Presumed Causes of Racism Against Interracial Couples in Korea

James Turnbull's picture


( Sources – left: GR X Hermark; right )

Over at a recent post on Noona Blog: Seoul, an excellent blog written by a Swedish woman in a relationship with a Korean man, currently there’s several interesting comments about the sources of racism often directed against Korean female – Caucasian male (KF-CM) couples in Korea.

Many of which were written by Jake of Asian Male Revolutions, who has the admirable and very necessary goal of challenging the racist and emasculating images of Asian men in the US media through that website.

But in the process of – in my view – very much contriving to paint racism against KF-CM couples in Korea in those terms, as well as global racial power relations, I found he made many extremely sexist assumptions about Korean women, which I’d like to challenge. As technical issues prevent me from doing so at Noona Blog directly however,* then – assuming that you’ve already read his comments – I’ll post my original response here instead:

Dear Jake,

it’s difficult not to sound offensive when critiquing someone’s opinions so harshly. But still, however legitimate your concerns about representations of Asian men in the US media are, you are completely mistaken in assuming that these are also perpetuated by the Korean media, in a culturally imperialist sense.

Indeed, it is simply apologist to ascribe anything but the most minimal of roles to that in attempting to understand racism against KF-CM couples in Korea. Much more seriously though, in so doing you also rely heavily on some extremely patronizing and sexist assumptions about Korean women, let alone racist ones against Caucasian men. Let me explain.

I’ll start with your acknowledgment that “there’s no denying that simple male jealousy plays a role in the bellyaching white men…encounter as one part of an interracial couple in Korea.” Naturally I fully agree, and while I consider it a little harsh to while dismiss treating it “as simple jealousy from a bunch of Korean/Asian losers” as a “pretty foolish assumption” – after all, you get jerks like that the world over – I also agree that it is wise “to consider the historical and political implications and undertones of various types and permutations of interracial dating” to understand that bellyaching more fully (source, bellyaching pun above).

But what is that historical and political context you identify?

The Western media has a much longer reach than Korean media; in fact all Asian media is to an extent influenced strongly by Euro-centric beauty standards. This has been well-documented by all the plastic surgery, and by the glorification of media figures (singers, actresses) who are selected first and foremost for their vaguely euro-Asian looks (as opposed to supposedly ‘ugly’ Korean features) and then groomed by a team of trainers and managers to become media superstars like Girls Generation, Son Dam-Bi, and all the ‘flavors du jour’ pop-tarts you see on Korean TV shows.

Actually I pretty much agree with that too, but for the “The Western media has a much longer reach than Korean media” part. Which might sound like a trifling point, but as we’ll see in a moment, you have a rather inflated view of the Western media’s power in Korea.

So given the fact that an embedded system of euro/white-worship permeates South Korean pop-culture, white males have more elbow room to work with in the global dating scene. Many come to the shores of Korea and Asia and have relatively little trouble finding willing women who having seen and internalized images of white beauty standards, would like nothing more than to experience the thrill of dating the mythic “white boy”. And white men who come to Korea are only too happy to take advantage of this fact.

Okaaay…I’ll deal with your warped view of the interracial dating scene in Korea in a moment too (source above: Gusts of Popular Feeling). But first, let’s focus on your views of Korean women which it relies on, which you expand upon in your next comment:

Asian female/white male relationships cannot happen unless both parties are willing to participate in it.

This can only mean one thing – that Korean women, having internalized media messages glorifying white men, are also actively seeking them out to satisfy their own ‘white fetish’. Therefore, we cannot simply categorize white men as “predators” for Asian flesh: instead, a significant number of Asian women are willing collaborators.

Interesting choices of terms you’re using, especially that last. Continuing:

Or at the very least, they are passively open to it – that is, they might not go out of their way to seek white men, but if one does hit on them they are psychologically “primed” to be much more open to their sexual and romantic advances, as opposed to a black or even Korean man.

This is just more evidence of the pervasive white worship in Korean society, and it illustrates just how thoroughly and totally many Korean women internalize this message.

You’ve seen them in the bars and clubs and lounges of Seoul. To them, white boys on their arm are the ultimate accessory to their personal crusade to be the “coolest” chick on the block.

They’re commodifying race – and according to their rather twisted logic, being seen with a white guy the equivalent of having the latest handbag or shoes.

( Source )

They ought to stop and think about the implications of their choices. To them it’s a confirmation of their own belief that “being with a white man = COOL + URBANE + COSMOPOLITAN + TRENDY”… but it’s actually an expression of a colonial mindset – they are psychologically and mentally colonized, dominated, and enslaved.

