guy was unlucky enough to have his filmed and judged by a country full of people who make no bones about their fear and discomfort of the mere existence of black people (forgive me, I’m pretty jaded…but I’ve heard a lot of this, so has anyone who teaches adults).
It may be easy to underestimate the cumulative effect of seemingly innocuous comments overheard and half-understood in another language, the subtle impact of glance or body language (I shan’t sit next to you on the subway, although there are clearly no other seats). But it's easy to overestimate an individual's tolerance for that accumulation. I don't agree with his actions, but I can empathize with his feeling. As foreigners here in Korea, we are frequently asked to “just understand” in circumstances that would try those with saintly forbearance, why should this be any different?
For my part, I'm glad I don't understand everything sometimes…and frequently wish I understood less...the language barrier is not a bad insulator at times.

Anyways, that's my 2 won. Sorry for the TLDR.

a K-A said...

Wow, I think 'Eve' just needs to get off her soapbox. If you truly believe that Robo's (sorry to shorten your handle, dude) readership is just White male English teachers, what difference does it make what word he uses?

But more importantly, isn't it better to bring up and discuss issues arising out of public displays of misunderstandings than quietly cower because OMG, it involves THE FORBIDDEN WORD. it's a word. People who react like you do are the ones who give such words more negative power.

The Sanity Inspector said...

A serious black eye for ESL teachers, if he is indeed one, that's for sure.

MichiganWolverine said...

The part that bothers me the most is his behavior. Not the assumption that he's had a long/rough day, but the fact that he defaulted to the stereotypical "hood" behavior that many people of all colors in many different countries (including America) do not condone. It's not hard to handle the situation like an adult, especially considering that man is educated enough to land himself a job teaching ESL. Adopting the "thug" persona and assaulting someone definitely is counter productive to overcoming some of the roadblocks we as foreigners have to deal with everyday.

@Eve, Yes...Living in Korea every westerner I meet is a minority. So in fact, I do know quite a few minorities. I grew up in one of the roughest cities in America where "white people" ARE the minority and I have been "given a pass" to use that word with my black friends because they don't view it negatively, they see it as a term of endearment for a close friend or acquaintance. It Doesn't help to bring people together when you still divide them over a string of connected syllables.

Jerry said...

I think Quentin Tarantino said it best: "As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. I demand the right to be them, I demand the right to think them and I demand the right to tell the truth as I see they are, all right? And to say that I can't do that because I'm white, but the Hughes brothers can do that because they're black, that is racist. That is the heart of racism, alright. And I do not accept that ... That is how a segment of the black community that lives in Compton, lives in Inglewood, where Jackie Brown takes place, that lives in Carson, that is how they talk. I'm telling the truth. It would not be questioned if I was black, and I resent the question because I'm white. I have the right to tell the truth. I do not have the right to lie"

Brian said...

Between Americans not having any culture or history (according to one blogger), and white guys not being qualified to write about anything not directly "white" or "male" (according to this commenter), being a K-blogger has really become difficult, I see.

Rob, you're fine, your intent was clear. And as Anonymous says, Eve's comments on race were far more bigoted.

And it goes without saying, the guy in the video is an embarrassment and needs to go home . . . go back to where his thuggish, a*****ish behavior is commonplace on public transportation.

Anonymous said...

Is this really all about a 니가/nigga misunderstanding?

I'm a bit surprised how this is being described as the result of being ignorant of Korean. I know some news reports and bloggers are saying that's how it started but it's also being reported that the guy was originally upset because he was told in English to “shut up”. I find lots of evidence on the video to confirm this but not really anything to confirm a 니가/nigga misunderstanding.

If you listen to what the guy is saying and how he repeatedly emphasizes the phrase “shut up" - as in “you shut up,” “then shut up,” “I shut you up” – it’s pretty clear that he’s repeating the phrase that upset him in the first place, which he knows the man understands, like a lesson. He seems to want him to know what it’s like to be told to “shut up” on a crowded bus.

He clearly goes way overboard even to the point of physical violence, which deserves our condemnation. But there's another side to this story which isn't about being linguistically ignorant.

Anonymous said...

@Eve:

"Are you Black? Are you a minority?"

I have a dream that someday posters will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their comments.

t.j. said...

