Monday, 24 March 2014

Hollaback Korea: Taking a Stand Against Street Harassment

Street Harassment. From Lefty Cartoons.

Before reading further, we're just going to have to agree that street harassment -- catcalling and other such sexually (or racially, etc.) charged attention, toward strangers (or non-strangers, really) is wrong and inappropriate and ugly. If you can't agree with me about that, go find a corner of the internet more amenable to your views. The different types of sexual street harassment are points on the spectrum of sexual violence, just as racist street harassment is located on the spectrum of racial violence, and homophobic street harassment... you get the idea. Make no mistake about that.

Plus, it only takes about three seconds of walking in someone else's shoes to realise that bellowing come-ons, or pejoratives, to strangers in the street -- of any gender and orientation - is really rude and intrusive. Verbal and other harassment, and also brushing it off and treating it as if it's nothing, creates an atmosphere where targeted people can feel threatened and oppressed, nervous to do things that everybody should be free to do without fear. Stuff like walk down the street. Or wear something they like. Or be tall.

You may have heard of the "Hollaback" movement. Start with iHollaback.org, which was founded in 2005. Frustrated with the silence around street harassment in New York, the website allowed the victims of street harassment to upload photos of their harassers, or stories of their harassment, on the internet, to give victims of harassment a voice, and a means to fight back.


Awareness has grown since then, and Hollaback has now spread to 71 cities, 24 countries, and 14 languages.

Including... Hollaback Korea. The site is almost entirely bilingual, and it's quite easy to use. There is a map of Korea where you can drop a pink pin to locate your harassment incident, or a green pin to locate a harassment incident where you, or somebody else, stepped in to defuse or defend the victim. In my opinion, this is pretty damn cool. Posting is totally anonymous, so you don't have to expose yourself to tell the story that's been on your mind, or share the picture you took, or you can peruse other stories to remember that you're not alone. Any type of harassment, whether it's based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or anything else.

In December, I was contacted by the leaders of Hollaback Korea, who launched the Korea iteration of the Hollaback website on December 3rd. I've been in touch with Chelle B Mille, who's also a contributor to the Korean Gender Cafe, and suggested an e-mail interview, to suit our busy schedules.

Here is another Q and A here about Hollaback Korea that you might find interesting. This is the Hollaback Korea crew:



And here are the questions I sent, and the answers Chelle B Mille sent me,

Rob: 1. What inspired you, and the other contributors to this project, to create this page? Why now, and why Korea? 
Hollaback Korea: Our website and mobile app draw on great resources that Hollaback! chapters utilize in 24 countries worldwide. Several contributors to this project, such as Hany (돈두댓/Don’t Do That), Lisa (Stand Up to Sexism), and Maria (Jeolla Safety Alliance), had already been involved in or established their own Facebook or Twitter communities to address sexual violence or harassment in their regions. Hollaback! Korea is a way to connect us all to this national and international issue so that we can share stories and resources. The “why now” is really more of a personal journey, I had wanted to be involved in a project like this for a long time. I had participated in sexual harassment counseling training with Korea Women’s Hotline 한국여성의전화 (see what they do at http://www.hotline.or.kr) and helped 돈두댓 recruit participants for their Slutwalk event in Busan. After 8 years of study and life in Korea, I felt I had learned enough to start a venture like this and was connected to great people in citizen and expat communities that I could partner with.

2. Part of the goal of Hollaback is to create a safe space to talk about street harassment. Can you talk briefly about the existence, and condition, of safe spaces in Korea to discuss issues like sexual violence and harassment, both in English and in Korean? 
HK: There are some fantastic organizations, several that we refer to as resources on our website. There are not as many resources to talk about street harassment, compared to other forms of harassment or violence. We need to do more outreach to the folks who wouldn’t already be attending an event or already study street harassment, we need to bring the project TO them if they don’t come TO us. For example, outdoor events and sidewalk chalk events (see below) are something we’d like to do all over the country, so we’re looking for virtual volunteers all over the nation. 

