Well, I’ve googled it and don’t see it out there, so I’m going to call dibs and coin this term: White Endorsement Monkey.
What is a White Endorsement Monkey? Well, if you’re a white person living abroad, you might experience this. I certainly have experienced it in Korea.
Don’t get me wrong: as stomach turning and ass-kissing as this book cover looks to me:
… I’m not calling this author a White Endorsement Monkey, because I’m not actually talking about what foreigners themselves do — but rather to a pressure that is sometimes imposed on non-Koreans by some Koreans. That someone publishes a book with a cover that looks like this can happen only because of that pressure.
So here I go, defining my term: a White Endorsement Monkey is a white person who says something positive about Korea. Or, rather, a White Endorsement Monkey is a white person who is reduced to a clown-like figure through saying only positive things about Korea, in an overly-flattering way, for the benefit of a Korean audience, but also, implicitly, at the behest of that audience.
(Maybe there are other shades of endorsement monkey; I’m not sure, though I imagine there are. All I know is that the white expats I know here seem to get pushed to say flattering things about Korea pretty constantly, certainly way more than the Asian expats I’ve known here, who seemed to face slightly different sets of pressures. Perhaps nonwhite expats will weigh in with their observations.)
I’ll give you an example: the first time that the Dokdo issue came up, I was baffled. It wasn’t because I had any feeling about the issue, one way or the other… no, it was because I’d never seen a society go so over-the-top regarding a minor land dispute with a neighboring country with which they were at peace.
This was sometime in 2004 or 2005, I think. There was an enormous wave of anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea, and Dokdo began appearing on T-shirts, on television — and not just the news, but in ads for restaurants and banks. Sometimes it felt like the whole nation had mobilized to declare publicly (if only domestically) that Dokdo was Korea’s.
So at some point, I was invited along to meet a group of Korean people who were about to go overseas to Canada on a Working Holiday Visa. They were nervous about their English, and many had never spoken in person to a native speaker of English, so as a favor to the woman I was dating then, I came along. At some point, one of the guys in the group asked me what I thought about Dokdo.
I told him. I told him honestly. It was about two sentences, along the lines of me being baffled there were still places in the developed world where nationalist fervor of this kind could get so high. That I felt the whole obsession was probably designed as a distraction from more pressing domestic political issues ongoing at the time.
I was nudged to stop, and I did. But many several people in the group were visibly crestfallen: they wanted me to say, “I think Dokdo is Korean!” They wanted me to criticize Japan, for their benefit. They wanted me to be their very own White Endorsement Monkey, and I had refused.
The pressure to be a White Endorsement Monkey can take many forms, and can have many consequences–some social, and some professional. Some White Endorsement Monkeys make good money for themselves. Some attain a certain degree of celebrity, praising things like Kpop (things that frankly don’t deserve the attention lavished upon them) or wrapping themselves in flags because, hell, that way lies profit. Some people who fail to become a White Endorsement Monkey actually get fired from their jobs, or experience painful social dislocation, or physical injury. More than once, I have had students attempt to wrest control of a classroom from me, so they could force me to choose between either becoming a White Endorsement Monkey or alienating the class. (And yes, in some classroom situations, those are occasionally the two options you’re faced with.)
But the worst consequence of this pressure to play the White Endorsement Monkey, the most terrifying outcome–believe it or not–comes from the failure (or the refusal) to be one for so hard, for so long, that one ends up becoming the White Defamation Monkey.
If you’re not sure what a White Defamation Monkey looks like, well, you probably haven’t spent much time on the Korean expat blogosphere, or in an expat bar. There are always, always, always a few of these people around. They’re not the ones with legitimate complaints about Korea, mind you; every foreigner I know has a few legitimate complaints about Korea, and they often line up with what more cosmopolitan or educated Koreans have to say about things.