They’re not setting the tone on what is cool – they’re doing the exact opposite: setting the tone on what is sick, twisted, and unwholesome.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming that ALL Korean women with white men are like this. But there is also no denying that a significant number of these women do exist. So please take my comments for what they are, and don’t take them out of context. Thanks.

Hey, no-one is denying that there are some Korean women who seek a White boyfriend for much the same reasons they would a Gucci handbag (or various types of Korean men either for that matter). But a “significant” number of Korean women with White men are like this you say? What percentage of them do you mean by that term roughly? 10? 25? Do you actually have any evidence whatsoever that they represent anything but the tiniest fraction of all KF-CM relationships?

Also, I’m rather confused: what percentage don’t want a White boyfriend as an accessory, but like you say just want to experience the thrill of dating one instead (which apparently is bad, even though we’re all attracted to the exotic)? What percentage are simply psychologically “primed” to spread their legs more readily for a White man “as opposed to a Black or even Korean” one? And finally, presuming you even allow for the possibility, what percentage of Korean women would you say aren’t passive, unthinking dupes of media messages of White male supremacy and are thus able to have genuine loving relationships with White men?

More to the point, have you asked so much as a single Korean woman of what she thinks of your characterization of them above?

I have asked one myself actually, my wife, and I’d wager that her reaction to you on the right is pretty representative. But I’ve asked many many more about interracial dating, and I think you’d be rather surprised at the far greater numbers of Korean women who have little interest, even a positive distaste at the possibility of dating White men.

Moreover, while I fully acknowledge the role of stereotypes, and that global racial patterns of hegemony and privilege ensure that more White guys end up in South Korea than, say, Indian guys, it still doesn’t automatically follow from that Korean women encountering White men and assessing them as potential partners do so by criteria that are substantially different than those they do for Korean men. For instance, as one Korean female friend put it to me, while White guys tending to be taller has a great deal to do with their attraction to some Korean women (albeit a dating advantage that is rapidly disappearing), that still isn’t enough to overcome the anticipated language and/or cultural difficulties for most others. Another acknowledged that while White men in Korean tended to have more money (and freedom) than Korean guys in their early-20s, with the ESL industry in Korea being the joke that is then financially-speaking, in fact Koreans make much better partners by their late-20s and early-30s.

Nevertheless, in your next comment you spend several hundred words painting the relationship between a commenters’ German father and Korean mother as nothing but the result of wider forces beyond their control. In your own words: “With due respect (and really I mean it! ), your parents’ particular type of interracial pairing is the result of a global system of white male hegemony and privilege.”

And your reaction to the commenter after that, who wonders where the inconvenient reality of increasing number of Korean male – Caucasian female pairings like her own fits into your diatribe?

If you take some time to analyze our message instead of reacting emotionally, you’ll see just how out of line your thinking is, and how little time and effort you put into trying to understand something that is admittedly *highly, highly* complex. It’s a difficult concept for anyone to wrap his or her head around, so I guess I can’t blame you for taking the lazy way out with convenient and disjointed logic.

( Source: Baby Black )

But then I said I’d talk about the Western media’s influence in Korea, and so I’ll do so now by contrasting the different impacts you feel it has on Korean men and women (my emphasis):

But the rub for Korean men (in general) is that men in places like Madison Avenue in New York City and Hollywood who control the images that go up on billboards and on TV and movie-screens are white – and they invariably make those images in their own image: White, Male, and BLOWN WAY OUT OF PROPORTION. In short: welcome to the world of Hollywood and the White Male Action Hero.

Keep in mind that while this is happening, Asian males are either completely excluded or used as a foil to make the white male look better in comparison. So Asian males in America or Korean males living in Korea internalize this subliminal message in the media and think that they can’t possibly step up to a blonde girl (or whatever white chick). They live their entire lives being psychologically castrated, in sharp contrast to a white male from where ever, who is emboldened or even arrogantly empowered by the jumbo-sized images made in his likeness, in the embrace of gorgeous white, black, latin, and of course Asian women in movie theatres all over the world.

Hey, again I completely agree about the representations of Korean and Asian men in the US media. But I’m curious as to how you think this affects Korean males in Korea exactly, and what’s more upon whom you – very tellingly – imply that there is an equal effect as on Asian males in America. Pray, have you actually read or watched any Korean television, movies, magazine, or websites recently? It’s not like they’re lacking for strong, macho images of Korean men getting the Korean girl; or indeed, frequently getting the White girl these days, creating hypersexual stereotypes of them in the process.

