Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One last thought on blackface... for now

[Update: article on by Tiger JK - a member of Drunken Tiger - is REALLY worth reading]

After a long twitter discussion with someone who failed to see the problem with the blackface stuff, other than that it was tasteless and unfunny... two more thoughts.

1. YES. Fighting racist, insulting or degrading depictions of other cultures in Korean media is a worthwhile battle to fight, for this reason:

The things that are acceptable to show on TV are the things my kid grows up watching. The things that are put on TV, and the public discussions around what's OK, and why this was and that other thing wasn't OK to put on TV when kids can see it: these things set the norms for all media consumers in that society, for what's OK to talk about, to laugh at, and what we should be offended at. Those conversations about TV shows become conversations about what Uncle Vernon, or Uncle Chul-soo is OK to joke about and talk about around the dinner table as well, and helps kids decide Uncle Vernon is either a guy with strong opinions, or just a racist ass: media reflects, at the same time as it dictates, what the norms and taboos are for a society.

And after all content and jokes that degrade a particular group, or treat a group as inferior, are either removed from TV, or framed within public discussions about how it's not OK to degrade that group... after the media has moved beyond denigrating that group, and the dinner-table conversation reflects those norms, there's finally a chance kids in that media's society can grow up with a mindframe that is 100% non-discriminatory towards that group.

And that's the goal.

My twitter pal asked me, "Shouldn't you be fighting real battles about workplace discrimination, banking and working rights, to root out racism?" And I say the battle for a non-racist media and the battle for non-discriminatory treatment are one and the same. Because if a person has been raised in a media that respects all people groups (not ignores the fact there are people-groups, but acknowledges and respects the differences), you say "Well shouldn't a brown dude be able to get an iPhone in Korea?" and he'll go "Well, duh!" rather than throwing up a wall of cultural exceptionalist/ethnic stereotype defenses.

2. It's a fair point that not every nation's media is the same. Given the robust free speech in Denmark, and the robust public discussions about what's OK and not OK, I understand why people didn't think it was right to have a Fatwa declared against the muhammad cartoonist - because in that country, free speech is pretty well protected, and everybody gets their turn to be mocked, but everybody gets a platform to shout "I don't like what you said about me!"

The state of free speech in Korea isn't quite that strong: it's in the middle of the pack, press-freedom-wise, and every time Lee "Thin-Skin" Myungbak arrests or persecutes another blogger, podcaster or critic, I wonder how long it will be until Korea's media is truly free. And those who want  freedom to partake in "irresponsible reckless name-calling" are just as much in the wrong as those who would arrest them.

As for which media should be allowed to make which jokes, and when, I think a good rule of thumb is to put the shoe on the other foot. How would Koreans feel if East-Asians in the USA were still being portrayed like this:

Instead of like this:

Yeah that's what I thought.


Allofasudden said...

Very strong last point.

Wontaekalicious said...

lol even still east asians aren't really free from racism. We still receive a lot of stuff from others. For example, just recently Jeremy Lin was called chink by espn and a black basketball player said the attention of Jeremy Lin was only created because he is Asian.  Media? We are still portrayed as kongfu masters and faithful communists. Yay inner peace. I think we just care less of racial stereotypes. lol and its pretty interesting how something are racists while others are not. Wish you luck in fighting racism! 

Seoul stories said...

First I would like to say that I agree with
your comment on racism. But I would like to disagree on the “state of free
speech in Korea” part. The Korean media isn’t really controlled by the not so
bright and ugly, Lee Myung Bak. Rather it’s heavily influenced by Korean
conglomerates, Chaebol (재벌).

Altho I'm not a fan of Lee Myung Bak, there
is one thing that you have to take account in Korea. South Korea is still at
war with North Korea. It says in the North Korean constitution(?) that their
goal is to communize the Korean peninsula.

