There are some strange, racist things afoot in the country K.
And the funny thing is that out of the many racist images coming out of certain institutions these days, much ado is being made about some colorful names for chicken in a tiny restaurant in Itaewon. given the very real and obvious racism that is easy to locate and identify in Korean society, it's funny to me that certain people are ready to grab the torches and pitchforks to go lynch a guy who named one of his fried chicken dishes in his small restaurant after a popular slang term that's been on the tongues of cool kids for quite a long time now.
Let's get right into it: "흑형."
it's a slang term that certain cool kids use these days, and used in a somewhat positive way, to denote a "black big brother" (heuk-hyeong). The hyeong part comes from the Korean word for "older brother" to a man (oppa is the older brother to a woman) and the heuk is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese character for "black"(黑) -- Sino-Korean works soooorta like Latin word roots do in English, so since baek(白) means "white", inone could make up baek-hyeong ("white big brother") if one wanted to and if that made any pop culture sense. the word basically denotes a bigger, buffed out bruthaman -- and if you Google the term in Korean, you'll get a pretty good sense of what the Koreans are thinking about, as well as the media images they're basing this from. in the positive sense, if there is one, America's much-loved heuk-hyeong is, well, Terry Crews. Clearly.
A big black man with big, black guns...
Unlike Koreans, Americans are PC enough to be very careful about making up cute little words for media images or stereotypes involving race. well, the biggest difference is the fact that Koreans like to make up cute little words for all kinds of things, from concepts as memes (Korea is actually the first place to coin a word for the “selfie", since the word "selca" (self+camera) was coined over a decade ago -- America loses again, sorry). there's 1 million of these cute little words floating around the language that came in from either English or Japanese and are often combined with Sino Korean words to make up quite an interesting and colorful shorthand slang. Heuk-hyeong is one of these words, which comes from a small minority of Korean kids who are quite familiar with and friendly to black American culture. Well, black American culture as they see on television and in movies, for the most part. and to give these kids credit, their familiar with the fact that African-Americans call one another "bro" and "brah" for "brother", so it's just a Korean way of trying to link up with that ebonical fact. and the idea of a big scary black man with huge muscles and a mean grill being friendly is something kind of new in American culture as well, frankly speaking, something which the amazing Terry crews capitalizes on with his carefully constructed image that mixes brawn with an extremely friendly demeanor and amazing comic wit.
Now, what the Koreans have done is to basically take the linguistic magic and efficiency of Korean and give this kind of extreme African masculinity a specific name.
And that's pretty much where the word comes from. This, despite the fact that there is another Korean pronunciation of a Chinese character for hyeong, but it's a homonym -- the hyeong (炯) for "a shining light" and I'm told could be understood as a pun. Stick with me: one heuk-hyeong could mean "black big brother" while another could mean "black shining light." Or more naturally translated, to mean "the shining light of blackness." I think the latter definition is nice -- and is what the owner of the chicken house suggested was the "real" meaning, but I think that's a stretch and not on the minds of most youth using the word. Anyway, all that simply needed to be said.
Etymology explanation over.
Now that we've got that out of the way, I want to move on to the apparent “problem” at hand, or lack thereof. I see this little tempest in a teapot issue as partially a result of unfortunate timing, given the fact that there have been several recent examples of the Korean media fumbling over itself with pretty questionable images of and references to black people.There have been a surprising number of examples in the last few months, and more if you look at the last couple of years. What makes the issue extra touchy is the fact that it is the Korean populace that has become increasingly allergic to them, and it is often ignorant media outlets doing the offending. And a pattern has emerged: Media outlets offends, Korean readers criticize, and said media outlets wiggle out of culpabilty, citing either sheer ignorance ("we didn't know better") or innocence in intent ("no offense was intended, so sorry if you took it that way"), with the public's patience getting shorter with either excuse. Nowadays, however, there are a lot more real examples for netizens to get up in arms about, but which the Korean media doesn't pick up on if it really wanted to run a story on "racist Korea" -- bars in Itaewon that hang up signs that say "no foreigners" or real, outright racism (such as the racist baiting and representations that is the main currency used by MBC in its "documentaries" on the follies of "dangerous" or "degenerate" foreigners. But the Korean media is loathe to paiint itself as the chief source of this problem. So they try to do the typical Korean media thing, which is to stir up a tempest in a teapot "scandal"-style story just like the one on Korean "big black brother" chicken. It's the same old problem, squared. Ther's racism in Korea, and most of it is contained in the media, in terms of extreme bias in news reporting, or just straight crazy shit showing up in the entertainment sector. The recent re-run-ins with blackface these days is a prime example. But it's easy to pick on some random restaraunteur while doing a sub-par middle school newspaper job of journalism. Enter the Heuk-hyeong chicken "incident."
The story: Possibly "crazy" Korean dude makes a "racist" chicken dish that allegedly denigrates black people.
The facts (unchecked and unreported by Yonhap, which wasnt even professional enough to go down to the place and properly ask any questions):
1. The guy is an old school, down-to-earth, black culture junkie who used to frequent hip hop joints before they were popular in Korea (he's about my age)
2. He named the chicken dish about 1.5 years ago and was more shocked than anyone involved to hear his dish (and he) was "racist."
3. He also has an omellette dish that is pitch black, since he just wants to makes his food look "different and unique", so he cooks it with a good spritz of squid ink. It is indeed weird looking.He had the same idea with the chicken, which is just....black, hence the name, which came from the somewhat admiring new slang word. It's far from offensive, he said, isn't meant to be. Test of theorem? He said he's had many black customers, some of whom speak Korean or understand the name, and they had no problem with it.
4. He has no problem with black people, nor black culture, which he says he's very into, in a positive way. He just wishes any of the people writing negative things about him or his intentions would simply talk to him directly. Apparently, Yonhap called, simply confirmed the name of the store and if he was the owner, then simply hung up without asking any questions. Good job you did breaking this story, guys. Another notch for Korean professionalism in journalism!
5. Apparently, I was the very first (as of just about 5 days ago) person to actually go down there and inquire about the story directly. And that's sad, given all the bloggers and journalists writing about it.
6. On the real, his place is tiny: 4 tables with about 4 seats each. He's not the frickin' bad guy, infecting the minds and souls of Korean everywhere.
1. Before I was dragged into this debate, I wanted to go check it out. I thought that would be the decent (and professional) thing to do -- just frickin' talk to the guy and find out for myself.
2. Errybody all talking about the man and his chicken, but ain't even ate the chicken, which is gooood. And a bit different, in just the way he intended it to be.
3. It's a nice little place, with quirky, funny, and nostagic decor that reflects this guy's personality.
Verdict: Go down there, meet the guy, eat his chicken. If you don' like him or the chicken, then you've got something to say. But I personally think the guy just got caught up in Yonhap's attempt to make an issue out of nothing, when they could have been interviewing REAL racists in Itaewon, like the assholes who run the 24 London club and don't let foreigners in. Go try to get in, then see how ya feel.
(I lifted this pic from the Facebook page "Action against MBC Korea and their racist, biased "reporting"")
Full Disclosure: Dude wouldn't let me pay for his chicken after our sit-down. I ordered it, and he wanted it to be on the house, he was so happy that someone actually came down and talked with him. Y'all should do the same, but don't expect free chicken -- but tell him I sent you so I can get more... I think the dude's cool, but just got caught up in some BS...