Japan Probe's got the skinny on some interesting videos of the offensive kind on Japanese TV. Here's the main vid, though for a better breakdown, you should go to to their site.
And back home – Rosie?
Damn, dude. I get the point of what you're trying to say, and it wasn't exactly Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's – that character ruins what is otherwise a timeless classic, since the politics of race at the time was so specific and vulgar – but still.
Damn, Rosie. You done fucked up. People's got a right to be mad.
I mean, after Michael Richards, you should have been more careful. Does Rosie strike me as racist? Given her overall record of what she stands for and what she actually does with her power and money, no. Is that schtick offensive? Hell, yes. Contradiction? I don't think so.
I had the same thing happen to me when a good friend of mine from back home had me over for dinner with a family I'd know since I was a kid. His mom's asked me how New Year's is celebrated in Korea, and she cheerily followed up with the question, "Do they sing like this – ching chong, ching chong...?"
I wasn't nearly as mortified as the rest of the family, who were also all white and whom I knew well. Dead silence, New Year's dinner in danger, awwwwkward – I could feel all the younger peeps at the table sending me mental messages of "Dude, I'm soooo sorry" – I could feel it. And I loved this woman, whose family had hosted and supported and especially – fed – me since before I had pimples. I knew and loved this family, I knew what they stood for, I knew my friend.
She got the message right there and then, and I'm sure someone read her the riot act after all was said and done. I know my back's covered with them, from my knowledge of them.
I think the same about Rosie. She's got a track record and her heart (and wallet) seems to be in the right place. But she is still a public figure, and she should have been more careful post-Michael Richards, on top of the fact that it wasn't an inpromptu outburst that got recorded on someone's camera phone, since the show was recorded and they mixed in that "gong" sound for when it went out.
That's the most disappointing thing.
You were trying to illustrate how the "foreign Asian language" sounds to you, then when you hear the only word you know – "Danny Devito" and "drunk" – you realize what is being talked about. Still – the history of the "ching chong" thing is sensitive, and you should know that it has always been used to mock and degrade Asian people in the US. Similar sounds are made in Japanese and Korean to put down Chinese people specifically, where there have also been anti-Chinese movements and sentiments related to those countries geo-political relationship with China (although the motivations were somewhat different, as part of an effort to break China's traditional intellectual and suzerain dominance and re-center the home nation). And I don't think Rosie had in her mind any geo-political relationships, the phantom specter of Chinese coolies, or fears from Japanese imports. I think she was trying to illustrate a point along the lines of "dig a hole all the way to China" and it came out in a really offensive way.
Anyway – I buy her apology. Does she "get it?" Well, maybe not on a level that highly-educated Asian American activists (a group of which I consider myself a member) might like, but she tells it straight, she dishes our accents and funny jabs at all comers, and she at least convinced me that a) she really didn't know, and b) that she actually cares a little bit about finding out. Whether or not I agree with the two Asian fangirls sitting in the audience the day of her apology about whether it was "funny", I do think that this is a case of comedy that pushed the wrong buttons and stepped over a line that Rosie didn't quite know about.
She replayed the clip in question, apologized, albeit in the context of comedy, which is what comedian do.
It's not Michael Richards yelling at the top of his lungs, talking about "this is what happens when you interrupt the white man" and "50 years ago we'd have upside down with a fucking fork stuck up your ass" and continuing to ridicule black members of the audience who were leaving and clearly expressing their disgust.
See, there was no "joke" as context. Richards' was just a racist rant. I agree with Paul Mooney (see this post and I apologize for reposting the video, but you can just scroll past it, you know) when he says that the biggest thing is the context – Richards, crucially, wasn't "joking."
And then he apologizes through clenched teeth (again, sorry for the repost of vid below, but you can skip or go to the original post).
In the end, the reason people reacted to Richards the way they did is because a) used threw a cultural H-bomb with the "N-word", which I like to just say "nigger", because I don't like euphemism nor obfuscation, b) he went far above the call of the word "nigger" itself and was talking about white male power, lynching, and his right to dominate other, and c) he wasn't being a comedian at that point.
And I think the nervous laughing you see in the video isn't people thinking he was funny – it was the last, hopeful titters of people who were praying that this was part of some act, that at some point they would be left off the hook. When one woman say "Oh, my God," that's about the point when people were realizing that indeed, he wasn't kidding.