@ eve - your argument falls apart when you make the distintion that it's acceptable for certain races to use a word and not others. Either the word is unacceptable or it is not. If this is not true then all races are not equal. You can not have your cake and eat it too.

John from Dajeon said...

Roboseyo, I believe it's the Metropolitician says his "peace" in his "piece."

Good job though trying to sort out this mess and warn others.

Personally, I try to avoid public transportation by riding a bicycle or walking. It keeps me a little bit fitter and at least lets me think that I'm doing my part to help save the planet.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/ask-teacher/12654-i-said-my-peace-piece.html

Make my peace.
Hold my peace.
Say my piece.
Give him a piece of my mind.
Find peace of mind.
"Say my piece" gets 364 mill. google hits.
"Say my peace" gets 231 mill.

I like using public transportation... but generally don't go into confrontation mode.

I'll have more comments for the rest of y'all tomorrow.

wetcasements said...

Small datapoint: the only time I've heard the n-word in South Korea has been inside 7-11's and GS 25's doing a little shopping. On maybe five occassions I've heard American hip-hop that distinctly (and unsurprisingly) used the n-word nonchalantly.

Does this give Koreans the right to use the word as an invective? No, absolutely not.

Does it seem obvious that there will be future issues with this word, when younger Koreans who are fans of American pop. and hip-hop culture try to use the term as it exists within that context, as a term of friendship and solidarity?

I'm guessing yes.

Anonymous said...

Other than african students, I saw few blacks in Korea on a recent trip and will be moving to Daejeon as soon as the wife is out of graduate school. A number of times, I warned Koreans about the downside of unmitigated third world immigration. The guy on the bus is selling the point and doing so better than anyone can do with mere words. Hope it becomes embedded in their minds so their cities do not become like Detroit, Newark, Oakland and hundreds of other nonproductive, hyper-violent, perpetually subsidized urban areas in this country. The excuse-mongering and mincing, careful steps in the conversation about "racism" here just gives license or tacit approval to this type of behavior, which is not rare, but quite typical and even subdued in this particular instance.

Hope this comment makes it beyond moderation. Expanding the dialogue may be useful and there is a dearth of comments evoking any realism on the topic. Eve is really slathering the race privilege icing on thick. I suppose it must work........

chiam said...

David. Your Jewish girl pal is an idiot. The Nazi swastika isn't the same swastika as the Buddhist swastika. They're reversed. If the nazi's used the number nine, would you then "maintain" that people who use six should give that up? Give me a break!

As for this dude on the bus. I have no idea why everyone, including all the bloggers and commenters, are even bringing up all this "black" vs "Korean" type shit.

Dude in blue shirt yells at then assaults an Old man sitting down on the bus after the old man may or may not have said something rude to the dude in the blue shirt. That's it. The dude is an asshole. The old man may or may not be an asshole.

I really can't think of any place on earth where there aren't assholes who will resort to violence after another asshole says something bothersome.

What is perhaps more sad, is that I can't really think of any place on earth where people who see such incidents won't just instantly conclude that it happened because of this racial/religious/ethnic reason.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

Anon:

First of all, Korea's unmitigated third world immigration (if current trends continue, and IF it happens at all,) will be overwhelmingly from south-asian less-developed countries, not Africa.

Secondly, this guy clearly wasn't african by culture or upbringing... so let's stay on topic. We barely know anything about his specific background.

Thirdly, portraying african americans as thugs and shit-disturbers because of their african-american-ness is out of line. Further talk on those lines is unwelcome in this discussion. The African-hyphenated people I've associated with in South Korea are generally model citizens, and the kinds of foreigners Korea should be energetically recruiting and supporting.



"The excuse-mongering and mincing, careful steps in the conversation about "racism" here just gives license or tacit approval to this type of behavior"

I disagree with you. When the old lady threw the young girl around by the hair on the subway, when the young guy punched the old guy in Itaewon, and in this case as well, the general mood was that bullying and intimidating behavior is inappropriate for most situations... and it doesn't matter that in those three cases, the assailant was an old Korean woman, a young white north-american man, and a young african-american man, respectively... but in each case, the video that circulated also didn't necessarily tell the whole story.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

Sorry for the long comment, folks. Lots to talk about here:

Eve:

from your post on your own blog about the topic:

“Now, the problem I have with Roboseyo’s [post] is that he said, once upon a time, that he was “annoyed” by my blog for failing to answer individual questions posed to me.”