3. I've noticed that the Hollaback Korea website makes as much content as possible available in both Korean and English. Can you talk about why you think that's important? 
HK: In my opinion, in general, spaces to talk about these issues tend to be spaces that feel “safe and comfortable” for either nationals or aliens, and we hope that our project and our efforts to provide bilingual content can build a bridge so that we can all communicate and learn from each other. Inclusivity and intersectionality are our core values. We have generally had excellent media coverage but unfortunately, once or twice a major news outlet has decided to tell a different story and to pretend that this is a “foreigner issue” or come up with made-up headlines like “Foreigners say Koreans harass too much” which couldn’t be further from our message. I think this is a strategy to diminish the project and the issue, and a way to silence people who could come forward. It’s easier for some people to avoid questioning their behavior and to squash a discussion if they tap into the idea that ‘outsiders’ are the only ones making noise. On our site and in our discussions we take great pains to emphasize that these are problems that are not unique to any particular nation, culture, etc. and to make it feel as inclusive as we can for all to participate. We are always seeking Korean and English language content contributors, contact us at korea@ihollaback.org for volunteer opportunities. 

4. When I [Rob] attended Slutwalk, a journalist asked me if having a Slutwalk was an appropriate way to deliver its message in the cultural context of South Korea. If somebody asked that same question about Hollaback, what would you say? 
HK: Hollaback! Korea really isn’t much different from what you already see happening on Twitter, Nate Pan, Cyworld, Facebook, etc. in online spaces that are run largely by and for Korean citizens, so I think our use of social media reflects a great adaptation of an international movement to a local context. I think the idea of sharing a story anonymously can provide a tool to those who might want support, but struggle to find it. 

5. Do you have any other causes or upcoming projects that you'd like to draw readers' attention to? Is there something “next” after Hollaback is established and running well? 
HK: Over the winter, we were focused on spreading the word and working with adults. After 6 successful events with adults, we feel we started a discussion and that Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/HollabackKorea) Twitter (https://twitter.com/HollabackKorea) and our website (http://korea.ihollaback.org/) are good spaces for adults to contribute. Now we are focusing our attention on youth programming. We have upcoming workshops for high school youths in Jeju and Gwangju. For adults, we will plan some future events but in the meantime we’d like our community members to participate in localized and even Korean-language white board campaign we’ve been running on Facebook. 

6. Why street harassment? Do you see this as a first step toward other discussions, or as an end in itself, and what do you hope this website will accomplish? 
HK: There tends to be greater social awareness of and action around workplace and school harassment, but street harassment is an issue that requires more attention. Every time that a community member visits our website and reads a story, they can click “I’ve got your Back” and the author knows that even if no one on that street, subway car, in that store, etc. had their back, the reader online is empathetic. That is a first step toward people being more aware of the harms of street sexual, racial, homophobic and gendered harassment, and taking a stand in-person when they witness street harassment. On our map, pink dots reflect shared stories and the green dots highlight incidents in which a bystander intervened. I’d like to see more green dots. 

7. What advice do you have for someone who's been through an experience that's been humiliating or violating, and who doesn't know who to talk to -- or has been told to hide, ignore, or cover up their experience, by someone they trust? 
HK: Please share your story with us, we’ve got your back. Each person makes their own decision about how to respond and what actions to take after being harassed. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do or judge them for their decisions. We are here to show our support, and to educate the public about the seriousness of this issue, so we need people to come forward and share their stories. It’s a brave and difficult act, but in our community we have zero tolerance for anyone who would second-guess, judge, or criticize someone reporting their story. We want to hear from you and we want to support you. Together we can make sure that this issue gets the attention it warrants.  

8. What have been some of the obstacles in starting discussions about this topic here in Korea? How have you tried to deal with them? 
HK: There haven’t been many unique obstacles. Generally, any new project needs to get the word out. We all work hard to educate ourselves and our community about what it means to be inclusive and intersectional, so we are constantly unlearning some of the sexist, racist, homophobic and gendered ideas we may have been raised with, which is an ongoing learning process for all. I alluded to the attempts by a few to diminish the project by pretending that it is a ‘foreign’ issue, but I think there is generally great reception to the project and the people we meet are very open to sharing and learning with us. 

9. Can you compare the state of these sorts of discussions in Korea now, compared with, say, three or five years ago? Are you generally satisfied with the pace of change, or not? 
HK: I have lived in Korea since 2006 and I think social dialog around sexual harassment has increased quite a bit in that time. I’d like to see more discussion of homophobia and racism, but I think these are issues that are also getting more consideration compared to 8 years ago. It is hard to be ‘satisfied’ with the pace of change, though, when you read stories. It is hard and frustrating for our volunteers to hear about violence. We just have to keep working together to push these issues and to create opportunities for people to unlearn their prejudices. 

