Saturday, 10 December 2011

How to make EBS's Racism Video Mean Something

Update: for two great views on this topic, please read these pieces side by side:

The Metropolitician: "Be White"
Adeel "Taking the Metropolitician Challenge"

You've seen this video, if you read the K-blogs. It's been discussed elsewhere...

1. This video is from May -- which pleases me. This video was made by Koreans, for Koreans -- unlike "banning" dog meat during the olympics, this video isn't a performance for a foreign audience. It's Koreans trying to start an earnest discussion. We expat bloggers and viewers didn't figure into it at all. I like that Koreans are deciding to start these kinds of conversations.

2. It's only two guys, and a 5 minute video: who knows what story the original footage told. I'd be surprised if the narrative was as clean as it's presented to be.

It's impossible to make a general statement about whether Koreans are racist or not, just from this. Absolutely impossible. (Though the youtube commenters have been quick to do exactly that.)


Here's a research proposal of sorts: How to Make This Experiment Actually Tell Us Something About Racism in Korea.

(soundtrack: Mashup-Germany - Top of the Pops, 2011. Love these year-end mashup things.)

A. Count the number of passersby in the full hour of filming, or film until a set number of pedestrians pass by. Or until the subject of the experiment (the white guy, or the SEAsian guy) has approached and spoken to a set number of people (say 200, or 500). Send them out so they spend an equal amount of time approaching strangers on the weekend, the daytime, the afternoon, the evening, and lunch break.

B. Make a few categories of responses, say:

1. stops longer than ten seconds and helps
2. gives less than ten seconds of help
3. passive negative response - averts eyes, moves to other side of sidewalk, walks faster, etc.
4. active negative response - says "no" or responds with hostility
and maybe
5. does not notice

Log the responses from video footage, so that different subjects can be compared in terms of their rate of the different types of responses.

C. Train the subjects to use the exact same wording and body language in their approaches.  If you have the budget, have one set of subjects being more direct, and another set being less direct... in the exact same way, with the same wordings and gestures, as much as possible.

D. Ensure there are equal numbers of male and female, good-looking and unattractive, tall and short subjects in each group.

E. Find that variety of subjects across more than two races: South-east Asian, South-Asian, Middle-Eastern, North-African, Central-African, Caucasian, Latino/Hispanic, and East-Asian.

F. Repeat the experiment using similar groups, similarly trained, or the same group in:
1. a residential area
2. a busy downtown area
3. a popular tourist area

or/and in

1. a big city
2. a medium-sized city
3. a tourist town/area

G. If possible, have an equal number of subjects approaching people speaking Korean (the local language) and English (a commonly spoken cosmopolitain language).

H. Repeat the exact same experiment, as closely as possible, in several major cities on each continent, or in a big city, a medium-sized city, and a tourst town/area in several countries on each continent/region of the world.

Gather statistics. Crunch numbers. Compare.

IF, across all those factors, Koreans still treat the white guy more favorably than the dark guy, TO A GREATER EXTENT THAN the average of all the groups of people, from all the places, in all the data we've gathered... and far enough above the average that it can't be accounted for with the margin of error inherent in gathering statistics...

we can say that this video shows Koreans are more racist than other countries.


shannon said...

i totally agree with you, as far as the video being a rather small sample and not necessarily indicative of whether koreans are more or less racist than other countries. for me, the point of the video was not whether koreans are more racist than other people, but rather, that this still exists in korea (as it does pretty much everywhere else in the world). and it really stuck with me, moresp than perhaps if i would have seen a similar video of something in the states, because...well, because i live here now. but i agree, the video is hardly sympathetic, like you mentioned i think the main point of it is more to start a discussion, start self-reflection (especially the last line when the narrator asks if it had been you, would you have been different). and like you said, i think it's great that it's koreans challenging their own social prejudices internally and not for the international gaze.

Gomushin Girl said...

There are a couple problems that need to be teased out as we consider this video:

1) Is it well constructed as a piece of social research? Well, no. I think your proposed set up is unnecessarily elaborate, but you're right in that the video isn't very tightly constructed and therefore the conclusion that Koreans are racist and less likely to help a visibly South Asian person than a white person isn't fully supported . . . *from this video*. But this video experiment wasn't made in a vacuum, and there's pretty strong anecdotal evidence beyond just this video that racism and prejudicial attitudes exist in SK. This video should be considered a non-comprehensive but illustrative element. Just because it doesn't conduct the study with full scientific rigor doesn't mean that the behavior in it isn't representative or normal. There's plenty of evidence, and indeed acceptance among many Koreans, that Koreans treat white people and not-white people differently. By assuming that this video is meant to prove in a substantive scientific sense that the attitude exists, rather than to graphically demonstrate and problematize it for Korean audiences, you're making it out to be something it's not.
2) The question isn't whether Korea is more racist than other countries. The question is whether racism is a problem in Korea, and what measures can be taken to address it. One part of this is demonstrating to local residents the impact of racism on their communities. A major part of the civil rights movement in America, for example, involved making the terrible negative impact of racism apparent. Images of violence against peaceful protesters was one of the key elements in turning the tide of public opinion.

kushibo said...

I like that Koreans are deciding to start these kinds of conversations.

KoKos have been having these kinds of conversations for years. It didn't start when the anglophone K-blogosphere discovered it.

noe said...

I like that they would do something like that, but can't help shaking the thought that perhaps there was an outcome they were looking for when they made the video. They could easily of cut out parts, if people did help the SE Asian, and simply of chosen the ones that fit their agenda. Just saying, but given how media changes so many things around, its possible no?

Eugene said...