I thought your problem with me was that I used a word you don’t think anybody but black people should use. If I’d known your objection to my post was borne out of an old grudge, I would have given your comments much less attention, frankly. If your reason for calling me out here is because of stuff that happened on a comment thread a long time ago, and not REALLY about The Word I’m Not Supposed To Say anyway, then I’m not really interested in discussing the issue with you, because you’re not REALLY here to discuss this issue.

That said, I’ll tackle some of your questions/points anyway, though a lot of the points I would have made have been expressed articulately by other commenters. (thanks, folks)

1. An article can clarify something, be designed to attract google hits, and approach an offensive word with an examining/analytical approach, all at the same time. Saying it can only be one of those is a little simple-minded.

2. Why does my number of black friends and acquaintances have any bearing on the quality of my thinking or writing on the topic? I didn’t know I had to establish “some of my best friends are black people” cred in order to weigh in. I didn’t do that in my original post because I think it’s patronizing and ignorant to play the “Black people Love Us” card, in the same way it’s ignorant and silly to take wifeoseyo’s views on something as representative of all Koreans, or to think it automatically makes me not racist, and an expert on Korea, that I have a Korean wife.

And if I told you that two of my black friends on Facebook told me it was OK to use that word in the title (and none so far have told me it offends them), how does that change things really? It doesn’t. Do two black friends beat one non-white commenter? Is there a points system? That’s a silly way of thinking. If my writing doesn’t speak for itself, a “Roboseyo is so great....everytime I ride in the car with him he makes sure the radio is tuned to “my” station” testimonial won’t help.

So to answer your question of how many black friends and acquaintances I have? ... definitely enough for me to know when to pass the conch and let people speak for themselves, and to be aware of what I’m getting myself into when I use The Word That Nobody Should Say, and to write my post in a way that everyone but you has so far been capable of taking in context.

3. In my post, I didn’t assign blame, I didn’t pass judgment on the guy’s behavior (though I acknowledged the video looks bad), I didn’t speak on behalf of people whose experience I don’t understand... I linked to a few who had more place to say that stuff. I only discussed how the incident looks, and kept my writing focused on the word/translation problem, and the phenomenon of people not “getting” how serious a word in another language is. Which happens. Which expats in Korea do, too, when we toss around Korean swears that are just mouth sounds to us, just as the “N-word” is to people who aren’t native speakers, or haven’t grown up in Anglophone countries with histories of race-based tension.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

4. Meanwhile, I agree with Quentin Tarantino, and those who believe that a word only has as much power as we give it (sure, it’s easy for Captain White Privilege to say that: with that must come mindfulness that OTHER people give words power, too, and one must be sensitive to the powers others give it as well)... but if a person reads my post and thinks that my intention was to marginalize or humiliate someone, or establish a race-based power dynamic, I’d question their reading comprehension, frankly. If I’d used the word that way, I’d richly deserve every criticism I received.

I’m a minority in Korea, too, don’t forget. We WASPs clearly don’t have it as bad as other minorities, nor do our happa kids have it as bad as other combinations, but I’m trying to construct a life where race-based power dynamics don’t come into play, and I choose to believe that’s possible in Korea. For my own sake. And for my kid’s sake. Playing the race-based status game won’t end well for me while I live in Korea. It’ll go better for me than for some others, but I’ll still end up closer to the short end of the stick than most.

5. regarding: “racial slurs... analytic context...fair game”
“I learned the exact opposite”

My father is a pastor, in a fairly conservative church denomination, and I’ve heard him say “fuck.” Never in anger or frustration, but in discussing the word, or quoting someone while describing a situation where the use of that word played an important part... yeah. If I heard him use it in an explosion of anger, I’d be shocked, floored, and offended. But it’s just a word, if it’s discussed as just a word. How should linguists or anthropologists discuss a word if they’re not allowed to say it?

Using “fuck” to discuss it, and using it to say “fuck you and the horse you rode in on, now let’s fight!” are two totally different things, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that. Discussing the word does not necessarily mean I am attempting to convey that word’s meanings to all my readers, and make my readers feel the way that word makes people feel when it’s said in anger.

