I have to say, I thought I was done writing about this. I’ve done two posts about blackface in Korean entertainment, and I decided to step back from it. Last night a reader of this blog commented in one of those previous posts with another instance of blackface and I really just didn’t want to deal with it. I read the comment, rolled my eyes, and settled down in bed.
Nice try, I guess. Within minutes I was bringing up the link on my smartphone and…then I got pissed.
In the days that followed the gross display on Sebakwi, blackface in Korea got a lot of attention. I wrote my posts which has been read and linked so many times that it made my head spin, Tiger JK wrote an OpEd for AllKpop, a member of the online community Oh No They Didn’t wrote a post (that I found…problematic) on the topic that ended up getting profiled on Jezebel and even prompted a reaction in Korean media. The uproar was so loud that the producers of the show issued a apology. Sadly that apology amounted to little more than “oops we didn’t really mean that for you guys so sorry you were offended by something you don’t understand”.
Because clearly, I need a deep understanding of Korean culture in order to find this amusing. Or something. Guess what? Doing a parody of your already racist cartoon doesn’t make it less racist. In case I was unclear.
What irritated me so deeply while viewing the clip (aside from the content, which I’ll get to) was the feeling that none of it mattered. Do I expect a few blog posts and news articles to eradicate this kind of behavior? No. I live in a country where race and racism touch nearly every aspect of our culture and we still haven’t gotten it right. But that’s the difference between the things that go on in America and whats happening in South Korea. Racism is deeply woven in the fabric of American society. South Korea, doesn’t HAVE a racial history with black people. There are no long held belief systems to reset. There are no societal ills to correct. When “defenders” of these acts brush it off with “well, Koreans don’t understand” what that translates to is “we have no real explanation for mocking you…except its totes hilarious!” and I’m left asking why the ability to do this means so much to them. What would it hurt to say, if for no other reasons than public relations, ok maybe we should chill with the grease paint?
Back to the clip I watched this morning…
Its a double bonus of offense. Blackface AND mocking the dead. I’m not really sure whats so funny about Steve Jobs tossing out apples and I’m even more confused about what Whitney Houston has to do with this. If someone would like to school me on this, I’m listening.
Which is more than I can say for our friends in Korea.
Of course, its not just Korea. In the Philippines there is a tv program about a young mixed race girl. Sounds great right? Well until you get to the part where they coat the lovely young actress in the finest shoe polish to the point that she looks like a rejected Avatar…and called the show ‘Nita Negrita”. I’m also aware that there are issues with racism in Japan, China, etc. If AKB48 starts appearing in blackface I’m sure someone will alert me…although my initial reaction will be something along the lines of…well…thats the least problematic thing about them (I do not accept any responsibility for mental damage that comes from clicking that link).
Clearly, the answer is to not stop talking about this. I’m ashamed of myself that I was so willing to wash my hands of the matter while still being an eager consumer of the media South Korea is pushing out to the world. I do not have to accept being mocked and made fun of (while losing precious hours of sleep) by the people profiting off my interest. And if this keeps up the Hallyu Wave will be about as effective as a knotted garden hose. Do better.