Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Speaking of racial stereotypes... Here's a cartoon of bloggers writing about the the impeachment in Korea from a Korean newspaper. On the other hand, at least they're reading the blogs.

via dda on IRC


OK...can someone out there tell us what these people are saying?

here's a horrible translation
the blonde guy: this is OOP's Coup d'état!
black hair w/ glasses: you're impeaching without any reasons?
pony tail: only the citizens will get cheated! (or maybe, only the citizens will get screwed!)
the purple hair: idiots~ that must be why they are called conservative-heads! ("conservative-heads?" wth am i saying?!)
the african guy: ...?

actually, i think i got the blonde guy wrong. instead of OOP's, something like "rightist's"
why did i even bother commenting. someone correct me.

If they would just use some kanji I could read it... ;)

I, for one, don't see anything wrong with the picture nor stereotyping in the picture. The intent of the picture was not to say black people are savages, but to show what people around the world are saying. Short of showing continental name tags, I think the artist did all right.

There are racism in Korea though such that most Korean parents would not want their children marrying non-Koreans and Korean kids would openly point at foreigners and talk about them right in the front.

No racism?! Har! The African guy is wearing next to nothing, carrying a spear and is the only one not comprehending what's going on. You're kidding me, right?! WTF!

The depiction of blacks in this unapologetically racist fashion is consistent with all other media here in Korea. It is a staple on the broader, vaudevillian comedy shows on TV, for example, to have characters show up in blackface and afro frightwigs, and they are inevitably portrayed as thieves or idiots or both.

The stereotyping extends to whites as well, of course -- although Euro-descended people are a more common sight on entertainment television than once they were (only if they speak fluent Korean, which is fair enough) -- it is still de riguer to portray Americans and others as violent, burger-inhaling fools.

It gets a laugh, and most Koreans I know would have trouble getting their heads around the idea it's offensive.

Korea is a monoculture, to an extreme I've never seen anywhere else -- including Japan -- and that leads to a blithe ignorance of the sort of tolerance Western types take for granted. You learn eventually not to let things like this upset you too much if you live here for any length of time.

My most recent post on my site has some more links to some good English language webloggers here in Korea, if you're interested.'s odd to note that -- in stark contrast to my own political leanings -- many of the English language webloggers in Korea (most of whom are not Korean, but expats of one stripe or another who live here) tend to lean to the right/conservative/republican/bushco side of things. It's a bit puzzling to me, but there you go.

ronn, exactly what is so degrading about a person wearing next to nothing, carrying a spear, and not understanding what is going on? It's just a person, no more, no less. If you think that is degrading, doesn't that mean you think such a person is somehow inferior?

FYI, Bushmen the movie made a big impact in Korea and, at least to me, the guy in the picture is an expression of frustration over the whole incident.

If it makes you feel any better, a typical racial bigot in Korea looks down equally on every who is not a Korean.

I'm not certain what idea the cartoon is trying to convey. The highly characterized cartoon people seem to be saying something along the lines of, "It's not just the north... even the South Korean goverment has it's collective head up its collective a*s."

Not my official statement - just an interpretation of the comic strip.

"If it makes you feel any better, a typical racial bigot in Korea looks down equally on every who is not a Korean."

This is true.

"Exactly what is so degrading about a person wearing next to nothing, carrying a spear, and not understanding what is going on? It's just a person, no more, no less. If you think that is degrading, doesn't that mean you think such a person is somehow inferior?"

This, however, is nonsense. It is not so much the isolated example of a spear-carrying, loincloth clad brown person in this comic, it is the context (about which I spoke earlier) in which it appears. It may be purely subjective, but the characterization of non-Korean (and more specifically, non-NorthEast Asian and non-Caucasian) people as savages that is rife in the Korean media, and rarely commented upon.

I'm nowhere near being a Korea-basher (I love living here, and love Koreans in general, much as they aggravate me sometimes), and about as far as you can get from being politically correct, but whether or not this particular cartoon is racist, it is nonetheless the symptom of a much more pervasive attitude in Korean society.

Sorry, that should read :

'...It may be a purely subjective observation on my part (and I am willing to listen to arguments to the contrary) but I think the problem is the characterization of non-Korean...

So tell me exactly how an artist could draw a figure without streotyping? How can a filmaker make a Tarzan movie without streotyping? Where does artistic freedom and political correctness meet?

