Oppa Didn’t Mean It: Blackface on South Korean Television…Again

Have you ever had that moment where you see something so disgusting, so horrifically WRONG that it just ruins your day?


Well. This might help.

So here’s the thing, right? I watch a lot of Korean television. I listen to a lot of Korean music. I eat a lot of Korean food. I’ve picked up a fair bit of the language (mostly to communicate to the owners of the Korean restaurant in my ‘hood that I’m cool and to curry their favor. Their favor being that cool purple rice and tea).

I don’t actually know any Korean people on a personal level. I have no special insight into their culture, anymore than someone who watches Mexican novelas or American soap operas knows about the real lives of Americans or Mexicans.

That said, you know what I’m never gonna do? Tape back my eyes and paint my skin yellow and go “ching chong ching chong” while wearing a track suit and a perm wig  and then assume its ok because, to me, thats what old Korean ladies are like.

But apparently it is totally okay to make fun of people you know nothing about in South Korea. Because SK is such a homogeneous country and there aren’t a lot of foreigners around or something. And they’ve never heard the term blackface and don’t know its wrong.

But…well they seem to know how to DO blackface pretty well.

Come for the racism, stay for the snacks

That above is a screencap from awhile back where B2ST (Beast) member Kikwang got his blackface on. Cue a flurry of comments of how “he didn’t know better” “blackface doesn’t mean anything in Korea” “they only know what they see from American television” all variations of my favorite joke to be passed around whenever a kpop idol does anything wrong, “OPPA DIDN’T MEAN IT”.

Oh, really? When was the last time you saw a black person cooning over a piece of watermelon in a American film or tv show? Furthermore, what black person have they ever seen that actually LOOKS LIKE THIS?

I’ll wait.*files nails*

And ok fine. They don’t know blackface as a term. Sure, I’ll take that. But on what planet is it okay to purposely dress up to look like someone else for the singular purpose of mocking them? When Kikwang and others smear on the paint and start to shuck and jive, much to the joy and delight of the audience, what message are they trying to send out?

Would you like to know what it says to me? Its says that me, and people who look like me, are buffoons. We’re stupid. We’re great to laugh at. AND WE FUCKING LOVE WATERMELON, SON!!!

Which amuses me, because, lets keep it real, I’ve seen those watermelon displays at H-Mart. Koreans love watermelon as much as black people are purported to. And fried chicken. Who doesn’t love fried chicken? We really need to get over this bullshit and come together on this.

I laugh so I don’t cry.

A lot of hay is being made by the South Korean media about the “Hallyu Wave” which is basically the spreading of Korean entertainment to other parts of the world. Just recently kpop mega group Girl’s Generation performed on Letterman and Live with Kelly. BigBang is planning a world tour that will almost certainly stop in the United States (or there will be HELL TO PAY). Late last year there was a big multi-act kpop festival in Las Vegas. I support this. Clearly.

But once incidents like this start to get around in the American media? Forget it.

If all these South Korean entertainment companies are serious about exporting their product to the world at large, I’m gonna need them to make use of some of that super internet they’ve got going on over there and get into some history. Take a break from swagger jacking  “black culture”, and actually learn something about it. Or at the very least learn how not to piss people off. Most people, when they prepare to visit a foreign country, look up what words/actions might be offensive, right? Well, if you’re trying to SELL me something, I’m really going to need you to put in some work on not making a mockery of me and everything I stand for.

I am also available as a consultant. I’m just saying.

Back to the first sceencap. This gross display took place on the Korean variety show “Quiz to Save the World” (if you have a strong stomach, the mess starts about 47 minutes in). So far I don’t know who is under the paint. I’m not even sure what they are saying. And you know what? I don’t care. There is almost nothing that they could say to make this ok. On one of the kMusic shows groups sometime sing a “Road Safety Song” that is some sort of PSA. Maybe if this turns out to be a “You Look Like a Fucking Moron and This Is So Not Cool Song” PSA then I’ll retract my rage.

In case this needs to be stated outright: no I don’t think all Koreans are racist. No I don’t think all Koreans would wear blackface. No I don’t think all Koreans hate black people. But do I think these things happen at an alarming rate? Yes. Do I always go on a little daydream about traveling to South Korea and then crash when I remember stuff like this? Yup. Am I still going to see the G.I. Joe sequel almost solely because Lee Byung Hun is in it? A crowd of angry ajummas couldn’t stop me.

But I’m not going to pretend that these things don’t bother me and make me not want to support South Korean artists/entertainers. At some point I lose the ability to be patient and forgiving.  I’m not willing to sweep these issues under the rug. They need to be talked about. Or nothing ever changes.