I discussed swearing as a cultural practice early on in my blogging days

And yeah, I’ve used some swears in earnest, too. (go to the end).

Frankly, I think my intent is clear enough that my conscience is clear, too. I step wrong sometimes, but I’m confident that my regular readers (of whom you admit you are not) know I try to be a responsible writer. And I’m confident that people finding my page by googling, will be able to tell from the way the post is written, that I’m not trying to be a racist ass.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

6. Google finds this post when you use the correct spelling of the “n” word. I checked.


Meanwhile, I haven’t asked you to answer for the generalizations you’ve made about white male bloggers,

7. Levi: I think you’re right that the video only tells part of the story -- I included weasel words and a fair bit of “if the Marmot blog post’s account is correct” hedging in my writing because of that, and because I know the experience of darker-skinned expats in Korea is WAY different than my experience. I would never take it on myself to speak on behalf of them, except with very specific disclaimers and primary sources.

8. Jerry: awesome comment about Tarantino.

9. Anonymous “is this really”...
As more information becomes available, it seems the situation might have gone differently than the misunderstanding on which this post was based.

On the other hand, the 니가 phrase does pop up once in a while (as in the PSY song), and a blog post explaining/troubleshooting the potential misunderstanding should exist somewhere.

10. A K-A: shorten my name how ever you like, as long as I can figure out you’re still addressing me.

11. Wetcasements: I think you’re totally right that there WILL be more incidents of people misunderstanding the word, or using it without understanding its full meaning, and the contexts where it can be used -- we’ve already seen other cases like that:

http://metropolitician.blogs.com/scribblings_of_the_metrop/2006/12/racism_roundup_.html
The Bubble Sisters

and
http://freekorea.us/2008/04/03/not-another-nazi-ad-campaign-in-korea/
the Hitler cosmetics ads come to mind.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

Dammit, those first four links didn't work.
Please check here:

"some of my best friends are black people" is patronizing:

http://blackpeopleloveus.com/index.html

I shouldn't need a testimonial to express a carefully thought out view
http://blackpeopleloveus.com/testimonials.html


I've discussed swearing as an issue to be examined
http://roboseyo.blogspot.com/2008/07/what-swearing-can-teach-us.html

and used swearing for emphasis, or to shock
http://roboseyo.blogspot.com/2008/03/happy-easter-heres-someone-to-pray-for.html

Eve said...

@Rob - Thanks for answering my questions. Though I disagree with some of your rationales, I appreciate the time you took to write them, as I know from experience it's time-consuming.

We have different opinions on some things, but I think you've addressed my concerns with thought, which is something I didn't (couldn't) get on a first read of this blog post.

When you say "How should linguists or anthropologists discuss a word if they’re not allowed to say it?" -- the thing is, we're not linguists or anthropologists (and we're not filmmakers either).

When you say "Why does my number of black friends and acquaintances have any bearing on the quality of my thinking or writing on the topic?" -- I personally think that the relationships we have with people have a lot to do with our credibility when we write about certain topics. That's my opinion; I know you think it's silly, but that is what I believe. If you had said (and PS, I talked to two of my Black friends on Facebook because I was concerned with my use of this word), then that would have lent it (in my mind, at least) more credibility and less the feeling that I got that it was written out of a sense of privilege. It's not quite the points system you're talking about (though I get your drift on that).

It's true you've never asked me similar questions when I write about white males (or other things that involve a specific group of people), but when I do, for example, write about white males, I put out feelers to the white males I'm close to (share my opinions, have conversations), to see if they have to say, since that type of thing is important to me.

Anyways, you made your point on why you used the word, I made my points on why I thought you should not have, and in the end, we're both still comfortable with our own personal opinions on the matter and as far as I can tell, we refrained from insulting each other or calling each other names, so I must see this "conversation" as a complete success, though it didn't end in agreement.

Coming across your blog post in its first read was incredibly triggering for me as a person of color (and yes, something of an old grudge as well -- and on that very specific matter, I will agree that it's silly but it did no doubt contribute to my feelings when I first read this post).

Sometimes the comments section of a blog post just ends up a dumping ground and so again, thanks for addressing my questions.

