Friday, June 01, 2012

Racist MBC Video: Some Perspective and Marching Orders

Scroozle has posted a subtitled (translated) version of a video made by MBC, one of Korea's major broadcasting corporations, about "The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners."

The video is exploding on Facebook, and I dare not open my twitter stream...

I have a few thoughts about this piece, and a few ideas about how to respond effectively. I'll try to be as brief as I can.

But first...
Meet Babyseyo. I don't want him to grow up in a country that tells him his mother was a victim of his father.

1. Things are getting better.
As upset as we all are, things are getting better here in Korea, when it comes to this kind of race-baiting.

In 2005, SBS ran an episode of a show based on a controversial post at a website called "English Spectrum" (that post) (that episode)
And this happened. (Chosun Ilbo)

Immediately after the broadcast, the bulletin board on the program's website was flooded with over 1,000 furious posts. "I was so infuriated after the broadcast that I couldn't sleep," one read. "I'm frightened to send my children to an English academy," read another. "Foreign language institutes must do some soul-searching," said a user giving their name as Han Seon-yeong. "We must quickly deport all those low-quality foreign English teachers who try to pick up girls near Hongik University or Apgujeong." 
The extreme nature of some of the attacks has led to concerns for the safety of foreign residents in Korea. "After watching the broadcast, I began to look differently at the native English speaker who teaches in the elementary school where I work and the Korean English teacher who works in the same classroom," a user giving her name as Yun Eun-hwa said.
This time, when MBC does another hit piece, according to Busan Haps, "The video has spawned thousands of comments, overwhelmingly negative, against the broadcaster, with thousands of views and over 600 video shares in a matter of hours."

Comparing the release of photos from 2005's "Playboy Party," which inspired the Anti-English Spectrum, and for example, the appearance of the "See These Rocks" video, which got a week or so of coverage, maximum, and then kind of faded from memory as After School released a new video or something... things are getting a LOT better. Let's remember that, and be willing to mention that when we talk with people about this video.

When the awful awful Suwon rape/murder/dismemberment story was in the news, we got "Half of Foreigners Still Not Fingerprinted" (Chosun), but we also got "Don't Paint All Foreign Workers With Same Brush"

That said... a video like this is still bad, and wrong, and DOES merit a response, every time, until MBC and other outlets figure out that "Korea doesn't roll that way anymore."

Interestingly, a quick scan of headlines shows that the Chosun (the conservative paper) is more likely to  race-bait than the Hankyoreh, the most influential progressive paper.

Oh... and Scroozle mentions the 2018 Olympics, as in "Korea's on the global stage now... this kind of thing won't wash anymore" ... sorry to say it, but the 1988 Olympics were awarded to Seoul barely more than a year after Chun Doo-hwan had massacred hundreds and maybe thousands of democracy protesters in Gwangju, and a mere two years after Tiannanmen Square, the head of the IOC was encouraging China to put in a bid for the 2000 Olympic games that went to Sydney. As blind eyes go, the IOC clearly knows where their bread is buttered, and will cheerfully turn a blind eye to this, and secretly high-five each-other if this is the worst thing they have to ignore in the build-up to Pyeongchang 2018.

2. Let's not forget foreign men are not the only victim of this video...
Along with the old "Korea throwing Foreigners under the bus" thing, let's not forget, and let's be quite loud in voicing the other major problem with this video: the way it treats Korean women as if they are idiots with no self-agency, ripe and passive victims to the blue-eyed voodoo of white males. 

Because this video is just as much about women being easily duped and victimized, as it is about foreign men, and the idea that Korean women are helpless, faced with foreign men, is insulting to the intelligence and freedom of Korean women. It also has hints of possessiveness -- "they're OUR women..." which is also insulting and degrading to Korea's smart, dynamic, diverse, well-educated and self-determining females.

3. The ideal response (to this video)
There's a facebook group that appeared really suddenly, and has amassed over 4500 members as of this writing. They are talking about different ways foreigners could respond to this video. There aren't enough of us to make a boycott matter. E-visa holders run the risk of deportation if they protest something openly. Crashing MBC's website won't do much good in the long run.

So what IS needed?