I'm not sure if you're missing my point deliberately or not, there, Don.

It's not a question of whether the cartoon artist in question deliberately or accidentally used the racist stereotype 'black person = spearchucking loncloth wearer', although I would argue that the artist did.

My problem, as I thought I made reasonably clear, is that this particular cartoon, by this particular artist, must be understood to be within a culturally accepted and acceptable continuum of casual racism, xenophobia, and willful demonizing of The Other in Korean society, and that this tendency reaches it's nadir when it is a matter of people with darker skin tones.

Hell, even Koreans with darker skin tones are often perceived as somehow wanting, as I'm sure you well know.

Where does artistic freedom and political correctness meet? I have no idea, but I'm arguing that that's not the question here.

I don't think it's of any use to censure or censor, but I think it is important to point and shine a light and ask questions.

As far as my personal understanding goes, it's a poor job of stereotyping. The artist could have at least depicted the gigantic buldge in that loin cloth. Come on now.

...And put some fried chicken in the dude's empty hand.


So what if some Koreans are racist by Western standards. Koreans are not Americans or Europeans. While some truths are absolute, (racism is bad) their intrinsic legitimacy does not justify arrogant proselytization. Koreans should be entitled to their own social and cultural mores.

I think it's unfortunate, however, that Korean values translate into a kind of arrogance that makes them (north and south) look reckless, irresponsible, and downright childish on the world stage. Let's hope Korea can keep it together.

I agree with Mike B - it's fair enough for Koreans to be racist - and if they are, it's fair enough for us to say it too. The fact that that kind of racism just displays the ignorance of the society as a whole is sad however.

If they put a smartmouth black New Yorker there instead (perhaps with a gun instead of a spear) would it be any better? I think it's fair to say that there's a certain amount of the pot calling the kettle black here.

Look who's calling the kettle black here? It's the white Americans that are the most racist of all. What about the cartoon depicting watermelon field in front of the White House after Obama became the President? There are other cartoons depicting black Americans with negative images. I've never seen so many angry white Americans than the day Obama was declared as the next President of America. LOL. (except when white guys get rejected by Korean women) I mean come on, only the white Americans came up with retarded organization called KKK. They pretty much depict the average white Americans. Stupid white guys.

My suspicion is that neither Mike B nor Dave actually live in Korea. In this assumption I may be incorrect, I admit.

I draw your attention to this post from another expat here in Korea, giving a little more background on this.

Wonder Chicken,

You're right. I've never been to Korea. I should at least set foot in the country before making sweeping generalizations with such confidence.

FWIW, I did attend a Japanese public high school for a year as a teenager. I'll never forget the first day I attended the P.E. class. When it was time to choose teams, the other Japanese kids fought and argued over who would get to have me on their team. I was the big and athletic-looking American kid. With a big American kid, they couldn't loose, right? The guys who picked me... boy, were they disappointed. The score was 12-0, our loss.

People made both good and bad assumptions about me based on my ethnicity. I refused to get upset by it, because the Japanese kids were responding to an archetype, not me personally.
Besides, whether I was right or wrong about something, it simply wasn't my place to dictate to foreign hosts what their values and customs should be in their own country.

I agree with you, Mike, and it never ceases to annoy me how so many expatriates here in Korea love to try (and fail) to impose their beliefs and morés on the Koreans with whom they interact, and judge those Koreans according to their own preconceived notions about how a society should be ordered. I'm with you there - it's not my place, or that of any other foreigner here to dictate or censure.

As I mentioned upthread, though, I do think it's important to shine a light into the darker corners, even if those darker corners seem dark only from one's own subjective perspective.

It's a fine line to walk between being one of the all-too-common haters-of-all-things-Korean (except their Korean spouse, usually) and one of the drinkers-of-the-koolaid Korea-boosters.

As it is in all things, I guess.

stavros, I understand the point you are making.

Yes, the image is acceptable to most Koreans and most Koreans would not think it showed any racism. It's the same with BigMama's blackened faces. They would probably agree that it is stereotyping.

I don't equate stereotyping with racism and neither would most Koreans. To me, streotyping is just a handle of a frying pan. Racism is hitting someone with that frying pan.

Interestingly enough, most Koreans would see Koreans being made fun of in foreign movies as racism. I guess it's a kind of justice served.