10. What are some ways men who support the Hollaback idea can help in real life, and online?
HK: We have had 5 men who volunteer with the project, so I’d welcome volunteer contributions to help us run events, spread the word, and to create opportunities to discuss these issues with friends, co-workers, and family. Visit our website and click “I’ve got your back” and read the section on our website about how to “Be a Badass Bystander - 우리가 도와줄게요".  Be more aware of and open to learning about the issue, don’t judge people or diminish their stories.

11. You just used the phrase "don't judge people or diminish their stories." Can you explain to my readers what it means to diminish somebody's story, and why it's a problem? Maybe this is asking a lot, but can you either guide my readers to a place where they can read examples of phrases or arguments that diminish someone's story, and learn why they do so, or give some examples and tell my readers why these examples diminish someone's story?
HK: Derailing is one common way that people might diminish stories, here are a few examples relevant to safe spaces like Hollaback! Korea where people share their experiences. If I were to typecast some common examples of derailing, I could start by pointing these out:
Contributor to the Problem #1: This contributor might intentionally use what they call 'humor' to bait people who are already suffering from offline harassment, or likes to be a "Devil's Advocate." A Badass Bystander would focus on calling out harassers instead. This link is a good one to read.
Contributor to the Problem #2: This contributor tries to tell someone that what they experienced was "not harassment" or that someone is being over-sensitive or not paying attention to what was intended as flirtation, etc. Harassment is defined by the person who experiences it; we don't care about the intentions of bullies. A Badass Bystander would listen and learn, maybe even pick up some tips on how to be a better human along the way. 
Contributor to the Problem #3: This contributor asserts that only XYZ person has "the right" to do something about street harassment, as if people who are targeted for abuse don't have the right to stand up for themselves. A Badass Bystander knows that everyone deserves to feel safe in public spaces. 
Contributor to the Problem #4: This contributor really wants to protect women, but doesn't really feel comfortable with women sticking up for themselves. Or they view themselves as really open-minded, until they hear that their joke about bisexuals is hurtful and are challenged to think about that. A Badass Bystander really cares about empowerment, intersectionality [Rob says: see note below] and is truly open to unlearning their own biases. 
We all have some things to unlearn, we have all said and done things we come to regret. When I think about the last few years of my life, it has been a great privilege to have had the opportunity to learn from a lot of people that I've come to love, and an even greater privilege to learn how to apologize to people that I have hurt.

That's the end of the interview. I'd like to thank the Hollaback Korea people again for the time and the interest in sharing. Personally, I'm quite an idealist, insofar as I really do believe that talking about social issues is the first step in improving things, and because of that, I salute the courage of people like those in the Hollaback movement, for starting conversations where there used to be nothing but shame and silence.

*Note from above: The word Intersectionality is used a few times in this interview. Intersectionality is the study of how different groups experience oppression, discrimination, etc., in different ways, due to the same structures of power and injustice. Race, gender and sexual orientation, for example, are important parts of someone's identity, but can't really be separated from each other in any individual's case, so it's hard to study them in isolation. The idea of intersectionality helps people try to look at justice issues in a more integrated way, by thinking about how these different aspects combine or interact. One of the main things  intersectionality has added to the conversation is the idea that all groups benefit when they support each other and try to understand each other, even if on the surface, they don't always seem to have much in common.

Whether or not you have experienced street harassment, or any of the other kinds of sexual violence out there, Hollaback Korea is a worthy effort to start conversations that can lead to change. And that's good, and you should support them.

That is all.

Here is the Hollaback Korea Facebook page.
Learn more about Street Harassment.
Learn about Rape CultureLearn more about Rape Culture. And more. With examples. Seriously, it's worth it. Rape jokes are part of rape cultureMen, this is on you, too.

Oh yeah: have you seen this hidden camera? CNN Cairo dressed a man up as a woman to experience street harassment. Watch this. And 9000 other videos about Street Harassment on Youtube, from all over. It happens, and it matters.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

SNL Korea: What the Hero Korean Adoptee Community Accomplished

In my last post, posted at 2am yesterday, I talked about an SNL Korea skit that mocked the airport adoptee reunion situation. What happened in the hours following was kind of amazing. For today, tomorrow, and maybe even most of next week, the authors of these two blogs, and the groups mobilized through the efforts of them and others, are kind of my heroes:

I'm connected with these two people on Facebook, but I'm only going to write about them using information available on their public blogs. Because internet.