Well, to begin with, it'd be awesome if there were a civic group in Korea, composed of expats and migrants, who basically acted as a watchdog for stuff like this. An anti-defamation league of language-savvy expats keeping an eye on media in general, publicizing cases, and making sure that racism in Korean media doesn't pass unchecked. But that doesn't exist yet.

I think the most powerful response to a video like this would be another video. A video that reminds MBC of the impact of spreading hateful messages. A video of long-term expats who speak Korean. Or who have families: multicultural families with kids who are Korean citizens, who attend Korean schools, who speak Korean, who have Korean grandmothers and grandfathers who adore them. Speaking to a MBC, and the rest, in Korean, saying, "Don't tell Koreans my father has HIV. Don't tell Koreans my mother is probably a criminal. Don't tell Koreans my wife is a victim. I CHOSE to marry my foreign wife. I CHOSE to marry my foreign husband, because we love each other. Pretending foreigners are all criminals hurts Korean families. It hurts your kid's teacher. It hurts the fathers and mothers of Korea's next generation. It teaches children to hate people, and hate hurts Korea."

Cue slideshow of cute biracial kids playing with their fathers, mothers, and grandparents.

It wouldn't take that much to put together such a video: the cooperation of a handful of multicultural families, a photo editor, a video editor, and someone who's bilingual and has a nice narrator's voice. That's it. If you're interested in being one of those people, e-mail me.

3.1 The ideal long-term response

The long-term response has to be two-pronged, because there are two main ways Koreans decide what they think about foreigners: the foreigners they hear about from politicians or TV shows (the macro level), and the foreigners they meet (the micro level).

3.1.1 At the macro-level (policy, laws, and media representations), here's what we need:

A. A group of expats, migrants and sympathetic Koreans who...
B. form an "anti-defamation league" or something like it, that... 
C. watches, and responds, to things like this. Every time. And... 
D. sends out press releases and communications in Korean,...
E. builds ongoing connections and relationships with the bureaucrats and politicians making policy choices about Korea's expat populations...
E. informs the expat community (in their languages) about what's going on, and...
F. perhaps also stages events or...
G. produces materials (classroom lessons, instructional videos, awareness PSAs) that...
H. raise awareness that expats in Korea have a voice, and are stakeholders in Korea, too.

It would be good if some members or allies of this group were long-term, well-connected expats. People who have published books about Korea, or who have sat across from government ministers or top policy makers to talk about these things.
If there were enough, nobody would have to carry the main part of the work load. And when the group is starting out, it wouldn't have to perform ALL those tasks: some would be for a future time when the group is better established. 
It would be good if this group were connected with the embassies of the various countries that send expats and migrants to Korea.

It is CRUCIAL that this group comprise members from EVERY country that sends a lot of expats to Korea. Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand? Yeah sure. Also Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, China, Russia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. First world expats often forget our migrant/expat status makes gives us more in common with citizens of these other countries than we realize. Our voices are stronger if we're unified.

These kinds of organizations and movements will probably have to be organized and powered by long-term Korea residents: people with families here, for whom it's WORTH fighting the good fight. People with the language skill to complain in the language of the land, so it gets heard. Short-term residents will, I'm sure, be welcome to lend their energy to this kind of cause, but the stability needed to build the kinds of relationships that will lead to an expat anti-defamation league having a legitimate voice will be provided by long-termers.

3.1.2 At the micro level:

There have been other times I've written long lists of things that are good to do, or things that are bad to do, and ways to avoid alienating potential Korean friends (who are also potential allies). 

So have others. (best one by Paul Ajosshi: "Don't be a wanker")

Also: a quick reminder, especially for non-Asian males: NEVER talk about Korean women to a journalist. They won't necessarily identify themselves as a journalist, if crap as shady as this video gets made (it looks like they were holding the camera at their side, perhaps pretending it wasn't on, when interviewing a few of these people), so watch for hidden cameras and intrusive questions, and remember: in Korea, it's OK to do all kinds of fun stuff, as long as you don't talk about it.

So for now, I'll encourage you to check links, and just say again, that we're all ambassadors, wherever we go. For our home countries, and for the idea of multiculturalism and change in Korea in general. Just, kinda, remember that, maybe?
4. Who are our allies?

We have tons of potential allies, and the sooner we can get organized enough to start reaching out to these different groups, the better off it will be for us.

Among our potential allies:

Parents of english students.