Adeel said...

I'm dark-skinned and I like Rob, though I will cheerfully defer to the opinion of someone with darker skin.

Anonymous said...

@eve

The validity of an argument has nothing to do with the character responsible for making the argument in question. This is basic logic. To question the character of the individual making an argument in an attempt to deconstruct the validity of the argument itself, is to commit a logistic fallacy known as "attacking the character."

The Korean said...

-CAVEAT: Below represents the only instance in which spelling out the n-word is ever appropriate in my opinion, i.e. to quote someone else or explain the word itself. I do not approve the usage of n-word for any other purpose-

Here is a section of "Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word," a book by Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy, which I think will be helpful for the discussion. (If this matters to you, Prof. Kennedy is black.)

"In 1967, President Lyndon Baines Johnson decided to appoint an African American to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history. First on Johnson's list of candidates was Thurgood Marshall -- "Mr. Civil Rights," the hero of Brown v. Board of Education and, of course, the man who he ended up putting on the Court. But before he announced the selection, Johnson asked an assistant to identify some other possible candidates. The aide mentioned A. Leon Higginbotham, whom Johnson had appointed to the federal trial bench. Reportedly, the president dismissed the suggestion with the comment "The only two people who have ever heard of Judge Higginbotham are you and his momma. When I appoint a nigger to the [Supreme Court], I want everyone to know he's a nigger." Was the use of "nigger" in this context a venting of racial prejudice? Maybe. ... On this particular occasion, however, it seems likely that he was merely seeking to highlight the racial exclusion against which he was acting, parodying the old regime even as he sought to reform it. If this is an accurate assessment of the situation, I see nothing wrong with what Johnson said, and I applaud what he did."

Schplook said...

@ Anonymous (responding to Eve),

What's the point in having a logical argument if no one cares what you say?

Logic is only one aspect of a persuasive argument. Along with logos (logic), are pathos (emotional appeal), and ethos (character). And, even in logic, the validity (logical form) of an argument is no guarantee of its truth (i.e. whether or not the premises or conclusion are true).

See, what I'm doing here is I'm attacking your character (not your logic), while establishing my own. I'm showing off knowledge about logic while not making much of a logical argument -- I'm just tearing yours down.

But, who cares? I could continue down this path, but I doubt I would change your mind.

And this is my point: debate is more rhetoric than science. Persuasion happens when you employ ethos, logos, and pathos.

If you really want to change minds, pointing out logical fallacies will not get you far.

Eve said...

@anonymous: I wasn't attacking Roboseyo's character: I was attacking (shit, was I? i HATE it when people attack me on my blog) his intentions. And assumed (shit, did I? i HATE it when people assume things about me!) that he did not give his use of "the word that must not be spoken" enough thought before he typed it out.

He explained that he thought it out, explained it thoroughly, and though I vehemently disagree, I respect his position, since it came out of serious thought. He also strongly implied he ran it across some people of color who thought it was OK. And like @Adeel said, I will defer.

And again, as I said in my original comments, I don't speak for anyone but myself (and that includes my own history that involves racism, the N-word, etc.)

@Schplook -- I did not study logic seriously. I wasn't even a good student (shocker!) in the few logic classes I was forced to take. I do, however, have a sense of humor, and your comment cracked me up.

Anonymous said...

Eve is obviously the most intelligent person engaged in this blog and that includes Roboseyo.
Personally, I don't use the N word because I do not want to offend anyone all colors of people included. In the United States the context of the N word is too complex to be discussed in blog comments because it is a part of a wider sociopolitical struggle and there are too many crazies with too much time on their hands on the internet. I can understand how the guy on the bus could become enraged. It reminds me of some of James Baldwins writings. Best,
you can't comment on my blog because I don't have one.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I smell socks for some reason.

Caleo said...