"Tales of Wonderlost" - a tumblr blog by a Korean adoptee living in Korea.
"TRACK - Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea" - a website where contributor JJTrenka posted most of the articles related to the SNL video, and was very active on different Facebook groups.

Credit should also go to GOAL - Global Overseas Adoptees' Link, and a lot of others I'm sure I missed.


Word came to a couple of activist adoptee bloggers sometime yesterday about the SNL Korea skit. You can see it here, unless SNL Korea has pulled it. Which they might.

Here are the things these writers and their community accomplished:




HOLY CRAP, EVERYBODY THAT WAS AMAZING!


We must celebrate in the way of the internet:
With gifs.

source

source

Yaaay!
You want to dance too. Admit it. Source

Bask. Bask in the joy of success.
Source


So, great job, everyone who contributed.

The reading I've done about overseas adoptees -- on blogs, academic publications, SNS and personal correspondence, has frequently come back to the point that adoptees and birth parents are too often discussed and talked about, but not nearly often enough consulted, or listened to. Which makes it all the more satisfying to see adoptees take control of their own narrative in this case, through good communication and activation of the human networks they've been developing on their own, use their voice, and get heard!

Awesome.

There were a few comments made on this blog and other places that I'd like to address or answer, before we go.


1. "Jeez you PC police are just a bunch of white knights going around looking for things to be offended by!"

Um... actually it was adoptees -- the group represented in the skit -- who were hurt most by this one. No need to manufacture outrage on somebody's behalf. Go read some of the responses linked above. If you're not an adoptee, you don't get to decide what does and doesn't offend adoptees. And even if you are an adoptee, you get to decide what offends you  as an adoptee, and not other, or all adoptees. And I checked the response among the adoptee communities and blogs I follow, before writing my piece in support. There wasn't a lively discussion about whether this was offensive or not. There was mostly outrage, disgust, and hurt.

But when, like, almost every single adoptee in your social circle, and almost every adoptee community Facebook page and website has a hurt or offended or angry response to it.... well why don't we listen to them, instead of undermining their right to take offense. Adoptees have been silenced and ignored often enough.


2. Lighten up!

If you told somebody to lighten up or get a sense of humour, you are gas-lighting. Gas lighting is a term popularized in feminist discussion groups, where people kept saying things like "You're getting all emotional" or "Get a sense of humour" to try and make the person doubt themselves - shifting the focus of the conversation from the issue to the person. Go educate yourself on it. Try here and here and here to start. Not all gas-lighting is on the level of domestic abuse (which is where the term originates) -- it's used much more loosely on the internet than in clinics, but the fact is, if you're focusing on someone's lack of a sense of humour: "It was funny to me," then you're side-stepping the actual issues in play here, and also dismissing someone's response, which is just as legitimate as yours in finding it funny.


3. But look: here's a video from America that makes fun of adoptees. Here's a video from America that makes fun of asians.

Umm... those videos aren't cool either. And their existence doesn't cancels out the fact this video is offensive too. Clearly, there are lots of issues to be worked out, in lots of places. And this is one of them. Classic tu quoque.


4. "So we're just going to have a committee to censor everything? You're spoiling the fun."

Ahh the C word.

First: if you are saying this, and you also answer "Of course, naturally!" or even just "yes" to a majority of the 26 statements in this article, it might be time for some soul searching, or some thought about the power of language and media to marginalize groups.

It's not censorship to ask for an apology. It's not censorship to say "this kind of a skit shouldn't have been made in this way."  It's censorship to demand SNL Korea be taken off the air. Which didn't happen.

Freedom of speech means that people have the freedom to say something that offends people. But the offended people who say "This offended me" and make a big stink are protected by that same freedom. Nobody should have the right to take freedom of speech away from EITHER of those groups. The word censorship is overused in discussions about what is and isn't in good taste. On the individual level, this isn't a conversation about free speech and censorship. It's a conversation about not being an asshole to people. And if, thanks to a conversation about what an asshole they're being, someone (or a media outlet) decides to change their behaviour, that's not censorship, either. It's just a decision based on new information someone didn't have before, or hadn't thought of, that they've calculated to be in their best interest. And good for them, being so open to new ideas!

