Whatever kind of face

Here is a detailed explanation of what happened.

I wasn’t going to write about this, but I’ve been reading a lot of discussion in response to the incident, and I just wanted to get into some of the points that have been coming up repeatedly.

Point 1: I don’t understand why this is offensive because I wasn’t taught about this in school, and you can’t expect everyone to know about why this is offensive because Blackface is an American thing.

Blackface does its roots in the US. It has (hopefully) been ingrained into the American consciousness that painting yourself to look Black (or Asian, or Native American, or Hispanic) is offensive.

But, just because this is a unique to American history doesn’t mean that anyone outside of America or anyone who does not know American history should be exempt from understanding why this is offensive.

The very fact that someone has the luxury of painting some makeup on his/her face in order to be a person of another race, and then gets to perform/entertain/amuse an audience, and then has the luxury to take that face color off means that it is a thing of privilege, appropriation, and disregard for another person’s condition.

Someone else’s race and identity can be used at your disposal without you having to suffer any of the real consequences that are associated with having that skin color. That is not okay. Understanding this does not require a nuanced understanding of American history. These offenses exist independently of the circumstances that gave rise to them, so saying that you’re not aware of how something is offensive because you were never taught about it in school does not fly.

Point 2: Blackface in Korea is very different than Blackface in America.

Yes in that Blackface was not established in Korea, but no it really does just mean the same thing at the end of the day. People are trying to entertain using someone else’s race as the joke. Those in charge of the MBC show were trying to use Blackface in order to create a fake watermelon commercial, and Kikwang’s character was, from what I can tell, a woman wearing gold hoop earrings.

These symbols don’t appear out of thin air, so I am completely positive they are aware that these images will let audiences know that they are indeed talking about a black person, if, you know, the Blackface wasn’t clear enough.

Point 3: Korea is completely homogeneous, they don’t have the kind of interaction with diverse groups of people that other countries may have.

This is no excuse for the racist humor. Granted, a lot of American media, culture, propaganda was exported to Korea as a result of American occupation back in the day, and a lot of this persists and has transformed the way Korean pop operates in the present. But there is still the issue of what Korea consciously picks and chooses to constitute their social ideology.

In the example of beauty, white beauty is pretty much a norm in Korea (and elsewhere). Black beauty is not.

And then now back into Kpop culture. Kpop is pretty selective about how much “Black” is acceptable. “Black music” is loved. Black people are completely mistreated and viewed negatively. Black choreographers are okay. Certain Black people of Honor — Beyonce, Jay Z, Neyo, Michael Jackson — are treated with adoration. But when it comes down to it, Black culture is still viewed as a separate entity from mainstream culture, or else Black wouldn’t be used as a modifier.

Part of this is because there is not enough interaction with non-Koreans in Korea, but part of it is also because there is still not a collective activeness to try to understand non-Korean, non-white culture. I can maybe excuse the older generations for this kind of thinking, but what about all the younger people? Korea is wired as fuck, Korean netizens know how to do epic things on the internet, but yet somehow, all this racist thinking against Blacks and other non-Asian, non-white minorities still persists. So there is definitely more to just “not having the opportunity to interact with foreigners” reasoning.

Point 4: It was done for comic relief and was not meant to insult Black people. You’re reading too much into it; just take things at face value.

This is my favorite excuse of all time.

“It was supposed to be funny, not insulting.” “The intent was not meant to offend, you’re just taking it the wrong way.”

I’m a big fan of humor, but these excuses are just too vapid. I AM aware that this was meant to be funny, but at what cost? At whose expense? I understand racial humor, I also laugh at Asian jokes. But the bigger problem with a lot of racist jokes is that often these jokes harp on very real events that took place in the past and caused physical and mental harm to those who suffered because of their skin color and it is just unbelievably insensitive to use it as a mere joke. When someone does this, they’re taking someone’s history and picking and choosing what they want out of it. The person who gets to play around with Blackface is certainly not Black and did not suffer any of the derogatory remarks, threats, or misjudgments that others have had to. This would be like if someone took the very real sufferings of the Korean War — separated from family, starving to death, prostitution — and made that into a joke at the expense of Koreans. That’s just not fucking funny even if the intent was to be! There IS a difference between satire and humor, but let’s not even think for a second that a variety show on MBC is trying to attempt satire.

Point 5: Kikwang shouldn’t be the one to shoulder the blame on this one.

This is probably the only point that I agree with. Unlike past situations in Kpop — Taeyeon and Seungri’s ignorant remarks for example — this was not an opinion that Kikwang voiced himself. Does he believe in the inferiority of blacks? Maybe. But I don’t think it’s fair to pin responsibility on him because this is a scripted skit for a variety program.