As shocking as the video is, I'm more shocked by the excuses provided for this behavior.
This POS had NO EXCUSE for his aggression "in this context".
I can see everyone here has passed their mandatory diversity training with flying colors.
The entire thread devolves into a long winded exercise in wether it's o.k. for the author to use the N word, instead of focusing on the fact that some paranoid a**hole became unglued over a perceived slight.
I don't care what kind of a bad day this fool had, he should be deported immediately.
But at least he can rest easy knowing his countrymen/women will serve up a never ending laundry list of excuses and justifications for his violent outburst.
I gather the author has spent years in Korea.
Well, I've spent several decades in NYC, and I see this nonsense EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Making excuses for dysfunction has never helped solve it.
Maybe something strange like being held responsible for one's incivility would go a long way in helping destroy negative stereotypes, because this idiot is the living embodiment of every stereotype I can think of about blacks in America.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous, "Eve is obviously the most intelligent person engaged in this blog..." Sweet. But, sadly, I am fairly certain my intelligence ranges in the average zone.

@Schplook (Part 2): I've been thinking a lot about your comment. Perhaps as bloggers/commentators, we could all learn *exactly* what logic is, what debate really is, and that would heighten the levels of blog discourse.

We might start to refrain from quickly jumping to "you are are a racist, you are a bigot," because we'd actually have something interesting to say instead of reverting to today's version of school-yard name calling.

Eve said...

one recent anonymous was written by me, Eve, but I'm having some problems with Google interface today. The comment I wrote:

(@anonymous, "Eve is obviously the most intelligent person engaged in this blog..." Sweet. But, sadly, I am fairly certain my intelligence ranges in the average zone.

@Schplook (Part 2): I've been thinking a lot about your comment. Perhaps as bloggers/commentators, we could all learn *exactly* what logic is, what debate really is, and that would heighten the levels of blog discourse.

We might start to refrain from quickly jumping to "you are are a racist, you are a bigot," because we'd actually have something interesting to say instead of reverting to today's version of school-yard name calling.)

Anonymous said...

A guest-thug menaces someone , and you're all falling over each other to prove who among you isn't racist.
And they say religion is dead.
Not at all. it just morphed into the cult of multiculturalism, a thing as deluded and backward as any idol- worshipping religion ever was.
You sound like fools.
I hope the censors allow free speech and free thought here...I know it's not really revered these days!

wetcasements said...

It's cute when white people relay how many black/gay/hispanic/asian friends they have.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if this point was brought up or not, but a year or so ago a pizza commercial came out on tv and I think it was full of stereo types.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WMf0zmQkxI

Anonymous said...

I'm the anon who wrote that many here were treating multiculturalism as a religion (And they do).
I just want to thank the moderator for letting me speak.
Censorship regarding race is ridiculous these days.
It seems only white people deny themselves race realism; everybody else on the planet gets it.
Thanks!

Eve said...

@Slow Moe - I didn't call Roboseyo a racist. Read my comments carefully.

I wrote a response (that came out anonymous due to a Google mishap today) to a DIFFERENT anonymous person who said "Eve is obviously the most intelligent person engaged in this blog and that includes Roboseyo.."

Again, read things carefully.

Slow Moe said...

i don't know where the comment went, that eve just responded to, so i'll re-post it.

with this addition:
ah. i see eve. you didnt call rob a racist directly. please take that as reason to ignore everything else in this comment, and not to rethink all the preconceptions you seem to bring to discussions on these topics. i read all your comments, here and on the other blogs


the missing comment:


i find it ironic that comment was by you, eve, because i thought it was directed at you:

you're the one who started with accusations and name calling, accusing rob of being a racist, and making blanket statements about white male bloggers (while saying on your own blog that white people expect everyone to kiss their ass), and white people who don't get it. you admit yourself that you made assumptions about rob's intentions and the amount of thought he gave to his choices... dare i ask how much thought YOU put into your first few comments here, or your multiple-update-requiring post at your own site?

it seems like you spend a lot of time meditating on who's talking (maybe that's what the other anonymous meant by attacking the speaker) - for example people with or without lots of black friends, people of different skin colors, and what the rules are for what each of those people are allowed to say and what they are able to understand - that there's barely any room to actually discuss an idea after all those rules and categories YOU have introduced to this discussion.

you clearly have a lot of preconceptions about black people, white people, and everyone in between (did the black people ask you to come on here and tell everybody what they can and can't say? how can i get on the "black people en masse"'s mailing list? Or is it OK to just ask one black person what they think about something and figure they automatically speak for all black people)? and if you aren't black people's Official Ambassador to White Privileged Bloggers, why are you so vehement about it? how can you understand them anyway? how can you be sure the words used to put down people with YOUR background are as hurtful as the words used to put down black people, since you're so insistent that certain people are unable to understand other people's experiences?