Hogwan owners.

Members of the conservative party who are advocating for multiculturalism and globalization - multiculturalism policy is part of LMB's big plan for "Korea Branding."

Non-first-world expats and migrants living in Korea

The progressives who are arguing the social welfare and social support side of the multiculturalism issue, in terms of marriage migrants.

The ministry of gender equality and family (both on the scapegoating Korean women side, and the multicultural families side)

Chambers of Commerce from countries trying to run or establish foreign owned companies in Korea, or trying to employ foreign experts and professionals in Korea

The Canadian, American, South African, Australian, New Zealand, British, Irish, Indonesian, Philippine, Thai, Cambodian, Chinese, and Vietnamese embassies (all countries that send expats to Korea, and have to deal with expats who end up in bad situations because of racist acts or laws)

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea.

And more, I'm sure.

In closing

My views on Korea's expat community have changed over the years. I'm not as optimistic as I was before I joined ATEK, and before ATEK crapped the bed. 

We're a fractious and diffuse community, in a lot of ways, and too many of us are transient. I've written about expat community here, and here: I stand by most of my points in these two community self-assessment-ish posts.  The first one.  The second one.

But it doesn't take THAT many people to form an anti-defamation league, if the right skills (language, writing) are present. And if such a group turned out to have the moral support of tens of thousands of first and second-world migrant workers... that'd be a pretty powerful thing. And a useful thing. And a thing Korea needs, if Korea is to continue down the same road towards being an increasingly diverse society.


Roboseyo said...

Anti-defamation league... hmm... reminds me of something a certain host said on the SeoulPodcast a few years ago...

Roboseyo said...

Does Korea have a broadcasting complaints commission or something? I'm sure that facebook group could stick up the link, address, or whatever, and a canned letter of disapproval could be passed on. 

FWIW I haven't shown my wife yet, and I'm afraid to, because she will get pissed off! It's difficult enough for women happily and lovingly married to a foreigner (regardless of ethnicity) for several years with people staring and giving dirty looks on public transport, without having to deal with the same starers and dirty lookers carrying on with this kind of justification backing them up. 

Roboseyo said...

Conor, there is (I had to deal with them before), and maybe tomorrow I'll look for it. 

Don't show your wife. Why does she have to know? This was some stupid, stupid, sh¡t that should never have made it to air and which deserves to be criticized vociferously, but what good comes from showing your wife? 

By way of analogy, I was recently forwarded a link to a conservative "news blog" where they reported on a public school in New York City that was going to offer Arabic (it was mistakenly reported that it would be mandatory) in order for them to get the International Baccalaureate qualification. The "news" piece was bad enough, calling this a first stem in Islamification (never mind that two-thirds of Arab-Americans are Christian), but the hundreds of comments that followed were the ugliest of screeds. 

What would you tell me if I asked if I should forward that to my Arab-American friend? 

MBC needs to be called out, and Scroozle is right that this is utterly wrong given that Korea is going to host the Olympics in just a few years, but folks might end up making themselves more miserable by internalizing the crap experienced (or in this case, perpetrated) by others. 

Roboseyo said...

My friend has just posted this on the FB group, but for those reading this comment here:

If anyone wishes to file a formal complaint, this is where it can be done: 방송통신위환회 (I believe it's the Korean Broadcast Commission) 02-750-1114 2 for English.

Roboseyo said...

Msleetobe, that is exactly who I was thinking of. Thanks for saving me the time. 

Roboseyo said...

You're right, Joe. You've been on about a foreign anti-defamation league longer than anyone else I know.
I think.

Roboseyo said...

Is there any way to create a tumblr or blogspot webpage with all those lovely facebook photos of interracial couples and their families and the various comments they left saying how the MBC video upset them?

As many have observed those photos themselves are very powerful and moving. A recent KH article mentions them explaining,

". . . some posted pictures of their families to show how such relationships could be positive.

has been revealed (if you will) is the real story behind mixed
relationships in Korea, and what a truly heart-warming story it is. . . ."

 It would be very effective to share this heartwarming story beyond the facebook group.   

Roboseyo said...