That said... there's a difference between an individual saying some stupid offensive shit, and getting the response they deserve... and a major media outlet saying some stupid offensive shit. Because when a major media outlet makes light of the pain an adoptee feels, and there's no response, that normalizes the act of dismissing, marginalizing or putting down adoptees. Even if you're allowed to do something, it may still not be the right thing to do. A kid who saw adoptees get mocked and humiliated without consequences on TV will be more likely to bully my adopted kid (if I have one), and I'm not cool with that. So it's my right and prerogative and maybe my duty to make sure there are consequences if that goes on TV.

Censorship isn't necessarily the answer ... because every time adoptees appear in the media, we get to have a conversation about the issues involved, which helps everyone become better informed and more accepting: that's good! Censoring things prevents that opportunity for conversation. But a clip like this starts the conversation off on the wrong foot, so a backlash like this one is a grassroots way to steer the narrative back along more productive lines. This is a good, healthy process, and the recent incident is an example of redirecting the narrative gone right. Major media outlets do have a responsibility toward their audience, and especially the marginalized among their audience, in the things they publish, and reminding them of that is something that happens in a healthy civil society.


4. So we're not allowed to joke about this topic? That's bullshit! Humour comes from pain! If you're not offending someone, it's probably not funny.

You are allowed to joke about any topic. But there are certain ways to joke about topics, that will cause you to be called and considered an asshole. And you will deserve to be called an asshole. That's not censorship. It's cause and effect. Don't be an asshole. Simple.

And there are ways of joking about any topic that is funny and not hurtful. Adoption included. Sure, humour comes from pain, but comedy is funny because it's audacious, because it's shocking, because it challenges norms and assumptions we take for granted. It's culturally important because it speaks truth to power, taking the bigwigs down a notch by hiding darts under a layer of humour. What's shocking or audacious about kicking someone who's already down? Where's the sport in shooting sitting ducks? That reinforces the norms and entrenches power imbalances, instead of challenging them.

[Trigger warning: the following paragraph briefly discusses rape jokes]

The idea that humour comes from pain was an important part of a recent conversation on a different topic: that of rape jokes. Rape is a different issue, and I have so much respect for survivors of all kinds of sexual assault, and for those fighting for justice in that area. I'm nervous about bringing such a big and important thing into a post on a different topic, because I would never want to give the impression that I'm demeaning, dismissing, or minimizing sexual violence. That said, some of the articles written during that discourse about rape jokes include useful principles for other jokes based on painful experiences as well. If you're interested, read this one. Read and watch 15 rape jokes that work without marginalizing women or rape victims. Read "Anatomy of a successful rape joke." "When Rape Jokes are Never Funny" Basically, the rape jokes that work, do because they attack the structures and people in power: rape culture, or the rapists, or those who bully victims into silence. They point out how hypocritical or vile they are, in such a way that they look ridiculous instead of frightening. This pushes against a norm of silencing or shaming rape victims, who really don't deserve to be kicked around more after what they've been through. A rape joke doesn't have to silence, shame, or blame victims. See the examples in the link above if you don't believe me.

The ones holding the power in international adoption are not the adoptees. The adoptees are the ones who get silenced, or lectured, or infantilized, or put on display. The birth parents get blamed and demonized and disparaged. Silencing, lecturing, infantilizing or putting adoptees on display isn't anything new, so it lacks the surprise that makes good comedy funny.  Make fun of the agencies that profit from separating kids from their parents, or the social, economic and cultural institutions that put women at such a disadvantage that they feel they can't support a child. Or the policy-makers who found it easier to smooth the road for adoption agencies than to develop functional social safety net for families in less-than-ideal situations. Mock the media which turns adoptees' search for their families into a tawdry, humiliating, televised spectacle. Or the associations that beatify adoptive parents while demonizing birth parents as unfit or immoral. They deserve all the mockery they get. But not the adoptees or the parents. They have few enough notches already, that it's mean-spirited to take them down another.

"If you're not offending somebody, you're probably not funny"

Horseshit.