can't there be a space where people can say "i might not understand it exactly, but i'm trying, and with respect to those with different experiences, i'd still like to talk about it" and not have to constantly be defending themselves, apologizing, or establishing their right to take part in the discussion?

are the only people allowed to talk about black race issues black people, the only people allowed to talk about feminism women, and the only people allowed to talk about LGBT issues LGBT people? don't you see that by saying some people aren't allowed to talk about some things, or that some people have to follow different rules for discussing things than others actually FURTHERS their marginalization?

by approaching ALL these groups of people with so many preconceptions, you're also alienating people who could/should be allies in the fight against discrimination.

and seriously: how many black friends do you have? THAT as a measure of how not-racist you are? hasn't "stuff white people like" already punctured that for being a dumb copout? (stuffwhitepeoplelike.com - number 14). at best "i have lots of black friends" is dehumanizing to those friends, as if their main value is their contribution to a number that demonstrates one's open-mindedness (if a friend of mine referred to me with that kind of "I have lots of [tall/tennis-playing/italian/dead sexy] friends" in order to justify something they said, i'd distance myself from that friend, because i felt i was being used by them), and at worst "i have lots of black friends" is about the same as starting a sentence with "I'm not racist, but..."

Eve said...

@Slow Moe - your original comment probably got stuck in Roboseyo's spam filter, but I received it because I subscribed to comments today.

I read the blog post carefully upon its first posting, and the use of the N-word, as I said before, triggered a god-awful reaction from me that diluted the message. I understood the message and took care to explain that I did. I thought I made that clear.

I also said very clearly that I do not speak for anyone but myself. I'm not the ambassador of anyone/anything.

I understand what you're saying completely and I disagree with you completely (especially when you start comparing things to LGBT and so forth). This word -- there is no other word like it in the English language. It must be used with the utmost care. There are people who believe it should be eradicated completely (see people who want to censor Huck Finn -- I wouldn't go that far, and think that is pretty stupid myself.)

In today's world, as it stands, right now, it is my sincere belief that if you are not Black, you cannot understand the implications of the word, cannot understand how hurtful that word is, the damage that comes from it, the triggers it may set off in a person of color and in particular Black people.

As I explained on someone else's blog, an anti-racist agenda can be diluted by the use of that word by a non-Black person.

Again, however, I speak only for myself. As I said before. I'm only repeating myself now. We think differently. I have not convinced you that it was not okay for Roboseyo to use that word, and you have not convinced me that it was.

Slow Moe said...

if you find yourself having god-awful reactions that dilute your message, can i suggest waiting 24 hours before writing a post or comment on it? you might get your message across more effectively

and you can say 'i speak only for myself' till you're blue in the face, but the things you actually say when you speak for yourself demonstrate that you HAVE taken it upon yourself to speak on behalf of others.

Eve said...

@Slow Moe - Actually, I don't think Roboseyo would have taken the time or thought (in at least 3 comments) to respond to my feelings on the matter had I not commented on them.

And whatever you say re: "blue in the face" can obviously be said about you as well (see my comments repeating myself).

You don't need 24 hours to respond to the N-word. But again -- you don't get it.

Anonymous said...

For posterity, here's Eve at her classiest.

http://burndogsburnblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/back-to-basics.html?showComment=1314867645756#c3894988857993081737

"I agree with you a thousand percent on the K-blog circle jerk. It's fucking stupid, and I'd rather go masturbate myself than be in that circle. Unfortunately, I threw myself right into one of the kings of the circle and surprise, surprise -- nary a one yanked me off. :) I will seriously try to keep my mouth shut on such things in the future, as there's little worse in my life right now than trying to deal with those jerkoffs."

Burndog's writing was funny, but Eve... you might want to take a vacation from things that upset you or something. Here:
http://www.funnycatpix.com/

Well, maybe she's more generous on home turf: on her own blog she must be really kind-hearted...

http://thingsevewoulddo.blogspot.com/2011/08/dont-use-n-word-if-youre-not-black.html?showComment=1314859852921#c4067180151059669748

black100 said...
"Reading roboseyo gives me a headache.
It's written in a tone that reminds me of a gay guy from toronto shouting, "The sky is blue. Christ, why don't you people get it?""