Yes, it says in our constitution that freedom
of speech, press and all that should be guaranteed, but in order to protect the
national security, freedom is sometimes taken away. And this can sometimes
justify the Korean gov’t’s act of arresting those who are considered as a
threat to national security.

Seoul stories said...

This is just a side note.

I don’t know if you know, but North Korean
propaganda internet sites are blocked by the cyber police. And believe it or
not, North Korean spies are deeply rooted in society. Although it’s not
publicly announced, there are army troops (i.e. Defense Security Command) that
specializes in finding and exterminating all North Korean spies, and troops
(777) that taps communications for finding spy activities, etc. 

roboseyo said...

I think that discussion about media portrayal of Asians in American media is starting to gain steam, WonTaekalicious. I'm very interested to see what comes next.

roboseyo said...

Chaebol, the President, anybody who wants to sue somebody despite the fact they're telling the truth: free speech in Korea is still years away.

I think ideally, the free speech laws would be protecting Koreans... but the laws are being used way too often, in cases where somebody simply said something the chaebol or government disliked, and exercising the laws without transparency or accountability, and that's uncool.

Guest said...

If South Koreans think they are better than blacks or Africans and so figuratively using this type of media as a whipping post to show Caucasians that they are "like them" in order to be accepted as a world leader....
New Flash South Korea, targeting any ethnic group for hate speech is a BAD IDEA.
For a generation that does not know or care to know about anything beyond "as long as I'm satisfied", what South Korea is doing is also known by come circles in America as, "Pissing in my your, and telling you it's raining."
Boycott Hallyu Now!

Ida said...

I remember when I was about 5 (I'm 22 now) I was dressed up for 'fastelavn' (Danish halloween) as a Chinese by having my face painted yellow with 'slanting eyes' (is that racist? i'm sorry if it is, i looked it up in a dictionary) and wearing a triangle hat and a robe. I walked around all day saying "ching chang chong". I have also been dressed up as a Native American by having my face painted red with stripes on the cheeks. I don't think my parents or anyone else thought of that as racist in any way. It is not until I started reading about Korea and their several 'Blackface' media scandals that I realized that it might be offensive. I guess Denmark haven't really had the same kinds of racism conflicts that have created public awareness around that subject. So I really didn't see the big problem. And then I got to thinking.. At my job (as a bartender) we have a sales competition, and the loosing team has to dress up as women for an entire shift. Not a big punishment for us female bartenders really. What do we do? Just wear our normal clothes? Or dress up as men? Still not really a punishment. But our male colleagues they REALLY don't want to loose! How EMBARRASSING to be dressed as a woman!! I have always felt kind of uncomfortable with that whole concept, since men dressing as woman will not only wear really skimpy outfits and overdone ugly makeup, but also act 'like woman' and walk around saying "I'm so pretty, buy me drinks, touch my breasts". I can't help but wonder... Is that really what they think of us?

BlueSae said...

 HELLO! they did not mean to discriminate a certain group. and what hate speech??? did you even read the last post by Roboseyo??? where in that video did you see any kind of hate speech?? please at least be relevant to the topic.
As a Korean I think Koreans are getting more aware of the implications of Blackface, especially after realizing that they can experience discrimination in western countries and can put themselves in other people's shoes. For a lot of Koreans, they think "well they look like that, so why is it wrong to dress ourselves and show their appearance?" but now that is changing.
Even in Japan I can see some videos of Blackface now and then, so it's not really a matter of cultural superiority, but a representation of cultural insensitivity or ignorance.

and hallyu has nothing to do with this seriously...

BlueSae said...

 well if you think about it, 2MB does know quite a few Jaebeols... (I hate the romanization of Chaebol so I don't use it) and 2MB does control the media. Freedom of speech in Korea has gotten worse even more after 2MB came to power... There are cases of people who got arrested for talking about specifics of Korea relating to economy or politics: Minerva who talked about Korean economy,  and the man who drew a mouse representing 2MB.

Guest said...