Not that intent is everything – otherwise I wouldn't be asking people to sign the petition against racist imagery and buffoonery on Korean TV – but whether or not you knew better (which I think both Richards or KBS did) or apologized afterwards (which O'Donnell and even Richards did), is the point.
And context is crucial. Given what I know about my friend's parents, relatives, and friends, I can forgive a verbal overstep easily, because racist domination or stereotyped animosity is not what they're about. I have a context against which to compare the act, which in itself isn't egregious and goes against the grain of what that context tells me.
But in the Korean case, the context of stereotypical and racist representations – many of which result in the vast number of non-reported incidents of mental and physical violence against foreigners as the diect result of misinformation and misreporting on the part of the Korean media over real incidents, such as the middle school girls' deaths or the Shinchon stabbing incident, as well as the ongoing pattern of racist representations I've seen in Korean entertainment of all types of foreigners, from some biracial black/Korean singer named something like "Mambuggi" or some such back in the 90's, or pretty much any ad with a black person as a savage (which is pretty much any ad with a black person), the Bubble Sisters' blackface bullshit, and up to now – the context of Koreans' views of other races is positively arrogant, condescending, stereotypical, and absolutely used to justify action or treatment in the real world.
Rosie mentioned that she didn't know that Asian kids on the playground were teased with just those words. She expressed that she didn't know about the historical context. I'll take her at her word.
But we all know the context here, and the "we have never had a history of interaction with foreigners" line is old – as old as many of the mostly black and brown foreign laborers who've been working in Korea for quite a long time, some of them for more than 15-20 years.
They are here, but such images continue to otherize and psychologically exclude them, which is why elementary school principals don't admit brown kids to their schools ("it'd be too hard on the kids"), hagwons don't like to hire black people ("it's not us, it's the moms"), or why foreign guys are sometimes assaulted without any provocation ("that asshole is taking our innocent women").
That's all racism. That's how it works.
Ideology masks the working of structure and keep the smart foreigners who speak Korean out of the public eye except as dancing, singing clowns or as the expected English teachers. Is it really any surprise then, that Koreans always seem consistently surprised that I speak Korean and I don't do any of those things?
It's not that Korean innocently "hasn't come into contact with foreigners and don't know what to do" but rather that such images and stereotypes dehumanize and objectify foreigners in a way that keeps them at arms' length, that keeps them foreign.
Hello?! Koreans interact with and see foreigners every day, everywhere they go – in the now. Today. In schools, hagwons, on the streets, in the subways, on the bus, in the sauna, etc. Every day, everywhere you go.
Ideology is what drives the wedge between us, is what makes a pattern that no individual Korean sees, but what I know as reality. Here's one:
On any form of public transportation, Korean girls never sit next to me. Ever. Even if there's a clearly open seat and she's the only one standing in the car, she prefers to stand. Beyond how that makes me feel – I'm sooo over that, trust me, I've been living here for 7 years so I'm not shedding tears here – I bring this up to ask the questions: What is she afraid of? Where did she get the ideas that are obviously going through her head? Yes, there are other things going on there as well, especially as they related to gender and propriety in general, but the fact remains – only ajumma and men sit next to me.
I've heard, especially in the countryside, women pass me by and whisper, "Scary."
I've been on dates with women who say, while sitting there eating dinner, "I'm not fast like American women. You have to understand that cultural difference." What? Was I gonna jump her after the appetizer?
When I press her on what she's talking about, one woman answers, "Well, I see how people act on Friends, Sex and the City, and I've seen My Best Friend's Wedding." Grrr. You'd be surprised at how common such statements are.
Before you laugh away what you see as trivialities, remember that these are the easy, superficial stereotypes – not the ones that cause irritation and anger when none should be present. That's why I tell my friends to not mention my race when they refer me for a job – I just tell them to let me handle it.
Yeah, a lot of it started with the American media. But my point is that it didn't end there, and Korean televisions stations and producer do know better. They simply do.
These people are not average viewers. They assiduously keep up with the media produced in their field. A Korean friend who works in a major media company told me of TV producer friends who travel to Japan for a week and hole up in the hotel and just watch and make notes on the shows there the entire time. They just check in, order in, and take in. They study. They prepare.
(And they've made it into the "Blackface Database." Cool! Dae~han minguk!")
