Well, obviously, there's no single answer to that question. But in my research, I come across a lot of interesting little tidbits that offer little insights. When you put together a lot of tidbits and organize those insights, you get an idea, a thesis, you see a pattern. A few years ago, flipping through a middle school English dictionary that I lifted from the school from my 2 years spent as an English teacher in a little school on Cheju Island, I got a glimpse of why my students – innocent as they were – seemed to have to most screwed-up ideas about black people. With the help of the trusty scanner I bought to help get some images I need for the book, I offer you a few sample entries from that book that seemed to form a fishy pattern of racial and gender representation. And since a picture's worth a thousand words, for an innocent middle school kid in Korean during the 1990's, materials like these spoke volumes.
So these are the kids who are now in their mid-20's – when you look at even a small sample of what they were learning from, the ideas held by a lot of people – the patterns in thought, speech, expression you hear about you – seem to make a lot more sense, considering the context of their educational content.
Here's the cover of the book in question. I'll get the publisher's card in the back later.
"A" is for Africa, where there are no people, just lions.
Americans are white, kinda standoffish?
All the pictures in the book tend to be of white people, especially when it comes to the question of positive words and body parts.
All's fun in the land of cotton, eh? Couldn't we get a picture of a cotton puff, or the plant? Negro, please.
The comfortable and familiar colonial relationship between civilized and savage.
Interesting that "Korean" is the reification of "tradition." What about a Korean scientist? A Korean greeting a non-Korean? A Korean standing in front of the Kyeongbokkung? Interesting again, given the fact that almost all of the other people in the book are white, although it's made by a Korean company.
You know, us niggers got some big-ass lips! Fo' sho'!
Uncivilized, bone-in-the-nose, savage. Uga buga!
Lord have mercy. This is just beyond any attempt at witty commentary.
It's no mystery why plastic surgery has fast become a standard rite of passage. Any pretty Koreans out there? Guess not.
Daddy Warbucks. "The rich are not always happy." He sho' looks happy, do'.
Whole lotta mess here. Schoolgirls, schoolboys, scientists – normal and positive is white in this book.
Hmm. A white master holding a whip over slaves who look kinda...white? Whitewashing, anyone? Oh, while totally and uncritically reinforcing notions of natural superiority over blacks.
Gender norms. My sister makes clothes for me to wear, cleans the house. Most images reinforce clear gender roles in this dictionary.
OK, boys and girls. White is good, white is wise, the white president lives in the white house, nurses are pure and white, white people are attacked by Indians?!
As natives clearly stand on their own turf and probably have a basic Freudian sense of id and self, as a European ship comes up over the horizon, the natives were discovered by the outsider and revealed to them as...themselves?
Pretty scary stuff people. Problematic historical representations, the complete dismissal of any agency or self-awareness on the part of the "coloreds" and "natives," combined insidiously with the normalization of whiteness itself – to Korean people – are all the foundation for further implications about the nature of racial hierarchy that is presented as natural in the US and stretches all the way to Korea.
Is it any wonder Korean people still have the most screwed-up opinions about black people? Here's a recent article "critical" of Koreans' attitudes – but look at the frickin' drawing. Even on Hines Ward's worst day, does he look like the animalisitic drawings here? Lawd.
Sheee-it. If I had beeneducated in Korean school and picked up similar signals throughout Korean society, I wouldn't talk to me neither. I would have to practice spitting upon myself, though.