Can you give offense and not know it?
I hate it when people say that. Has anyone ever experienced this situation; someone says something out of order, then says ‘no offense!’ Its like saying no offense absolves them of what they’ve done. When someone says that it means, A: the previous comment was offensive and B: they know it was offensive.
This is what comes to mind when discussing black face in Asia. These are situations that are highly offensive, hurtful and infuriating. Asian communities seem to be unaware of the depths of meaning behind such gesture.
At BlackAsiaMagazine, we are proud to introduce, Black Expat Voices. This is a podcast produced for BlackAsiaMagazine by Roya Cartledge and Whitney McGhee. In the past, Whitney has graced us with her presence by doing an interview with Garrett Harper in South Korea. That interview can be seen here. Roya is a new addition to our family. These 2 women met in Korea but Whitney currently resides somewhere in India.
Black face in Asia, specifically in Korea, was the subject of a podcast series produced by Black Expat Voices. The series took place in 3 parts. The series went into detail regarding an instance where some Korean students painted their faces to be black people and imitated a ritual in Ghana known as the coffin dance.
In part 1 of the series, Roya and Whitney talk about Sam Okyere. He is alleged to be the most famous black man in South Korea. He is an actor and a model. Following this incident where these students dressed up in black face, Sam spoke out. Maybe he felt it was his duty to say something and to condemn what had been done.
Part 1 discusses what Sam did, what the students did and possibly, what Sam should have done.
So where does black face come from and why does it give such huge offense, especially to African-Americans? This is the subject of the second installment in the series. In part 2, Roya and Whitney go into the history of black face and its roots in minstrel shows in the United States.
The aim of part 2 was to articulate just why this kind of gesture is so outrageous. In the United States, over the past several decades legislation has developed to combat things like hate speech and hate crimes. Although people usually do not live up to it, this is what America aspires to be. In public, Americans aspire to be a country of people who do not insult anyone’s identity.
The reason for this is, in the past, words and deeds that insult someone’s race lead to violence and often times, murder. It is better that certain things remain unsaid, although they are omni-present. So where is the line between progress and regress? It is obvious to anyone who looks at western civilization that we have become too sensitive.
If we purport ourselves to be an advanced society, then all of our members must be accorded respect and human dignity. If the paramount concern is who may be offended by words or actions, and fear drives everything, how can different kinds of people ever truly understand each other? They will never express themselves. If we understand each other, then we respect each other. Then we arrive at a space where racially motivated violence would be a non issue. Of course, this is just my opinion.
Part 3 in the series is aptly titled, Awareness. It seems like common sense for us but maybe its not. We also have to take into account that we are in Asia. The problems between blacks and whites that have come to characterize the western world never existed here.
This series, the podcast Black Expat Voices, BlackAsiaMagazine and numerous other sources, seek to bring just that. The goal of this series is to bring about awareness regarding why no intelligent or thoughtful person would ever engage in this kind of behavior.
As we live out here in Asia as black people and we seek to thrive as successfully as possible, how do we communicate with the surrounding cultures? What should we expect of them? How do we communicate with cultures that are so alien to our cultures and experiences coming from back home? This is just 1 approach. Is it the right one?