No, this is the person who has a token phrase, usually a very offensive one, to refer to all Koreans. There was a very unhappy expat I knew who I was told, after he moved away from where I lived, started to use the word f*ckstick to refer to all Koreans. There’s a blog out there that refers to ajummas as “shaved monkeys” and “permed monkeys.” Which, in case anyone hasn’t grasped my position, is unacceptable and very, very offensive. It’s also, let’s not forget, patently stupid. And yet there are blogs out there dedicated to attempting to demonstrate the factuality of any number of offensive claims one could make about Koreans… usually essentializing ones, almost always generalizing, very often racist.
This isn’t just something observed online, either: some expats talk this way incessantly. Indeed, there have been times when my frustrations with Korean society, or work, or whatever had caused me to adopt the conversational position of the corrector: every time someone points out something nice about Korea, Koreans, Korean society, etc., I took on the responsibility of pointing out something related and equally (or more) negative.
It’s a bit like the various Derangement Syndromes that are discussed online. The thing is: the etiology. Some people say, “You’ve been in Korea too long,” but of course, this is revealing: the presumption is that there is an inherent “too long” that one can actually be in Korea… and I’d say one of the reasons is the pressure to be a White Endorsement Monkey.
I could go on about the postcolonial inferiority complex in South Korea in which this is rooted–that ravenous desire for American praise and approval (even from non-Americans: whiteness signifies Americanness to all too many Koreans, after all); but understanding why doesn’t make the what any less pervasive. This is a real and unavoidable phenomenon in the lives of expats in Korea.
But understanding why it happens is less important than recognizing it for what it is.
As for how to resist it? Beats me. Maybe you need to know when to fold, take your chips off the table, and leave. That’s what almost every long-term expat has suggested to me; that’s what many Koreans I know who’ve lived abroad have said, on their way back out of the country. Perhaps some people find a way to resist, or perhaps some just give in until they’re filthy rich, and then isolate themselves from whoever might pressure them this way? I find surrounding myself with smart people who see through this crap helps, but it doesn’t end the battle entirely.
Only one thing can do that…
17 thoughts on “New Term: “White Endorsement Monkey” and “White Defamation Monkey””
This has got to be some of the most offensive stuff I’ve read in Korea in the last 5 years. Nice to know one English Prof. in Korea thinks I’m a White Endorsement Monkey for saying positive things about Korea. You’ve got a seriously flawed way of thinking when it comes to this.Wonder what 10,000 other White Endorsement Monkeys living in Korea would have to say about this.
Wow, this has got to the the most nonsensical comment ever. Did you not read the post?
I never called you a White Endorsement Monkey.
I never called anyone a White Endorsement Monkey. I certainly didn’t call anyone who ever has anything nice to say about Korea a White Endorsement Monkey. (Hell, I have nice things to say about Korea from time to time.)
I explicitly stated that I wasn’t calling anyone a White Endorsement Monkey. Much less you, whom I don’t even know, and who has not identified himself here. (Unless your name really is “Wow, really?”)
I said there is pressure for white people in Korea to praise Korea. To do so clownishly, uncritically, for the pleasure of Koreans. Some of whom get off on watching white people uncritically and ignorantly praise Korea.
Some Korean people–in my experience, a sadly surprising number–go out of their way to prompt white foreigners to say positive things–and only positive things–about Korea. They put one on the spot. They ask leading questions. They even sometimes misinform people so as to make a good impression. (And they resent being caught out on it when they are told, “That’s not true.”)
See the difference there? I wasn’t calling someone a White Endorsement Monkey. I was saying that there’s a pressure on foreigners to act the role of White Endorsement Monkey. That may be a fine-tuned difference for someone who comments in outrage without reading a blog carefully.
But even when I explained that some people give into this pressure–sometimes to notable financial benefit–I didn’t label those people White Endorsement Monkeys.
Mind you, I do feel more comfortable labeling the people who sit around defaming Korea on their blogs all day with racist language as “White Defamation Monkeys.” Anyone who calls ajummas “permed chimpanzees” or the other horrid things I’ve seen online can surely live with being called a White Endorsement Monkey. But again, that behaviour is essentially a reaction to the White Endorsement Monkey pressure. It’s not as if the person is making a conscious decision to critique Korea: it’s a hate-fest equal and opposite to the praise-fest we have all of us at one point or another been pressured into.