( Source: Somang Cosmetics, 2003 )

Moreover, for a domestic media supposedly at the mercy of the global/Western media and its emasculating imagery of Korean men, it’s just bizarre how nevertheless it still has the ability to effectively censor all expressions of women’s sexual interest in foreign players during the 2002 World Cup; to not allow a single positive representation of KF-CM relationships in advertisements until July this year; to give a free voice to groups that, under the belief that they’re all diseased sexual predatorsliterally stalk Western men in Korea with the aim of having them deported; and so on.

Am I also “emotionally reacting” in pointing that out? Or is there some other way you can fit all the above into your narrative of victimization?

And simultaneously (being human and all) many white women are conditioned to shoot for white men as the “gold standard”, since all the glorified images of ‘male sex appeal’ feature only white males. Some even view Asian males with contempt or pity, and this of course spills over when white chicks go abroad – though to be fair, I’ve noticed this racist bias more in North American white females than European ones. So it is any wonder we see a “global sexual marketplace” that is DOMINATED by white males (figuratively) ‘raping’ and exploiting these loopholes to their sexual advantage?

Given the above dynamics of a GLOBAL system of media brainwashing that favors white males, is it any wonder that some people in Korea or elsewhere might secretly (or openly, in some cases) resent a white male for doing what he does? It’s not unreasonable, or completely out of the realm of possibility.

Ah. So while Korean women are passive dupes of the Western media, in contrast Korean men are savvy, knowledgeable consumers of it, and for whom calling a Korean woman walking down the street with Caucasian male a whore, say, is hence a justified response to their symbolic castrations and emasculation therein? As is the way the Korean media treats Western men?

To put it mildly, that sounds rather apologist to me. But then considering what you write about White guys in Korea, what would I know, right?

But here’s the funny thing: to him, he’s just ‘innocently’ going about his personal life – but of course he also doesn’t see (well, probably chooses not to see, that is, ignore) that the entire System is built for HIS personal advantage. It’s custom-built for his white male needs – and that is very racist, no doubt.

And on that note, I’ll put this response to rest. Regular readers may well wonder why I devoted so much time to it – after all, its flaws speak for themselves – but then I’m only human: it’s annoying to spend 60 minutes on a comment only to have it disappear (see below), and I was angered by comments on a similar post on Noona Blog not only gushing with enthusiasm for Jake’s comments but implying that he had a fact-based academic writing style, when it’s pretty easy to demonstrate that it’s anything but. And then there’s the context of being a White man married to a Korean woman blogging about gender issues in Korea too, who as a result regularly gets trolls insulting both of us, or even 5000 word emails claiming that the vast majority of  White men in Korea (never myself of course) have “yellow fever”, and that I’m just being emotional in not acknowledging that.

More usefully however, in my post on that first commercial ever to feature KF-CM couples, and the racism behind that delay, there was a Korean-American commenter who made many of the same points that Jake did above. To be clear though, he was extremely polite and not at all racist, but yet he did also feel the need to raise representations of Asian men in the US media; which as I also repeatedly said there, are completely irrelevant.

Two people don’t make a trend of course, but, lest they become more, this post is my response, to which I’ll simply direct people with similar views to in the future.

You’ve seen them in the bars and clubs and lounges of Seoul. To them, white boys on their arm are the ultimate accessory to their personal crusade to be the “coolest” chick on the block.

They’re commodifying race – and according to their rather twisted logic, being seen with a white guy the equivalent of having the latest handbag or shoes.

They ought to stop and think about the implications of their choices. To them it’s a confirmation of their own belief that “being with a white man = COOL + URBANE + COSMOPOLITAN + TRENDY”… but it’s actually an expression of a colonial mindset – they are psychologically and mentally colonized, dominated, and enslaved.

They’re not setting the tone on what is cool – they’re doing the exact opposite: setting the tone on what is sick, twisted, and unwholesome.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming that ALL Korean women with white men are like this. But there is also no denying that a significant number of these women do exist. So please take my comments for what they are, and don’t take them out of context. Thanks.

*Actually, my original intention was just to leave a comment at Noona Blog, but as soon as I hit “submit reply” then it disappeared into the ether. As the same thing happened on a different post last week however (my first there), then wisely I’d saved it first. Of course, it’s annoying that I can’t seem to comment at all there then, but normally I’d just chalk that up to the idiosyncrasies of  the individual website. Yet then the same thing happened on Seoul Beats yesterday too (thanks for the link guys!), which I have successfully commented on before. Do any technically-minded readers have any possible explanations?  A plugin issue perhaps, or something to do with the most recent version of WordPress? (Switching from Firefox to I.E. didn’t help) Thanks in advance!

(Posted at The Grand Narrative)

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