Re skin color, I think that is true of any country and I don't see the meme dying off any time soon just as I don't see biases in favor of pretty and thin will persist.

Make that "I think biases in favor of pretty an dthin will persist."

C'mon Don, the cartoon depicts the "Foreign Netizens", and it is obvious that the "artist" thinks that them backwards Africans ain't got any effin' clue about what the Internet... This stereotype IS racist. The problem is not so much that a guy drew it, but the attitude regarding such things in the society. Somebody at the newspaper in question, when a foreigner working there complained, said "You know that Koreans are quite insensitive on race issues...". They are apparently not planning to pull this drawing.

Stavros : "My suspicion is that neither Mike B nor Dave actually live in Korea."

You're right, but (to trot out one of the oldest lines in the book) some of my closest friends are Korean.

(Actually, to be more precise, I imagine that my comments might apply more to specific media channels than to the Korean population as a whole.)

What I'm putting across is a general principle, not a view specific to Koreans. I have seen the same kind of stereotyping/racism in my own home countries, the USA and New Zealand (both of which should be above such things, being multicultural) and in also Japan (which is a bit like Korea in that many people suffer from ignorance of other races/cultures).

Having experienced it in the lightest possible form (continually being told I was a 'weirdo foreigner' for enjoying various aspects of Japanese local and traditional culture), I know how irritating stereotyping can be. It was only after that experience that my eyes opened to the far more serious effects of stereotyping on other people.

I'm willing to forgive a lot of people for believing in some stereotypes - nobody has taught them better. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't point out when it is happening, and try to teach them something better.

Don Park said that Koreans get angry about stereotyping of themselves in the media, but don't realise their own stereotyping. I think that the least we can do for Koreans, and for ourselves, is to help point out the connection.

I don't know what I'm doing wrong - and I'd hope that other people would help me out in the same way, by making a few polite constructive criticisms.

In Japan I believe there used to be an institution by the name of a 'Turkish bath.' (Lets just say that it wasn't a bath, and didn't have anything to go with Turkey.) The Turkish community made the point that it reflected badly on them, and that no such institution exists in Turkey. The Japanese people who ran the 'Turkish baths', not being stupid, were no longer ignorant either, and changed the name to something else.

So it's not impossible to change things, provided you go about it the right way.

Once again, it's not all Koreans I'm talking about - for all I know it's just a few people in the media.

I just love it when people say that "foreigners have no right whatsoever to dictate, censure or impose their beliefs on a culture based on their own preconcieved notions on how a society should be ordered"

What if we lived in a world that was so passive that no one tried to correct behaviour that was WRONG!!!! There are some things in life that are universally wrong and that is racism!!!!!! We all inhabit this tiny planet together and it is up to each and every one of us to share and discuss what is wrong with each other's cultures in order to gain insight and slowly but surely change the ugliness of humanity as a whole.

Racism and stereotyping is ugliness.

I have been living somewhere in Asia for seven months now and it never fails to amaze me how many foreigners get together in pubs to complain privately about these exact same things. Suffice it to say, most of these foreigners are Caucasians and share the same attitude that I have quoted in the first paragraph.

I,on the other hand as an American female English teacher of color, take every opportunity to enlighten my students and question their racism and stereotypes. Instead of taking offense by my questions, many are curious to explore their own hidden prejudice and are extremely interested in probing what causes this mentality in their culture.

However, I am not surprised to still read that it is very easy to ignore something or to take a blase attitude about something when it does not directly affect you.

Don and Stavros -

I'm fascinated that you both agree with this:

"If it makes you feel any better, a typical racial bigot in Korea looks down equally on every who is not a Korean."

I haven't lived in Korea but did live in Hong Kong for several years, where I got the impression that Chinese look down on all non-Chinese (in fact, racism mixed with nationalism seems fairly common and accepted in much of Asia - the Japanese feel superior, the Thais feel superior, etc.).

What struck me about your description of Korea is the idea that all non-Koreans are the same. I got the feeling in Hong Kong that, while non-Chinese could never be equal, light skinned people from rich countries clearly ranked higher than dark-skinned people from poor countries. But perhaps this was only on the surface, more for commercial reasons? We had a Filipina helper, and I hated to send her out to deal with Chinese shopkeepers, since they treated her far worse than they treated me.

What I wondered is - do you think I was wrong about the Chinese, or do you think that Koreans are different? From what I've heard from other expats, Korea might be an extreme.

