|An actual Korean blackface group|
Living in Korea, I see a lot of benign and not-so-benign racism leveled against everyone, but most often black people. Just recently, one of my friends described an instance on Facebook where she was out having dinner with her friends, and a Korean guy in blackface came up to the group and asked where everyone was from. When a white South African responded that she was from Africa, he got confused, motioned to a black American, and said, "Africa, Africa".
This is not anything special, neither for Korea nor the rest of the world. We all have our racists, we all have our assholes, and we all have our racist assholes. This happens. What I will never understand is the Korean impulse to either excuse this or claim that it's actually the foreigner who is being strange.
After posting this on Facebook, one of her Korean friends immediately jumped to excuse that, "Korea is a homogeneous country" as if that made it ok. Not only does this not make any sense, I can't even understand how someone thinks that this even could make sense. It basically amounts to: "I've never met a black person before, so it's ok to be an asshole to them." Or "I've never met a black person before, so I didn't know they were people."
I don't want to criticize this too sharply, but I wonder if we take the wrong approach towards teaching multiculturalism and diversity and...non-racism? Is that a word? I always just assumed that "non-racism" was just "being a human", so I'm not sure what the special word for this is, but whatever it is, that.
Coming from the states, we focus a lot on the "every culture is special" angle. I don't know if this gets to the core of it. Really, racism is just a lack of empathy, for whatever reason. If you're dressing up in blackface, it's because you can't or won't consider how someone with actual dark skin might feel when you do that. Sometimes this is because you're convinced that this is because that person doesn't have the same feelings as you do, like they're sub-human. I think most racism does not fall under this category, and more often than that, like most assholish behavior, people are just lacking in empathy or understanding for someone else.
Yeah, it's true that there's not really a lot of black people in Korea, but that doesn't mean that you can't teach empathy. It took one lesson for me as a kid, when my mom would ask me, "How would you like it if someone did that to you?" and I learned empathy. You don't need an actual black person in front of you, sharing their culture and their entire lifestyle to know that you shouldn't make a joke about someone's skin color. It's not ignorance, it's just being fucking awful.