Find me someone offended by this. It is perfectly possible to be funny without offending people, and being offensive does not automatically mean you are funny. You can make a comedy show about a vulnerable group, that is actually funny, while also respecting the group. South Park's episode about Tourette's Syndrome checks all those boxes, and was even recognized by the Tourette Syndrome Association: while it focused too much on swearing outbursts (a not-that-common version of Tourette's), they conceded the show was "surprisingly well-researched" with "a surprising amount of accurate information conveyed" and parts of its plot serving as "a clever device for providing ... facts [about Tourette's] to the public." It can be done... people who do it (Louis CK or Sarah Silverman for example) amaze me, because tackling a sensitive topic while being respectful and also funny is a praiseworthy display of virtuousity. Any clumsy jackass can go for the cheap shot. So let's just throw that offensive/funny canard out the window.


5. But this skit was trying to satirize Korean adoptee shows, which create situations like this reunion. And it's a step forward that a comedy show is talking about adoption, rather than continuing the conspiracy of ashamed silence.

This is based on a facebook comment by the Metropolitician, Michael Hurt, a long-time resident, with kickass knowledge of the culture and language. It was far and away the most thoughtful critique of the SNL backlash. He argues that this skit mocks other adoptee reunion shows -- even the name of the program at the beginning (here's the actual program of the same name) -- references them. He argues that this mockery of a reunion scene will make it harder for the actual TV shows that trade on adoptee reunions, to continue putting adoptees on display and making their most personal moments into a schmaltzy scene, kind of the way Austin Powers mocked the conventions of the James Bond franchise so accurately that the franchise had to completely reinvent itself with a reboot to avoid self-parody and irrelevance, I think.

He finishes his long facebook comment with this:
Food for thought -- I think that staging the skit as a replay of an actual television show first meeting, which they often were, would be a bit too direct for the defamation-suit-minded media outlets here, especially given the fact that the title of the skit references a show South Koreans all know, and that staging it as a true first meeting in the airport, without the cameras and onlookers allowed for a chance to let the audience "off the hook" dramatically, since the parody of the melodramatic meeting slips into actual melodrama at the end, where you can hear real "awws" and such from the stdio audience. Works well and is perfectly crafted to the Korean audience that is indeed sick of this beaten-to-death trope as well, but still would like the comedy to feel "kind" and not mean, as is the wont (and want) of Korean audiences, methinks.
Personally, I think if that was the purpose of the skit, it fails to deliver, but I respect the argument and the way it was made, and the knowledge of the context out of which it comes. I don't think it's clear enough to viewers that those programs, and not adoptees themselves, were the target of the laughter, especially Jason Anderson speaks Korean in such a way that it sure comes across as "lol badly spoken Korean is SO funny!" If that was their goal, they probably should have thought about how the skit would "read" to adoptees who weren't fluent in the cultural idioms they were referencing, or added enough clues for them to be in on the joke. It wouldn't be the first time comedy has failed to cross cultural lines... but it becomes more confusing and fraught because adoptees were part of Korea's culture and society... until they got sent overseas. Ultimately, though, I'm not convinced that the skit has done enough work to deflect the mockery away from Jason Dooyoung Anderson, and onto the proper targets. Which might be a question of taste... but I think if that was the intention of the skit, it was poorly executed. Which is better than being purely ignorant or spiteful, but still troublesome.

That's the end of the commentary I want to make, so with one more mention that... holy cow it's awesome that adoptees took control of their own narrative with this incident, and all credit and praise go to them! I'm wrapping up this post.

Have a great one, friends.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

SNL Korea Video Mock Overseas Adoptees Searching For their Parents. Uncool.

Some might say, after the third case of blackface, we should stop getting overly worked up when SNL Korea does something bone-headed and offensive.

Well, others might say, after the third case, we should get even more worked up than the first time, because somebody's not pulling their heads out of their arses. Because SNL Korea just keeps throwing down stupid, insulting skits.

This video floated into my radar on Facebook.



It's a four minute clip of an overseas adoptee meeting his birth mother at the airport.