I have to agree with the other commenters that the video isn't meant to say that Koreans are more or less racist than other people in the world, it's just to show how this is a problem in Korea.

Notice also on camera everyone said they would help both people, so they are at least conscious that they should be treated equally. I think if you had asked the same thing in some places the US, you might have gotten people saying... I'd give him directions back to his country or I'd help provided he's not a Muslim... even staring at a camera!

I think the video is trying to show that every Korean knows that he should treat people equally, but actions are different on and off camera.

I also agree that it is not scientific at all, and I am sure that there were people who ignored the white guy. There also had to be some people who helped the S.E. Asion guy. It may have been true that more people helped the white guy, but I still think the video was edited heavily to show a story much different that what actually happened.

Anonymous said...

It's always amusing to read native English speakers who can't read or understand a lick of Korean thinking that they've discovered something that they had never assumed before since stuck up inside the Anglosphere forums depending on other exapts for Korean related news. Videos and discussions like this in Korea has been on going, at least for the last 6 years. And this video is about at least a year and a half old. It's now hitting the blogsphere?

VWGTI said...

It could be that the SEA guy is giving off a vibe of a guy who is trying to sell them some dodgy thing. He doesn't look like a stereotypical tourist.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

Did you actually watch the video, VWGTI? Did you and the other commenters on other sites saying that the SE asian guy looks like a toat (there's a stereotype for you) not notice HE'S HOLDING A MAP OPEN IN HIS HANDS?

Don't be obtuse.

kushibo said...

saying that the SE asian guy looks like a boat

Isn't it tout? It's one of those words that you hear but almost never read, and I guess in some forms Canadian pronunciation, it would sound like toat.

And that's all I have to say aboat that.

Over and oat. :)

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

Yes, anonymous, english expat bloggers just found it this week. What's wrong with that? Especially when that fact is such clear evidence that Korea is discussing racism without them, which flies in the face of the old accusations made in English forums of un-self-awareness, ignorance or unconcern about racism, etc., in Korea.

So glad that we barbarians can help you feel better about yourself because you're so much smarter than we are.

kushibo said...

Roboseyo, I don't think anonymous's comment was so off the mark (if not particularly diplomatic, though I think the scorn was not directed at you).

I see in a lot of comments about this (at various sites) that many people are treating it as (a) a new phenomenon and (b) a small phenomenon. Those who seem to proclaim this the loudest are often those with the weakest Korean language skills.

So the problem is not that it was recently discovered, but the pronouncements of what it means (e.g., the racist Koreans are finally figuring this out?!) by those who only just now discovered it.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

You're right, Kushibo.

I clearly need to take more care posting comments between late-night feedings.

"KoKos have been having these kinds of conversations for years. It didn't start when the anglophone K-blogosphere discovered it."

That's something I cop to in the post itself, and any blogger who doesn't account for that is missing something.

Gomushin Girl: it depends on what you're trying to prove. You're right that as an illustration of a disparity (between what interviewed Koreans say should happen and what DOES happen) the video works on its own.

But if you look through the YouTube comments, you'll see lots of people ready to use this video as proof categorical that Korea is the most racist nation in the world... and before we can say THAT, we'd have to conduct my unnecessarily elaborate study.

Gomushin Girl said...

The YouTube comments are irrelevant to this discussion though, if the discussion is how Koreans are understanding and discussing the contents of the video. The YouTube comments by non-Koreans about whether this "proves" Koreans are "more racist" (as if there were some kind of scale) is kind of immaterial, unless you're really trying to discuss foreign perceptions of racism in Korea. Which again, is a different conversation.

Anonymous said...

A white guy gets the help he needs and the other guy doesn't. I'm not surprised about this at all. Male fair-skinned people of Anglo-saxon or European features generally enjoy the benefit of the doubt everywhere they go. This is not limited to Korea. It's a simple fact.

This experiment doesn't need to be more scientific to have some validity, although I guess they could have used two people who were similar in looks and stature.

To have a real conversation about this, I say get rid of the word racism. Forget about that word because people get scared, offended and put off by it. Of course you can't conclude that all of Korea is racist from this video. BUT!

Roboseyo, you have to admit that there are some things that can be drawn from this video...The people who made it, I assume themselves Koreans, surely think there's something there. Just look at the sad, damning music that came on when it was obvious the SEasian man would never get to Coex Mall if he didn't figure it out himself. (Did even one person help him?) I think what can be drawn from this is that if you look like the SEasian man, it will probably be difficult to get directions in Kangnam. People who are used to being treated as stereotypes understand that they have to have a different mindset to deal with these kinds of subtle biases. Its everyday all the time and it happens in EVERY culture, although that doesn't make it acceptable.

So, these two people got treated quite differently. I think it would have been interesting to make the white guy look a little bit haggard while making the SEasian guy look very rich or better yet like a lost movie star. Sounds ridiculous, but when people have something else to identify you with, money or celebrity, they tend to put what you look like second, because people in general want to be associated with money and celebrity...power etc.

Overall I think its great they are having this conversation, but honestly different people learning to live with each other and see each as human beings 1st and these stereotypes second is very, very hard. This is a huge part of the so called American experiment.

Thanks for sharing.

J. Goard said...

This post may as well have been titled, "How to Eliminate the Profession of Journalist" -- because uncontrolled, statistically worthless, heavily edited non-information is the name of the game in every country. Journalists need to be out of the generalization game altogether.

Oh, but they're "starting the conversation" -- I forgot.

I'm sure there's more than enough real research from Korean sociologists and psychologists on racial bias, but such real evidence not about to take the blogosphere by storm, in Korean or English.