Like the Bubble Sisters. In order to even reproduce the pickininnies and jigaboos they nearly perfectly replicated, with the hairstyles, makeup, and even the infantialized image of them in baby pajamas, they had to do the research. Those PD's went online, they found all the pictures – shit, I probably know the pictures they likely looked at – but they ignored the context. They actively ignored it.
You cannot go online and find pictures of blackface and miss the fact that this was a racist representation from America's racist past and that it is universally condemned as an embarrassing cultural curio that even Bugs Bunny and Warner Bros. doesn't want released in its archival sets of cartoons. You can't miss that shit. But you can ignore it when you want to make a buck.
Al Jolson, 1927.
And producers on that show could not have missed having heard about the Bubble Sisters' debacle, even if the general Korean viewer doesn't have a clue. That's because they know. They can't not know and still know what the hell's going on in their industry.
The point is that we need to hold these Korean producers and stations up to a higher degree of scrutiny because they know and need to be held accountable for their actions. Note that KBS didn't even try the "we didn't know approach" but the "oh, come on, it's funny" one.
And remember – so far, they're not even sorry. Rosie and even Richards are technically "sorry."
Which is why, from an outsider's point of view, Korea and Japan are the same when it comes to treatment of and representation of foreigners. But at least Japan has an excuse – they were an imperialist power and that particular ideology and its remaining strands didn't/doesn't apologize for it. Both countries are facing a change in national identity, especially in relation to low birth rates, an undeniable need for foreign labor, and actually relatively high rates of international/interracial marriage.
And the recent reactions are taking shape not along the lines of "we didn't know" but rather "we don't like foreigners."
It seems that now, on another level besides that of seeming addiction to the sex industry, extreme ethnic nationalism, and question of war crimes (Vietnam for South Korea, Korea for Japan), Japan was a far more effective colonial master than Koreans would like to believe.
Here's another one where a lot of foreigners tend to go, Shinchon. My friend took me to visit there, where he is well-known for his "No foreigners" policy – when I asked him in Korean if the sign was really true, he was rude and dismissive, and told me to "Mind my manners." I snapped his picture and told him to stop being a racist. Nyah!
All this, over some darts. Well, it'd be silly of me to start a petition to "Demand an Apology from the Dart Game Guy Who Illegally Runs a Business Without a Permit in front of the Hyeon Woo Pharmacy behind the Lotte Department Store Parking Lot", so I'll just leave it to you to directly take up any request for grievances. I'm sure he'd love the additional attention.
I'm sure the Korean people would like to know how much even a single such "cultural ambassador" can do for foreigners' impressions of Korea, especially in such a public area? Hmm. Millions of dollars spend on empty world cup slogans, "smile campaigns", and propagandistic commercials...or...a smart slap in the face when you want to do something as harmless as play some darts? All that good will and investment gets canceled in an instant when you feel stupid xenophobia or discrimination hit you in the face.
And people wonder why many foreigners leave with not so good an impression of Korea. Whether you have a perceived or actual slight – you hate the US military or a foreign dude gave you a dirty look – it doesn't give you carte blanche to hate entire people's and discriminate against them. It's really just an excuse that enables a pre-existing disposition – let's get real. Are all Japanese right now responsible for the Pacific War? Are all Korean people responsible for the actions of their president? How would Koreans feel if Vietnamese started calling in grudges? Korean tourists getting attacked on the streets for the sins of their fathers. I'm sure somebody would walk around pointing out – rightly – that this is a bit unfair.
Even the legitimate gripes can't turn into mere excuses to be ignorant, violent, or just plain nasty. That's just being fucked up, except with an excuse.
Anyway, I know there are a lot of people who ain't like this guy in Shinchon, or the owner of Zeno's in the CIty Hall subway stop (who incidentally, I noticed, allowed 60 Minutes to conduct an interview in there while they did a story ON anti-Americanism, which seems pretty hypocritical to me, dog) but you get enough little slaps in the face like this, and it does wonders for your country's image – especially in an area so heavily traveled by young foreign exchange students and other people in general.
Somehow, I don't expect an apology from the dart guy, the owner of Zeno's, or of the sauna (?) motel (?) in the Yonhap picture above. They seem to know exactly what they're saying, the context they're saying it in, and whom they don't like.
Is that just "ignorance?" Or is it something else?
KBS better get with and apologize, or join the ranks of Korean racists who just don't care what foreigners think, or what we feel.
Is that how it's gonna be?
Don't make me walk down there.