Racial Slurs in Korea


Since this is quite the sensitive topic I decided to make a post about it detailing what I know about how Koreans interpret foreign racial slurs. I am not ethnically Korean and neither do I claim to be a know-it-all expert on the topic, only that I would like to share what I know through living here in Korea and what I’ve gleaned off of my Korean friends.

Recently, Bangtan Boys sang Shinhwa’s TOP where the n-word is used and an outrage sprang up in the international community. Apparently this isn’t the first time Rapmon had used this word so shame on him, but this article is to explain why the PD did not censor this as they would other derogatory English words.

Some time back there was an incident on a bus where an African-American man and a elderly Korean man had an altercation on a bus that lead to a nationwide outrage. At the time, I had been teaching in Suwon, a city just a bit south of Seoul. I came to school to teach my students and one child, a boy of about 10 years of age, raised his hand and asked me “Teacher, is (the n-word) a bad word?”. Patiently I conveyed to this boy the severity of the word he had just uttered and cautioned every one of my students to NEVER EVER SAY THAT WORD TO ANYONE EVER. I told them that it was even worse than saying the f-word and I hope to god that he remembers that lecture.

This is but one of the many times I had to caution my students against using that word in public.

Korea is a homogenous country, meaning that Korea consists of Korean people and pretty much nothing else. When I had approached this topic of racial slurs to my Korean friends they seemed to understand that yes, the n-word is a bad word. But when they hear it, they don’t think anything of it. One of my friends even went as far as to say that to him, it was just an everyday word. When I questioned this friend about the fad of black facing I’ve been seeing on Korean television he told me that it was “funny” and didn’t even know it was offensive at all! I almost screamed at him before I realized that we were in a cafe and that was inappropriate and told him in a slightly lower voice than a shout that no, it is not funny and omg do you want to die?!

In short, Korean people are not even aware of how bad it is and probably why the PD didn’t even think of censoring this word on a broadcast. The international community has a duty to educate, not incriminate as I’ve seen a few people do online. Yes, this was a bad thing, but it was done out of ignorance. Hopefully our voices will be able to reach them, but let’s also be mature about this and not devolve into a hideous hivemind of scum and villainy.