Anyway, you should work on your reading skills. Your comment is clearly nonsensical given what I actually wrote.
And if, on the off chance this is Maartin Meijer (though would a published author really not sign his own name to such a post?), seriously: I found that book cover stomach-turning–an obvious kind of ass-kissing, though hell, for profit, if you can live with it, more power to you; and I haven’t read the book, maybe it’s more balanced than the cover suggests… and plenty of other people have felt the same way about the cover.
(Also, you may be missing a nuance here: terms like “code monkey” (like the Jonanthan Coulton song) and “grease monkey” and “cubicle monkey”, the latter being defined at that link thus: “An anonymous, soulless white-collar cubicle dweller.” The word “monkey” here suggests depersonalization, dehumanization, and the soullness anonymity of someone who mouths whatever praise he or she is asked to mouth, instead of being asked for actual opinions. Many of those thousands of English teachers in Korea you mentioned also use the term “white monkey” to label how they feel many Koreans look at them, either in public or in professional realms. So I guess maybe you missed my point… or you’re just out of it.)
But anyway, I wasn’t calling you–or anyone specifically–a White Endorsement Monkey. So put away that ire, actually read what I wrote, think it over, and then tell me if you think I’m wrong… if you think you’ve never been pressured to praise Korea in the way, and for the reasons, mentioned above.
Reading comprehension fail.
Hi, this is a great piece of writing on life in the trenches of Korea. I was wondering if you would be interested in letting us feature this on the site I run, asiapundits.com? We cover a variety of issues in Korea and this piece would really hit home with our readers here in one way or another. If you are interested in letting us run the piece, please feel free to send an email to and I will gladly post it for you later in the week with a link back to your site to get you some traffic. Thanks.
I suppose, if you think your readers would enjoy it, that would be fine. Thanks…
Might you pause, for at least a moment, to consider that your perception towards “nationalism” and a few rocks in the sea might be tainted by the fact that you and yours have never been subjected to colonialism? That never crossed your mind? Even after all these years, you still haven’t figured that out?
If some group had viciously violated your kin, you wouldn’t let them take even a discarded toothpick from your yard, for the next thousand years. And you’d be damn right. And the dolt who came by from some other county, wondering “why you all bothered about a toothpick?” would look like a full on fool. And that’s what you look like here, spouting about Dokdo like you know something. Shame on you.
Ha, I’m a dolt? No, that word better describes you, as you amply demonstrate without an iota of help:
You obviously have no idea about world history outside Korea, if you think white people never experienced colonization or victimization by their foreign invaders.
I’m not even going to get into my own personal family history–Southern French/Quebecois on one side, Scottish on the other–because obviously the hundreds of years of oppression, of vicious kin-violating that my ancestors experienced at the hands of their English/British imperial overlords (and their Northern French invaders, and let’s not talk about Roman invaders in France and Scotland, right?) over the last thousand years could (more actually) never compare to the 35 years Japan occupied Korea.
Your whole premise is a myopic crock of shit, Osori, and if you’d crack a single bloody book on world history, you might actually realize that.
But then you would have to come to grips with the fact Korea’s experience of colonialism isn’t really unique, or unusual. You don’t realize how much of the world was colonized until 1945, do you? While it flies in the face of what schools teach in Korea, the Korean people experienced quite a bit less colonial oppression than other societies, at least in terms of length of time, and yeah, some of those societies were predominantly white. (We could argue about the degree of brutality, but… well, then you’d have to crack a book and read up, and I’m sure it’s easier and more useful to you to just imagine Korea’s suffered worse than anyone else on Earth, right?)