In summation: Blackface? Wrong. Watermelon? Delicious no matter your race. Kpop? Fun. This author? Sick of the bullshit.

UPDATE: There is now a YouTube clip of the blackface segment. In a disturbing twist, this video is directly from the Official YouTube page of MBC Ent. Yes. They are promoting this delicious snippet of racism.

18 thoughts on “Oppa Didn’t Mean It: Blackface on South Korean Television…Again

  1. I was watching “Queen Seonduk,” and the first 1/4 of it had a character who was obviously supposed to be from the middle east…but played by a Korean guy. Couldn’t they have gotten someone who actually *is* of middle eastern descent to play the role? Was pretty fail.

  2. Some key things, if you want. You already addressed some.

    Dooli – this character is Michael from Korean kids show Dooli, based on stereotypes of black people. I knew who this character was but I didn’t expect people to actually think using this excuse would work. In case someone approaches you, you can be prepared now.

    Anti-black behaviour and perpetuating racist images <— this regards what they are doing. Yes they help support the racist structure imposed but instead of racism, it is those two things.

    Cultural Appropriation – taking from another culture and exploiting it. In the simplest forms.

  3. OMG!!! I can’t even take this. really? after all this time???? people still think that’s ok? LEt us dress up like them, all the shade will be thrown. This explains a lot. I have a few korean students in this MBA class I’m taking. We talked about Multinational companies in apartheid South Africa and whether the companies should have left due to ethical conflicts. A lot of them said to stay for revenues and leave the apartheid to the government. -___________- (stalest face) I got so mad I just put my head down.

  4. This is so horrible. While Asians in America are fighting tooth and nail to get the media to stop its Asian stereotype jokes (in the midst of this Lin-sanity stuff), Asians in Asia are doing this? smh this is awful. Racism and condescending stereotypical caricatures are wrong no matter who does it, and who it’s about!

  5. Unfortunately there was another “blackface” comedy sketch from yesterday’s Comedy Big League… This is going to blow up big…

    What people should do is contact news outlets and try to get the story out.

    • I know, right? If you look in the follow up post I linked to their crappy apology. I posted yesterday about Tiger JK speaking out about it. And I read a Korean news article in a kpop forum I’m part of about the outrage online about this incident and others. So. There is a little noise being made but in general I’m assuming that the network will sweep this under the rugs like has been done in the past.

  6. it was a pretty crappy apology – saying that people only perceived it as racism because they didn’t recognize the character. Um Hullo. The character is racist to begin with. So I’m sorry we didn’t recognize your racist blackface was based on the racist caricature of a stereotyped animation character…
    I guess we’re just ignorant.

  7. Pingback: Here We Go Again…Blackface. Korea. Television. Yes, Again « shikagoland

  8. Firstly, I don’t think it’s racist! The show dooli had some black tribal people,, what show doesn’t, many shows have them not just Korean shows american shows too, frankly you all call this racist because it’s an Oriental country. Secondly we all have stereotypes do we not??? Is the stereotype for Asians not that they are all good at maths and have eyes that are always closed and they can play piano???? Stop overreacting, Korean humour is different, and we should be happy that they like us enough to even mimic us, truss me Koreans will not even acknowledge you if they don’t like you! Just leave it at that, stop making a fuss.
    And it is super sinister to wish a tsunami comes upon them, soz but even if they directly said they don’t like black people i wouldn’t go as far as that, not all Koreans were a part of that broadcast.
    Face it, if you don’t like then don’t watch!!

    • If you don’t think its racist thats fine. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t or that others aren’t allowed to feel that it is.

      Also, I don’t think its an honor to be liked enough to be negatively stereotyped, just as I’m sure the average Korean person would not be honored with a negative portrayal of their culture.

      I am not racist against Koreans or any other Asians, which is clear if you read any number of the posts on this blog promoting Korean tv/films/music/ourism.

      And lastly, in regards to the comment wishing a tsunami on Korea, that person had several nasty comments already deleted here (and called me a “gook bitch” for doing so) and clearly posted more after that. That comment is hardly that of a reasonable informed person and should not be taken as representative of the author of this piece.

  9. Saying “If you don’t like it, don’t watch” is an ignorant thing to say. Hiding your head in the sand doesn’t change things. Ignoring bad behaviour doesn’t make things better, it makes it worse because the perpetrators think it’s ok if no one protests against it.

  10. Pingback: Asiana flight 214 Pilots: Sum Ting Wong? Wi Tu Lo?? Ho Li Fuk Indeed! | Peninsularity Ensues

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