Living as a guest in another country certainly helped me see things from a different angle. After Sept. 11, many people said that Americans in the US shouldn't fly American flags in schools, etc., because it might offend foreigners living here. I thought that was ridiculous. I wouldn't expect a foreigner to be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance or to participate in any other patriotic display, of course. But to argue that Americans shouldn't show pride in our own country simply because foreigners might be living here but might not like to be reminded that they're living here seemed ridiculous. As an expat, I didn't expect my host country to stifle all self-expression simply to shield me.

Well said, Ann. As a guest in Rome, you may not always have to do as the Romans do, but is futile and self-righteous to try to lecture them on their culture.

I was thinking of working in Korea for the next 2 years so that my half korean son could learn more about his korean culture. I was considering leaving the safe shores of the US for the 'interesting' peaceful country of Korea. This thread, as well as many others, have me concerned about subjecting him to this type of torment! It seems like even a few posters within this thread have the feeling that it may be ok for Korea to still be racist and that it does not hurt anyone. As "that is the way we koreans are" mentallity is present.

What I think makes america great is that we know we are all racist but its evil and its the common mans right and responsiblity to fight evil at every turn. Even the smallest injustice must be faced by someone. So while america still has a lot of racisim, the media knows that if it does anything that can even be remotely viewed as racist it will have to hear it from someone. Is that the view in korea? Do koreans feel the responsiblity to stand up for justice and what is right no matter if the victim is non-korean?

i live in korea, i'm 16. and i'm half korean and half finnish.

perhaps i'll just ramble my insights.

- my friends think that only blonde, blue eyed are the best people; hitler dressed up as my school mates?... (this is harsh, but you should hear them. they're still dissapointed that my best friend isnt a blonde...)
- they get all their views from the media.
- i like korea sometimes, they're all korean. so they dont feel the pressure to be a 'type' like in the u.s. be the smart asian, the hott asian. they're just them.
- they expect more from foreigners than we expect from them. (no i've never met britney spears, no i dont' own a gun, no my family doesn't have a mansion, no i'm not perfect like the ppl you see on tv) and it's burdening meeeeee

racism sucks, but it exists. yeah you know this too..

random; i hate being hapa sometimes. i wish EVERYONE spoke one language.

yah t is effin in junior high in korea, and the english textbooks here have the EXACT same shit drawn on them...its really dumb how all white men have blue eyes and blond hair and africans have afros with big protruding lips

racism is taught here i think, cause they teach us that every other country did crap to us, and we need to pay back...uh yeah whatever...but i 100% agree that its racist...but people here wouldnt think that at all

I find all this discussion interesting... I myself am half Korean and have visited and interacted with Koreans, particularly with Korean students as of late. I will agree with some of the previously mentioned comments that Koreans can often regard themselves as the superiour race. As a result such things as the whole stem cell scandel or their screwed up government can often hurt their pride. You must realize, however, that historically Koreans have experienced many difficult times. The Japanese occupation, the Korean conflict, and the numerous political corruptions made life extremely difficult for them. Because they managed to survive all this and now have become a strong nation economically they have the natural tendency to be quite proud of themselves culturally. So not only do they feel superior to lets say Americans or Europeans but also with Japanese or the Chinese. Although skin color could maybe play a part, I think there is a much stronger prejudice towards the nationality of a certain individual. What people don't seem to quite understand is that there is ethnocentricity rampant where ever one may go. Any nation is probably going to believe that their culture and their people is superiour, its what one would call "nationalism". In a country such as the United States, where there isn't quite as strong a national identity it is probably a little difficult to understand.

Something else I think you should realize is that Korea is very much a monoculture. You rairly if at all encounter someone of a different ethnicity. As a result a typical Korean is probably going to be somewhat ignorant when it comes to the overall way they perceive foreigners. Furthermore, because they are a monoculture they tend to be very close nit and are very much a community based culture, as a result they think more in a group perspective then an individual perspective like the U.S.. This further fuels the strong sense of Korean nationality.

Something else to note is that generally cartoons such as this one is more of a joke and as result should be taken lightly. Koreans for almost any nationality have some kind of derogatory term, similar to the N word against African Americans or the term "cracker" for Caucasian Americans. These terms, or atleast from what I have observed and experienced, are used more in a joking manner and are not meant to be taken too seriously. Koreans are not so ignorant and stupid as to think that blacks are nothing but savages with spears. In fact, Korean teenagers seem to idolize African American culture, which is a large part of the reason why hiphop and R&B have become so popular there. Albeit there overall understanding of what makes hiphop is a little off, they still love it nonetheless.