By the way, I’m not mocking or downplaying Korea’s painful historical experience. Being colonized sucks. It’s unfortunate that Korea experienced it. But all colonialism sucks, and Korea’s occupation and exploitation was not the only one in history. Far from it, and you, implicitly (though probably ignorantly) downplay and spit upon everyone else’s brutal, painful experienced when you downplay or dismiss them. This is disgusting, though not a new move.
Me, I’m just pointing out that Korea’s experience was not unique except maybe, possibly, in how brief Korea’s experience of colonization was, when all is told. Thirty-five years (or fifty, if you prefer to round up) is not a long time by the scale of most other societies’ experiences with colonialism. Even the Anglo-Saxons in England experienced colonial oppression longer than that. And don’t even get me started on the Irish experience…
The Scots and the Quebecois may not have completely overcome the legacy of their colonial, oppressive experiences… but one sees much less frothing-at-the-mouth hysteria, rage, and out-of-proportion hatred in those societies than in Korea. Funny: longer colonial experience of vicious kin-violation, lower degree of hysterical rage against the innocent descendants of those who performed the vicious kin-violation… just as Lankov suggests at the end of his piece, linked above, where he notes nationalist exploitation of the feelings in question.
And by the way, I suppose by your logic the Vietnamese people are deserving an apology from the Korean government for all the vicious kin-violation they experienced at the hands of Korean soldiers in Vietnam?
In all honesty, I don’t think there’s a real inverse proportion between length of occupation and degree of postcolonial rage today: to the degree that such resentments continue and fester anywhere–Korea, Scotland, Quebec–I’d say they do so more because of the utility of the politics of resentment to governments, or to factions within a government. It’s very useful for politicians to have something you can point at and get your population hysterically angry about, thereby distracting them from things that actually affect their lives much more profoundly. Societies put such rage away to a degree when their members are given a chance to separate the past from the present, and move on… and when they discover how unproductive a politics of victimhood and of resentment can be, compared to what they could be focusing on instead.
In summary: no, shame on you. And by the way, don’t imply I’m a dolt without doing your bloody homework.
Also: your little rant has very little to do with my point, which is that the insecurity many Koreans feel drives them to try force people to say nice things about Korea and ignore the negatives. This is not a positive thing for foreigners… but it’s also not a positive thing for the many thousands of Koreans who are critical of problems in Korean society, and want to say something (or make efforts to improve things) but keep quiet for fear of being shouted down by nationalistic morons more eager to defend the Korean nation-state than to improve actual conditions for Korean people.
Maybe that’s not your experience, but it is the experience of many. So even your pathetic justifications are mostly justifications for continued shooting of one’s countrymen and countrywomen in the foot.
DELETED BY ADMINISTRATOR FOR VIOLATING COMMENT POLICY (GENERAL RUDENESS).
But for the amusement of those who want to know what said rudeness looks like, feel free to reconstruct the text if you can from this:
blh blh blh dssmblng, tltng t strwmn, blh blh d nfntm.
Nwhr, bt nwhr, ws thr ny mplctn tht Kr’s hstry s nq (wht ss y plld tht frm, Sthrn Frnch/Qbcs r Scttsh, hv n d), bt whtvr fmly hstry y wnt t ly clm t s nt n whr yr lvng ncstrs hv dlt wth clnlsm th lks f whch Kr hs dlt wth – nd ths yr cmplt nblty t fthm why thr hmn bngs hv sch ngr bt clnlsm. Nw f m wrng, nd y hv rsh kn wh sffrd drng th Trbls, nd yt y _stll_ hv n cl why th vst mjrty f Krns (whm y tr s lttl mr thn lmmngs fllwng vl dmggs) r pssd bt rcks n th s, thn y r ndd n vn bggr dlt thn rgnlly tk y fr. Wld y srsly wnt t rg tht fn mny rsh mn nd wmn wldn’t gv tw fck lls bt th Crwn lyng clm t msly rcks n th s? Rckll, y fckng dlt.
nd swt mrcfl Jss, why n rth wldn’t b dsgstd by Prk Chngh’s glmmng nt th mrcn Wr n Vtnm? Bcs cld nly b blnd rvng Krn ntnlst f thnk y’r stpd fr nt bng bl t cmprhnd why Krns, lft – rght – nd cntr – wn’t bd vn th brth f th Jpns t gt nr Dkd? Ths nly prvs hw cllss y r bt bth mprlsm nd nt-mprlsm, yr fmly hstry b dmnd.