I thought Korea had moved on from these views many years ago, but obviously this 'issue' still resonates with conservatives. On the other hand, I do see plenty of positive portraits of foreign hubands and wives in KBS 2 documentaries. 
In any case I have yet to experience a negative reaction towards my mixed family.
What would be really great is if there was a minor character in a K-Drama representing a forign boyfriend/husband.

Roboseyo said...

"Don't show your wife. Why does she have to know?"
Because she probably knows how to speak and write Korean and can therefore make the complaint or work in the future, perhaps with an anti-defamation league.  If you read the post above, you'd see that allies are needed.  If the allies don't know(see) the problem then how are they going to help?  What would you rather Conor do, have his wife read about your analogy or that tangent you went on?  Conor, don't sweep it under the rug as some might want.

Roboseyo said...

 Would you tell a woman not to tell her husband?

Roboseyo said...

There are many lovely things about Korea but there's no way in hell I'd ever risk raising a multiracial child here.

Roboseyo said...

Thanks for your perspective!

As a "newbie" expat, things like the MBC-video can be confusing (& a pain, because of the worry their explosion on FB inevitably causes one's family & friends back home!).
Of course, none of us come here expecting to find the Land of Milk & Honey, but it's still unsettling. Knowing that people with these extreme views exist caused me (for a while) to suspect every frowning/staring ajuma/ajosshi of judgement... & I'm sure that blocked the way to some positive/meaningful interaction with some of them.

Roboseyo said...

I love the part of the film that mentions how many Korean women try to meet foreign men to learn English.   I know that when I go to a bar, It's because I want to teach English to people.   They really got our numbers in this piece. 

I recommend that people watch Love in Asia.  That puts a more positive spin on South East Asian sex trafficking.

Roboseyo said...

 Actually you are wrong there.  My multiracial kid gets a kind of beneficial racism thrown his way.  College girls swoon over him.  He is kind of like the Korean version of young Pootie Tang.

Roboseyo said...

Thnanks Msleetobe. If you ask me, that is the way to deal with this. Complain by the bucket load and then get on with your life. 

Roboseyo said...

I didn't show her. I think as soon as I commented that it would be a waste of time. She has her own opinions and doesn't need further justification. 

Roboseyo said...

"Meet Babyseyo. I don't want him to grow up in a country that tells him his mother was a victim of his father."

I hope he doesn't mind having videos posted of him on the internet either.

Roboseyo said...

He doesn't. I asked. I was like "Hey baby. Is it OK if I put this clip on the internet?"
and he was like "Cool."
then he pooped, like, EVERYWHERE.

Roboseyo said...

I'd be interested in seeing that video.

Roboseyo said...

 Your kid is beautiful, obviously, but c'mon -- I'm talking about the choice between daily ridicule from fellow students and teachers as a "half-breed" or the delightful option of enrolling in a "foreigner ghetto" type of school.

Roboseyo said...

 Foreigner ghetto schools are actually too expensive, they generally cost about thirty thousand bucks a year.   Of course I worry about students and teachers ridiculing him, but that's usually how schools are in any country.  There always might be the chance that a kid will get bullied for racial reasons, but their also might be the chance that, that doesn't happen.  Besides, I live in the south where there are a lot of kids who are the products of Korean farmers and girls from Vietnam.  Those kids really have it rough, because they don't have the option of leaving. I get your point though, I don't intend to stay here for his middle school years.  I hope that my setting the example of not being afraid can be passed to him.  I believe in him, and I believe that he can deal with the adversity if there is any.  Besides, I've got his back, and that is a good thing since the other kids his age run away from me on the playground.

Roboseyo said...

there are two kinds of foreigner schools. there are the international schools, modeled after US or British schools, which are way expensive, and where the rich parents want to send their kids, to study in English and have a better shot at foreign university application. these are targeted at first world expats

then there are the foreign ghetto schools, where the poor or undocumented and underprivileged kids can go, because their moms didn't teach them to speak Korean well enough to avoid being bullied.

very different.

Roboseyo said...

 How common are these foreign ghetto schools?   Also, there are the D.O.J. schools, but you have to work for the American government to go to those.

Roboseyo said...

I would love to know why these types of things are always about Non-Korean men with Korean women. I've never once seen something about Korean MEN with Non-Korean women, such as myself, an American. Interesting.

Roboseyo said...

fantastic baby laugh.   definitely think you're on point about the video. any progress on that?