Here is an explanation of the video from AdoptionJustice.com, which has written a "Dear SNL Korea" letter you really must read:

The title is taken from a former TV show that showed adoptee reunions. The adopted character’s name is Jason Doo-yeong Anderson.
Announcer: Now I am going to meet you. Jason Doo-yeong Anderson.
Jason (in a stupid fake accent and very polite Korean): It’s nice to meet you, mom. I am Jason Doo-yeong Anderson.
(still in a stupid fake accent but now very rude Korean, making fun of the fact that is hard for English speakers to remember all the different levels of politeness built into the Korean language): Why did you abandon me? Were you extremely poor at that time? You will be punished because you abandoned your baby. OK OK, but I but I ….
(now speaking medium-polite Korean):  But I am OK. Because I am meeting mom now. OK OK listen.
(now speaking informal Korean, rude to his mom): I heard this from my American mom. I drink a lot because I take after my Korean mom. Like my mom. OK.
When Korean people drink alcohol, they sing and dance… So, you like some?
[Dances and sings]: Look at my shoulders [etc.]
You know this song?
(in rude Korean): You know this song? Oojima, omma. (Sounds like “don’t cry” or “don’t laugh.” He pronounces it weird so we don’t really know what he’s saying.)
Be sure to have one drink with me.
If I become an alcohol drinking dog, call daeri…. Call daeri, OK? OK, listen. [This is in reference to a service in Korea that you can call if you're drunk. Someone will come and drive you home in your own car.]
When I meet Mom, there is one thing I really want to show her. Taekwondo. Taekwondo, OK. Look at this. I practiced a lot.
Mom, let’s not be separated.

OK. I'm not an adoptee, but I care that adoptees, and others who have complicated relationships with mainstream Korean society and mainstream Korean identities, find a place of belonging, and a place of dignity here. So this article is my small contribution, in solidarity with my adoptee friends. Because it sucks when some asshat writers at some TV show make a whole group feel like they don't belong, or that they deserve to be mocked.

Gleaned from blog posts like this from PeaceShannon, a few facebook conversations, and my own read of the video, here are some of the things wrong with this:


  1. Mocking the attempts by foreigners to learn Korean (I'm not an adoptee, but I can relate to this at least... FU SNL Korea!), without mentioning the fact the reason some adoptees can't speak Korean is because they were sent away from their birth country and alienated from their birth culture. (Way to lighten that load of alienation, chums!)
  2. The mother never speaks or shows her face -- though in the frame for almost the whole skit, she's somehow forced out of the scene, dehumanising her, or minimising her relevance. As with actual birth mothers in many adoption discourses.
  3. Referencing that he takes after his mom because he drinks a lot - which is not a reach to connect to stereotypes regarding the loose morals of unwed mothers.
  4. Belittling the attempts overseas adoptees make to connect with their birth culture -- the awful taekwondo demonstration.
  5. Having an adult adoptee simper like a child, when media and government discourses are kind of known for patronizing adoptees as if even the adults were still children (a government minister declaring "I love you" to a conference of adoptees? Really? Note also the emotive language in the linked article.)
A lot of adoptees have tried and tried, unable to find their birth parents. I can't imagine how it would feel to see a sometimes painful and often difficult journey - one they may have dreamed of for their whole life, only to find that shoddy or falsified paperwork has made it so that only 2.7% of adoptees actually find their parents - trivialized this way. That's right. 2.7% (source) So for the 97.3% of adoptees who try to find their parents but can't, this is a mockery multiplied upon mockery. And really, really gross.

[Update]
Here are some responses from Reddit/r/Korea demonstrating the reason this skit is risible.







Mean was one of the words that came to my mind as well. Or perhaps cruel.

And that's the heart of it right there. My son is Korean and Canadian, and if I saw his efforts to make a connection with either of those cultures thrown back in his face like this skit does, I'd be fucking livid.

[Update over]

I now give the floor to adoptees - the actual people mocked in this skit, who are well capable of speaking for themselves.

Peace Shannon is a great blog to spend some time on, to get to understand why some adoptees are quite unhappy with how the Korean overseas adoption system runs. Some quotes:
lets mock the psychological and physical effort it took to reclaim some of it for themselves, like learning korean or taekwondo. this is particularly ridiculous that they’re mocking these efforts when they are expected of adoptees by koreans. you’re korean? why can’t you speak korean? and then one someone makes the effort, apparently that will be rewarded by laughing at your pronunciation.

