My Take: Racism in Korea and Kpop, Does It Exist?

Race, and racism in Korea and Kpop is a controversial topic for international fans of the Hallyu Wave, and draws opinions of all kinds.
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In Korea, dark skin was associated with poverty. Way back in the day, those with dark, suntanned skin were poor, or low class because they were the farmers who worked outside in the sun with their hands all day, while people with fair, white skin were rich, or high class because they didn’t have to do hard labour. As times changed the sentiment didn’t evolve with it, and the stigma of having dark skin never truly went away.
Today, Kpop has drawn fans from all over the world of different religion, culture, and race, and that calls for change in Korea, and practices such as black face should no longer be acceptable.
I personally do not feel that all blackface that is used in Korean Entertainment has nor had the same meaning as it does in the United States. However, now that Korea is attracting the attention of people in other countries it is vital that they start to educate themselves on its meanings elsewhere, and be respectful.
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First left me give some background on what blackface really is.
Blackface, a style of theater makeup, was used mostly in the 19th century, starting around the 1830s, and ending in the 1960s after the civil rights movement. It originated in the United States, but went on to become popular in Britain, and it even lasted longer there than in the U.S. White performers would use shoe polish or burnt cork to color their skin, and create large, exaggerated lips. They would wear ripped clothing, and wool-like wigs to perform as a stereotypical black person. Later on black performers even used blackface on stage.
Quite a few Korean celebrities have come under fire for participating in what some fans call, black face.
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Tae Yang of Big Bang used the following picture as his Twitter icon, and some fans see this as black face. Its not.
Tae Yang
First of all, Tae Yang’s hair is really like this, its not some portrayal of ‘nappy’ hair. Second, he was not trying to portray himself as a black person, he has tan skin, and that is what the cartoon is trying to depict.
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One of the biggest blow ups over blackface in Korea was in 2012, on the January 21st Lunar Special of MBC’s Quiz to Change the World. Lee Gyeong Sil and Kim Ji Seon painted their faces, in blackface, to portray character, Maikol, from children’s show Dooly, who is based on Michael Jackson.
20120228 parody of maikol
Fans were up in arms that MBC even aired this on their show, much less post it to their Youtube account. I’m honestly not 100% sure if this was done with racist feeling, and I prefer to think it wasn’t done from a place of hate. However, this was completely inappropriate, and also offensive. It is blackface plain and simple.
I will admit, sometimes I feel uncomfortable when I see cases of ACTUAL blackface, and all I can say is that Korea, and its people need to become aware of what is inappropriate around the world.
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The N word is a super controversial topic in the United States. While many believe it is still a word of hate, and should not be used at all,  it has somehow become a slang term for a younger generation, with no negative meaning.
On more than one occasion Kpop celebrities have used the N-Word, and have drawn SERIOUS offense, and criticism.
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LE of EXID let the word slip while on episode 10 of Guru Pop with her group, but host, Daniel of DMTN, quickly apologized for her, and she said sorry as well. [at about 13:49]
On another occasion Lime of Hello Venus was covering Busta Rhyme’s rap from Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now,” and used the word, but it was bleeped out.
In the past I could say that used of the N word was from a place of ignorance, but in this day and age its clear what the word means, or meant. Obviously, Koreans do know the meaning of the word because it has been used in a racist way by Koreans. Rapper Tiger JK has shared his experiences with the use of word.
“I returned to Korea in the late 1990s for the first time in about 10 years. At that time, I heard that Korea is a nation of etiquette that welcomes everybody,” he said. “But it was not. I came across racism here too. I was often told by many Koreans not to go along with the `n-gger.’ It was a shock.”
Tiger JK
In 2010, viewers left racist comments about Tiger JK, and Yoon Mi Rae’s son, Jordan, following his appearance on Yoo Huiyeol’s Sketchbook with his father, which led to a well known Twitter rant by Tiger JK.

“can’t be liked by everybody i know, there’s an article about Jordan, and some of them relpys make me sick,,,,talkin about race,”

“talki bout his hair being nappy and he looks black, they prolly like 12, prolly yong kidz but hopefully they learn”

“Comments are always like that but there are actually kids who say things like half black half black. Racism won’t disappear forever.”

“racism, im sure they dont know no better,it’s ma fault for xposing ma son like that tho when they call ma son up to the stage i had a feelin”

“cant believe the are going as far as using the N word, they need to get the ass whooped by they pops, ignorant ass younginz”

“I know that half of the comments are written by kids who want attention but people still use the expression black.”

“ha im used to bein hated / called all kinds of name it comes wit territory / but in the states i was called a chink ,N now the N word here”

“they could hate all they could, im here for that im used to bein hated, chewed on, jk wack this and that, but can dey just C wat dey C,Love”

“callin ma wife and me kid, nappy headed N***R , i wish they would see me in the street”

“^^ I’m a father so I went crazy over hate comments. I’m sorry.”

“peops are so lonely like me da would say anytihing behind the walls of matrix to say things that would get em attention,i pray for they soul”

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My personal feelings about the N word are this. The origin of the word is one of hate, but somehow it has completely changed its meaning. Now, it has a positive connotation in the younger black community. This word always has, and should always stay completely bad word that’s off limits to ALL.
The context in which LE, and Lime used the N word are not from places of hate. They were not using it to be derogatory or hateful, but were repeating a term heard in songs by black artists, therefore I take no offense as a black person. The biggest problem with the N word is that blacks use it all too frequently, and give the impression its okay to be used. If they are going to take offense when someone else says it, it should not be used at all.
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With all this taken into consideration, I can’t say racism doesn’t exist. We see examples of it from the lives of people like Insooni or Yoon Mi Rae who grew up being teased for their mixed backgrounds, and from the reactions to the mixed son of Tiger JK, and Yoon Mi Rae. Now that Korean Music is moving to a global stage, Korean culture is facing serious change. This new found international popularity will force Korea to change the stereotypes that it has lived with for centuries, and force its people to see dark skin in a new light.

7 thoughts on “My Take: Racism in Korea and Kpop, Does It Exist?

  1. Hello. Well written post. Black American culture has influenced Korean K-pop. It is obvious that it has, so Koreans are going to have to change their ways if they want to export K-pop and/or Korean culture to the world. I believe the younger Korean generation can make that happen.

  2. I agree with this article until the point of the N word. That word has not changed meaning. And it is totally unacceptable for non blacks to use it. It doesnt matter if its said on the radio or not. It is a slur. End of story.

  3. This article made me want to cry (but i was already feeling like commiting suicide… again) It made me think differently about Korea but no matter what I will always love Koreans people and you are right if younger black people can say it and its okay and another race can say it and its offensive then it should not be used at all. Two meaning for one word “Okay for Blacks To Say It” “Offensive for Others To Say It” is just ridiculous to me im mixed with black and native american but if someone calls me the n-word i find it highly offensive because it makes me think of slavery and racist times.

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