The video keeps getting blocked on copyright grounds, so I can’t show you the video, but MBC had a blackface skit on their show “Quiz that Changes the World” And black face isn’t OK.
I’d like to lay this out clearly for the Korean media folks:
You, collectively, get to plead ignorance ONCE. Once altogether. Not once every three years: there’s no reboot button. There are areas where you are supposed to have learned the lesson, and then not do it anymore. And portraying other colors and other cultures in ways that are crass and insulting is one of those areas.
After that first “oh, we didn’t realize,” the free pass has expired. Forever.
In the USA, white actors would play wildly stereotyped black characters by painting their faces. If you look at the makeup on theMBC show – all the way down to the white space around the lips — it looks like the people who did this blackface knew enough about blackface to make sure the Korean singers’ makeup was identifiable as classic blackface. The ignorance plea doesn’t wash.
To compare: (source)
Notice also the TV Station logo on the top right.
The caption at the bottom: one of the blackface painted actors shouts “I love you Korea!”
They’re supposed to be dressed as a cartoon character.
And you don’t get to say “Oh. That was another TV station/studio/music company that did blackface last time: they should have learned their lesson, but we can hardly be blamed…” Because you have people in your company who have been in the industry, who have been paying attention to the industry, since the last time some dummy did this. (in January)
So wake up, Korean media people. Because your stuff gets put on Youtube, gets watched by the expats living in Korea. Wake up, because a month after Girls’ Generation got on Letterman, and (as is hoped) a whole bunch of new people started to pay attention to The Korean Wave, and began to be interested in Korea… here’s what they see:
Embarrassing for all the people trying to promote Korea overseas, to change and improve the image of the country.
Not all Koreans are racist. But Korea’s media makes Korea look like a racist backwater from time to time. And that’s not accurate, and Koreans don’t want to have that image.
And the Koreans who aren’t racist, have to make a lot of noise when this happens, so that it doesn’t happen again, so that it doesn’t take letters from the NAACP or the Simon Weisenthal Center to cause a retraction or an apology.
Oh, but tu quoque, Roboseyo: you see, Billy Crystal wore blackface at the Oscars! Yes. He did. And he got called on it, a lot, because blackface just isn’t acceptable. When “chinky eyes” got drawn on a Starbucks cup in America, it caused a bloggy firestorm. Because while America clearly hasn’t solved racism (that’s not how these things work anyway), America DOES talk about these things, and everyone can learn where the lines are drawn, because everybody is witness, or party, to these discussions.
It was just a little over a month ago – ONLY A FREAKING MONTH since since the last blackface mess on Korean Television. (SNL Korea’s blackface Dreamgirls skit). That time I was talking about the ambiguities on the radio — why should American cultural sensitivities be suddenly forced on the entire world’s media, just because someone might put something on Youtube?…
But when I look at these images, and this video… such attempts to contextualize go out the window.
Look at the video above. This is not a video that would only offend Americans sensitized to blackface. Look at these pictures. Find me an African who doesn’t find that offensive. (source)
How about this music video? (Bubble Sisters were 2003.
How about this fried chicken commercial? (Uploaded 2009; not sure when it aired)
This no longer strikes me as an isolated incident. This strikes me as something Korean society needs to have a soul-searching discussion about.
Because if foreigners wearing hanboks is the only acceptable way to put foreigners on TV in Korea — either in Hanboks, or with bones in their noses… Korea really, SERIOUSLY needs to talk about portraying non-Koreans in the media, in a way that treats them as humans, as adults, as thinking, feeling beings, and not just as embodiments of stereotypes, (source)
as a validating foreign gaze,
… if those are the only images foreigners get in domestic Korean media, we’ll have another generation growing up who are unable to think of Korea’s relationship with the world in any frame other than “us and them” and that’s not a healthy attitude for a country that wants to be a global player.
The cultural argument needs consideration: last time around, I argued it’s ethnocentric to say the whole world must ascribe to our values of what’s offensive… but it’s also ethnocentric, and just disrespectful, to say “because we’re a different culture, we’re allowed to mock your racial/ethnic/gender identity group as much as we like. You just don’t understand us.” (And it’s dishonest to continue hiding behind “We don’t know any better” (you get to play that card once) or “You weren’t the audience” (that’s not how things work in the hyper-connected information age. Everybody sees everything all the time). Does Korea really want to be considered an elite/advanced nation? Then set that “Korea’s still a developing country” excuse to rest and start taking ownership.
So between the type of tunnel vision that says “Everything that offends me must disappear from everywhere” and the type of tunnel vision that says “Because we don’t share every aspect of your cultural history, we’re allowed to brazenly continue practices that we are well aware are offensive to a lot of people” we need to find a middle ground where all involved groups feel they’re being respected. It needs to be a reciprocal conversation: not just a dictation of one group’s views to another group, and it must be met with respectful listening, on both sides.
And the way to find that middle ground is to talk about it. Continually — these kinds of discussions are never completely finished (see Billy Crystal), but every time we revisit the same themes, we’ve come a little farther, learned a little more, and are more likely to get things right. So let’s talk about it. In English, and also in Korean.
Because here’s what happens next: Korea’s One Use Only “Get out of Jail Free” ignorance card has already been played (back in freaking 2003, when the Bubble Sisters used blackface)
Now that the free pass has already been used, every subsequent time garbage like this gets on Korean television, or in Korean newspapers, bloggers are going to write about it. And send letters to groups like the Simon Weisenthal Center and the NAACP about it, and contact the journalists we know, and share it on facebook and twitter. And cause as much embarrassment as possible for korea, until the TV producers who say “Yeah, sure, paint her face black. It’ll be funny.” Stop saying that.
Until the KTO or JYP has a sit-down with the chairperson of MBC and says “Stop undoing our efforts to export Korea’s culture with your racist brain-farts.”
And while we’re here, let’s not forget: there’s already an anti-Hallyu backlash in Japan, and other places. As Block B discovered, it doesn’t take much to get an entire nation up in arms at a perceived slight (see also: Jay Leno’s dog eating joke and here), and you never know when this or that story unexpectedly goes viral. If MBC decides to mock the Thai, or Filipinos, or Vietnamese, next time their variety shows can’t think of a joke, if the next target are some dirty Chinese instead of some blackface pickaninnies, that rumbling anti-Hallyu backlash in those places could crystallize into something too big, and too angry, for an apology video to smooth over.
Korea wanted a place on the world stage. Well, now that you’re here, this is what happens. Everybody watches everything, and you don’t get to hide your dirty laundry anymore. There are no more secret shames, so let’s hope Korean TV programmers, music video producers, and the like, start treating non-Korean cultures with a little more respect and responsibility.
We haven’t forgotten about you, T-ara. Don’t worry.
You can view the original post at Roboseyo.