Dear SNL Korea,   
I am so thankful that during my nine years living in Korea, I have met the most wonderful people...I am thankful to have met unwed mothers, overseas and domestic adoptees, people who grew up in orphanages, people with disabilities, GLBT people, mixed-race people, migrant workers, and people of all different classes and backgrounds in Korea. They have shown me what a diverse place Korea really is, and the great place that this could be if only the Korea public would become an open and welcoming society for all, free of prejudice and the perpetuation of negative stereotypes....
 [break... go read the whole thing]
SNL, your skit doesn’t make me think that all Koreans are ignorant bigots because luckily, I am already surrounded by amazing Koreans whom I know and love. However, I am not sure how this skit will be understood by the many overseas adoptees who have never been to Korea, may never get to Korea, and may never meet a Korean even once in their lives. 
And this chilling closing line:
"You may think that you are giving a funny representation of adoptees to Korea, but you have also have given us adoptees this representation of Korea and Koreans."


Thanks for making fun me of and the rest of the overseas Korean adoptees. I am one of these adoptees you are mocking the most. I do not speak any Korean and I have been searching for my family for some years now. I am spending my vacations searching for my family and for the culture that was taken away from me. I have spent many million won on my trips back to Korea. I do not think that I ever will feel 100 % Korean because I did not grew up in Korea, my birth country. Maybe my mom was not a saint, but why do you have to mock me and her for that? 
If I have missed any posts that deserve a link here, please let me know.

[Update II] GOAL (Global Overseas Adoptees' Link) has written an excellent, and gracious, open letter, here.

I will assume that this skit was born from ignorance rather than malicious intent because I can work with ignorance by helping to educate the writers, actors and producer on where they went wrong and explaining why this skit was hurtful to the many, many adoptees, Koreans, and birth family members that saw this. 
It was uncomfortable because adoptees didn’t have a choice in the adoption. ... It was uncomfortable because the actor who was portraying the adoptee Jason Dooyoung Anderson visually reinforces the idea that adoptees are pitiable in their efforts to grasp Korean concepts ... 
It was uncomfortable because a reunion between an adoptee and his or her birth parents is for many adoptees, a very, very long awaited moment in their lives. The SNL Korea skit made a mockery of that sacred moment and that hurts.
and this is the part that destroyed me:
It was uncomfortable because adoptees who have little to no information about their birth families bravely go on shows like 사람을 찾습니다, 지금 만나러 갑니다 or others knowing that the show is deliberately dramatizing the experience and milking the emotional moments for every tear they can get, but they allow themselves to be put on display for the entire country in a manner that can be embarrassing and humiliating because they have run out of options and these shows actually facilitate reunions. SNL Korea’s skit just piles onto that feeling of humiliation because it is mocking a setting where we already feel extremely vulnerable and discourages adoptees from using the media to assist with their reunion efforts.

GOAL has also just released an international press release on the topic, asking for an on-air apology, and suggesting that they be approached beforehand if SNL Korea is considering airing more adoptee-related content.
[End update]

And please reach out to SNL Korea on their Facebook page or their Twitter account @tvN_snl, in whichever language you know ('cause the world is watching) but Korean if you can ('cause the staff there has demonstrated enough ignorance recently that there may be doubts they can read anything else)

[Update: Another letter]

Follow-up in the next post.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

North Korean Women Today: Event on March 15th

During a class I took, we had a guest speaker, a member of a human rights NGO, talking about refugee human rights, trafficking and exploitation of the vulnerable, and she commented that of all the groups of disenfranchised people in the world, perhaps the most vulnerable she'd ever seen, the group forced through more horrible crap than any other, was North Korean female refugees. On the other hand, in North Korea, women are frequently becoming the household bread-winners, because they are less carefully scrutinized by the state than men, who are expected to work in industry or military roles. You can read an article Prof. Lankov wrote about North Korean women for the Korea Times here, where he writes that "North Korean grassroots capitalism has a female face".

On March 15th, an interesting event will take place near City Hall (see the press release for directions), featuring a lecture by my favorite North Korea commentator, Andrei Lankov, and presentations from three female North Korean refugees. It's titled "Don't Ask My Name" and it will discuss the roles women are playing in North Korea right now in North Korea.

The event's Facebook page is here.

Full disclosure: by telling you about this event on my blog... I get offered a free ticket. I'm not totally sure yet if I'll be able to attend, but if I do, you can tell me in person what a sellout I am!

I've written multiple times about North Korea (most recently two blog posts ago) and I'm happy to see discussions not just about Nuclear and Security issues, but also the stories and events of everyday North Korean life, which often suffers from a lack of attention.

So... come!