Last but not least and most importantly, instead of just bickering over something that bothers or offends you I suggest you actually take action and attempt to educate and clarifty their misunderstandings. I highly doubt that anyone here can state without a doubt that they themselves have not committed a prejudice act. In about any community or society that one explores there is bound to be some form of prejudice or racism. No one is perfect and I think everyone should admit their ignorance first before going on a rant about some society (which by the way is stereotyping by itself) as being racist. Koreans in general I have found are more then willing to discuss about such issues and can be often critical about their own culture and society. Overall everyone here seems to be looking at them as a group, when it is more important that you look at them as individuals. Like in any society you are going to come across different personalities and different opinions. So I urge everyone here to not stereotype Koreans based on one measely cartoon. The media is rarely a good tool to judge how a particular culture thinks and the same applies here. I will have to admit I have my own negative opinions here and there on Korean culture but the same applies to any nation or culture there of. Wow I think I just went overboard here... terribly sorry.... but I did find this conversation interesting and with lots of good input from everyone...

The most racist country in the world is the United States. What about your Aryan Nation, Skinheads, KKK, etc...? In additon, american racism is more "two faced" and covered up with liberal propaganda. Quit whining like little whimps and whimpettes. Taste your own medcine for once. How does it taste? You people are nothing but complaining F------cynics. At least we're straight up!

Racism sucks but it exists everywhere, even in Korea. I can't believe Don can't see the blatant racism in this cartoon. I think he would be the first one to cry racism if they depicted Korean in any degrading manner. Of course racism exists in the US. But there are laws like "hate crime" to protect the minorities. "Equal housing opportunity" protects housing discrimination. There are laws against job discrimination against minorities and elderly. Many young Koreans may disagree due to their ignorance but the US is the most fair and compassionate country. The weak and less fortunate people who would be shamed and discriminated elsewhere are protected in the US. Having lived in Japan for 5 years, I know too vividly that racism exists there, more severe than in Korea and definitely more so than the US. I've witnessed astrocious racism being accepted as part of their daily lives. There are plenty more ugly racist cartoons in Japan that are tolerated. I wonder about the true intention of Joi Ito posting this cartoon. Was it to start up a meaningful debate on racism or was it a cheap shot at Koreans? I wouldn't throw stones when you have plenty of windows in your house.

First of all william kang you really didn't add anything to this discussion, if anything you sort of hurt my point. Second of all I don't see how you can compare racism in Korea with racism in the United States. They are completely different. Korea is a monoculture, therefore racism is not that big of a problem. I think many of you here are confused as to what the defination of racism is. Racism is the discrimination or prejudice based on one's RACE. There is definately problems in regards to age and gender discrimination but racism generally or shouldn't be too much of a problem atleast compared to the U.S.
One must realize that Korea is very much a Confucious based culture. As a result there is strong emphasise put on respecting individuals of older age. Although this is a great philosophy there are many that take advantage of this, often creating age discrimination. Also Confucious philosophy somewhat inevidably breeds gender dicrimination. As one can see this is a mere by product of humans being humans.
I would definately say that there is a much greater problem in the U.S. when it comes to racism. However in regards to age or gender discrimination Korea is probably a step behind. Once again I find it interesting how everyone is labeling Korea as a group. To think that Korea is ignorant to the point where they think Africans are nothing but babbling savages is ludicrous. And to also say that Korean's are ignorant to the point where they think they have no problems with discrimination or prejudice is quite laughable. Most of my knowledge about Korea's social problems does not necessarily come from my own experience but with conversions with Koreans who were more then willing to admit their deficiencies.
As I have mentioned before instead of everyone making pot shots at Korea for being racist, one should admit their own faults. The United States is supposed to represent the ideal. Unfortunately the United States has far to go when it comes to representing such an ideal. Korea on the other hand does not have to play such a role. So instead of bickering about someone else's problems I suggest getting your own act together first.


Some good points. Thanks.

Korean people actually take time in their lives, away from playing Starcraft for writing a newspaper or actually doing something marginally valuable?
Holy Shit!

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