I don’t really understand it when people say, “But he could have refused to do it or voiced how this is wrong.” If all these entertainment company lawsuits are any indication on what goes behind the scenes when idols are at play, you know that this is not how things operate. One, as a budding Korean teen idol, does not voice dislike or disapproval about something that is supposed to add to his fame in the entertainment world. Those who decided on this skit are probably 1) older than he is, 2) more senior than he is. Even if Kikwang did get a chance to voice his dislike, his sunbaes probably laughed at him in the face, gave him a playful slap, and then told him to STFU and do what the script asked for.

I’m not trying to excuse Kikwang or justify his actions in the skit, but I think this is a very different circumstance than Taeyeon or Seungri blabbering on the radio sharing what they believed to be funny little anecdotes about Black people and their supposed worth or relevance to society. Like I said, maybe Kikwang does believe that Black people are stupid, loud, and eat watermelon, but in this particular situation I don’t think it’s apt to pin blame of the Blackface incident on him.

  • http://me.astromantic.org f

    You are awesome and explained this much better than I could have. I wonder when Korea will ever learn that this is wrong, period. It’s not the first time I’ve seen blackface in kpop and I don’t think it’ll be the last.

  • breezyy

    Thank you for this.

    I’ve been on about 3 sites reading the comments and talking about this issue and there are just so many people who really don’t get it. It annoyed me that some were completely dismissing this while others commented on the issue before looking up what blackface means.

    I am so glad that you talked about Ki Kwangs role in this as a lot of people are still unsure of what to think of him. I completely agree with you and after watching the episode where this incident happened- I really feel like it went down the way you said it might’ve. Like you said, he might have his biases and look down on blacks and there’s really no way of disproving or proving this unless he personally says something, but it was obvious that he was uncomfortable with doing the tasks. To me, it felt as if the cast was making fun of Ki Kwang instead of Ki Kwang wearing the makeup and joking around and making fun of himself, which is what I thought would happen.

    Anyways, before I start getting into a mini rant, I just wanted to thank you for providing your thoughts and insight on this issue.

  • http://bechedor79.deviantart.com/ bechedor79

    I don’t have much else to say, as I believe you said it all really well, but: AMEN.

  • Debbie


  • pengork (ex-xiahkixiri)

    *thumbs up* i think it’s natural for people to want to spin it in a way that lets idols they’ve spent so much time and love on not be as much to blame. i’ve done that kinda stuff myself. people really need to understand that it’s wrong, and that includes those idols. mostly i just hope there’re people on the korean fandom side writing posts like this and telling people why it’s wrong.

  • Harley

    THIS. This SO hard.

    I, especially, agree with your view on Kikwang. I’m a black female, supporter of BEAST, and a fan of Kikwang–even after all of this. However, because I’m not African-American (I’m Canadian of West African descent) and don’t share that history, perhaps I can’t truly relate to this as well as I might have, were I an African-American. But I DO sympathize with those who can, and I know just what a horrible time in American history that was. Sadly, its reverberations can still be felt today in cases, such as this. But, like you, I don’t hold Kikwang accountable for this. If anything, I blame the producers of the show and Kikwang’s entertainment company. No matter what his views may be, he really had no way of expressing them; these idols, to me, seem a lot like puppets or pretty dolls just sort of put on display. Because of that, I can’t really blame Kikwang for this incident.

  • B

    like the comment posted above mine:

    this goes hard.
    excellent explanation.

  • Lady K

    I don’t think it’s a big deal, just look at the movie “WHITE CHICKS”- 2 black men dressing up as white girls .. they painted their face white and act all ‘white-trashed’, but in the end the movie went well for a comedy. So why do we go crazy over an asian man painted his face black while it’s ok for a black person to paint his face white? It’s comedy, chill out!

    • oreoreo

      wow.. i think you rather spectacularly missed the fucking point.. :)

  • Amanda

    Late reply but I wanted to add something to how blackface isn’t considered inappropriate outside of America. There is no reason to change your face colour to play up stereotypes of any particular race or of another’s suffering. Comedy should not be at the expense of others who dealt with the negative perceptions people have about them. Even without the history of blackface in America, it’s still rude to assume you can mock people based on a caricature you have of their entire race. It’s tragic that there probably won’t be backlash in Korea like there was in regards to Hey Hey’s Jackson 5 skit. Coverage of a mistake and education about other cultures could help in making South Korea a more tolerant and attractive place for non-white tourists to visit.

  • http://www.bestasianmakeup.com Asian Makeup

    I’ve definitely liked the quote “Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is Art.” By Ralph Waldo Emerson. This opened up my eyes to the beauty of make-up and it’s creation.

  • Gracie

    AWESOME!!! I have been to many sites reading up on this and your words are the best! I couldn’t agree with everything you said more! AMEN!!!