Just because you are Korean means absolutely nothing ….to me. 

BUT defending this form of "hate speech" speaks volumes of your character.  Incredulous comes to mind.  "You should be "ashamed" to defend this form of the delivery of such "hate".  For South Koreans to be touted as a “highly educated society”, this is mindboggling.  Here, educated yourself and your people:

Others have used it too in another form and, it’s quite effective.  It’s called "p r o p a g a n d a”. 

Guest said...

The newscaster that made that Jeremy Lin sly racist comment was fired was he not?

Guest said...

Boycott Hallyu Now!

roboseyo said...

Guest, making a lot of accusations is not a good way to encourage discussion: only defensiveness. Please adjust your tone or you will find your comments moderated, disemvoweled, or deleted.
Blackface is not's an image. Keep your accusations straight.

roboseyo said...

Really interesting comment, "Ida" - and I think your last comment - "Is that what they really think of us?" is the key to why blackface, or "yellowface" - which is a thing - is offensive, even when unintentional. 

If the picture that comes to one's mind when one thinks of Africans is bones in noses, or asians with squinty eyes and buckteeth -- or women the way your coworkers pictured them -- rather than thinking of images of the best role-models that group has to offer -- Nelson Mandelas and Akira Kurosawas and Aung San Suu Kyis and Marie Curies and Leymah Gbowees ( that demonstrates one's ignorance of that group of people, and possibly also one's contempt.

Guest said...

I think, by not seeing how egregious the tactics by SK broadcasters use of Blackface, you are giving them another “get out of jail free race card” to play Robseyo. 
Televised images today is form of communication be they void of spoken or written words.  These particular images are not only racist, but hateful.  Hence, it’s very connection to hate speech.  I am on point…..I’m not going into a debate on what speech is but I know when something is being “communicated” to me whether it be a signpost up ahead or a televised variety show….
You call me on the carpet regarding my comment?  Not a word to the guest that communicates, as though she knows and speaks for all South Koreans, that “South Koreans think all black people look that way” is very selective of you.

Won Taek Chung said...

Yes, but the basketball player still plays in the team. Plus Jeremy Lin didn't care if espn called him chink or not. 

It really matters how one perceives racism. Like for example, the video of the black faced Korean had a tag "미스리" some people said it was Missouri, where slavery was most intense. However, it was the name of the person acting. I guess its a psychological thing. The more sensitivity you have for something, the more likely it would occur. 

But, we should still acknowledge that it wasn't right for the Korean media to do so. 

roboseyo said...

Guest, I'm calling you on your tone, not your content.

Jenny Lee said...

For anyone who is interested, Tiger JK (of rap group Drunken Tiger, whose wife is half African-American) has written a piece for Allkpop on racial discrimination in Korea against Africans, and referenced the recent 'blackface' incident. Read it here:

Jenny Lee said...

oh and roboseyo, I laughed hard at the last two pics

yahoo-OU755L45KHA26J5T4GY53GDFPA said...

Just picking up on what Ida said and the thing about Denmark, has anyone ever seen the Danish computer game  "Mujaffa spillet", formerly known as "Perker spillet"? Look online, "Mujaffa" is a slightly less derogatory name for brown people in Danish than "perker". It's available on the Danish State television's website and has been for the last ten years or so.

Drive around Copenhagen as a black guy in a pimped up bouncey BMW trying to score white "pussy" for a quick BJ and get a final score for street cred where "green grocer" is the lowest and "gansta boss" the highest. Not exactly Sandra Oh in the positive portrayal stakes I think, but it has been hugely popular, especially with impressionable kids. I doubt it would be allowed in the US - oh man it would cause a shitstorm in the US, definitely NSFW - but then I doubt the US would have such an influential state funded broadcaster to start with. State funded broadcaster!!!!!

roboseyo said...

thanks for that link; I finally got to read it, and was quite impressed.

The Rain said...
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