Eve said...
"@black100 - Yep. Obviously, I'm not a big fan of his either."

Nope. Nevermind.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

OK then.

before things get any chippier, I'm going to close comments here for a few days.

If anybody other than Eve has a real problem with the word, or disagrees with me that the benefit of having this page google-able outweighs the ugliness of having that word up in the title, send me a polite e-mail.

Roboseyo said...

I'll start with the good: I am a new reader trying to find really in-depth, respectful expat blogs to brush up on before I go over to South Korea, and so far this site has been exactly what I was looking for. The entries are comprehensive and intelligent and provide a window to the Korea that isn't kpop and kdrama. It addresses social issues and politics and the difficulties of being a foreigner and a teacher. So thank you for that.

However, and I know that this article is two years old and no one has commented on it in a while, this entry disappointed me. I appreciate the message and attempt to create understanding concerning the language barrier, but the use of the n-word is inappropriate. I don't think it should be taken out of the title, but at the least there should be a few asterisks. The meaning will still be clear, but there won't be this overstep of cultural boundaries.

There are groups that are entitled to this word. The option to reclaim it is theirs, and theirs alone; regardless of intent it should not be used by anyone else. The comparison to the word "fuck" is false equivalence. "Fuck" was not used as a weapon and tool of oppression. It was not used to dehumanize generations of Black men and women.

It seems as if there's a distinct unwillingness to understand the POC point of view in these comments, mostly by readers, but also by you. Your desire to have this show up in a google search should not outweigh the feelings of citizens who still have to deal with the consequences of this word and the extreme prejudice that comes along with it day by day. I know this article is very old and it may not seem worth it, but I suggest an edit. As someone going through your archives, this was the first truly unpleasant move I've seen you make.

Roboseyo said...

Hi, Hanna.

I sincerely appreciate your comment here.

You're right that the word "Fuck" is not an exact correlative to the "n" word. You're also right that intent is not the only thing to be weighed. And I also agree with you that this is not a pleasant post, or a pleasant comment discussion. I DO continue to believe that discussing a word and its usage, as opposed to USING the word, is like the difference between taking a gun apart to understand its mechanics, and pointing it at someone to shoot it... and THAT aspect of both words may hold, though the "F" word is much less encumbered with other associations and history. I've never used the "N" word casually around... anyone, and I thought very carefully about using it in this post, and did not take it lightly in doing so.

That process of deliberation, and the conversations I had before posting, and while defending my choice after I published it, aren't well represented by the comment discussion here, or the post itself, and I'm sorry if it appears that I took my use of the word lightly.

So I'd also like you to know that while this comment discussion doesn't show my most empathetic or listening side, it does not represent the full extent of the conversations I had, with a number of people whose judgment I respect and whose experience with words as tools of oppression I defer to, over my choice to use this word, either. As a side note, a few of the people attacking my choice in this post were people with old grudges against me, and for them, the way they held forth in this discussion was less about the "n" word and more about that grudge, and perhaps you're seeing some responses in me that come across as defensiveness about using an awful word, but are actually a response to a commenter who was consistently aggressively rude and disrespectful towards me and a bunch of writers and thinkers and friends I respect... but they've since deleted their blog and further evidence of their default mode of interaction, so I'll have to ask you to trust me on that.

Anyway... you're welcome to disagree with me about this... but I knew when writing this post that it would polarize some of my readers, and be beyond a line of acceptablity for some of them, no matter how much I equivocated, apologized, or explained myself. I appreciate your suggestion for an edit, and the respect implicit in your taking the time to leave this comment. I am going to leave this post as it is, for now, and I hope that you'll see, in the way I write the rest of my blog, and the way I treat people who face oppression, and the way I engage with topics like white (and male) privilege, that I didn't write this post to try to upset anyone, nor to simply stock up google stats (those don't matter to me anyway). You'll never see the word anywhere else on my blog, and you'll never see me take the tools of oppression lightly, or at least you'll see me being teachable and respectful in the way I approach conversations about experiences I am poorly equipped to join.