I would urge you to read John Scalzi’s recent and wonderful post on how to be a good commenter. Because you certainly are not being one, which is why I have disemvoweled your last post. If you wish to troll online, there are websites which will tolerate that kind of garbage. This is not one of them, and you may consider the above disemvowelment a warning. Discuss intelligently, and you will be welcome; act like a troll and be banned like a troll.
Since disemvowelment allows people to read your comment in all its nonsensical raging glory if they really want to, I will respond:
Your apparent reading comprehension fail continues.
You are trying to derail this discussion by turning it into a discussion of Dokdo. Either that, or you really, really have trouble with reading comprehension and think that this post (and the comment thread) are all about Dokdo.
As I pointed out, my post was not primarily about Dokdo, nor about the rage Korean society gets willingly whipped up into over it (usually at moments convenient to whichever political party has the reins at the time). This was a throwaway example, one among many possible ones.
My post was about the bizarre-but-widespread desire many Koreans seem to have to see Westerners in Korea endorsing Korea on Korea’s terms in individual social exchanges.
Including, as my example points out, Koreans trying to invite or coerce white westerners into endorsing Korea’s territorial claim on Dokdo, but also including coercion of endorsements of Korea in other (usually inane) ways. (Such as: praising kimchi, praising the beauty of Korean women, praising the spiciness of Korean food, praising Kpop, etc.)
The Dokdo example had nothing to do with Korean’s feelings about Dokdo, and everything to do with the frankly foolish hope they have that non-Koreans will, when abruptly put on the spot, mouth whatever Koreans want to hear on such issues; that, in other words, when asked or pressured, white people will become White Endorsement Monkeys for the edification of Koreans.
Thus you, in your monomaniacal, obsessive focus on Dokdo, absolutely failed to recognize the whole point of the piece. Once again, as Noah Body so economically stated about someone else’s comment, your own two comments thus far constitute evidence of Severe Reading Comprehension Fail.
But since people can puzzle out what you’ve written, since I’ve only disemvoweled your comment and not deleted it, I will respond to some of your intellectual flailing.
My assumption that you are Korean is rooted in a desire to give you the benefit of the doubt. I realize why many Koreans are as obsessive and monomaniacal about Dokdo as they are, and I realize it isn’t entirely their faults. Sympathy led me to imagine that if you were Korean, you too would at least have the excuse of having grown up in an environment where indoctrination about Dokdo, Japan, Korean victimhood, and so forth were pervasive and normative, and in which Koreans were never the perpetrator of any crime, but rather were perpetual and permanent victims of others’ crimes. To deny you such a possible excuse for your misguided contributions above seemed unfair, on the off-chance you were, like so many, a victim of your own government’s indoctrination campaign.
(Also, it is significantly rarer for non-Koreans to attempt to turn A Discussion in Which Dokdo Was Mentioned into A Discussion About Dokdo, and when they do, it is usually because they are playing the White Defamation Monkey–dismissing Koreans’ claims, not promoting them, in other words.)
In other words, I didn’t want to assume you were a credulous foreign nitwit who’d jumped on the Korean bandwagon without any of the excuses Koreans have for doing so. It seemed unfair to assume that right off the bat, though at this point, I am starting to think otherwise.
However, I will state that the benefit of the doubt I granted you could be seen as unfair also: I know a number of intelligent Koreans of various ages who see through the hullabaloo over Dokdo to the reality that while the conflict over Dokdo is multilayered, the real impetus is a mixture of economic/resource interests, and political interests.
Every informed observer, Korean or foreign, realizes that the South Korean government uses Dokdo as a distraction from domestic issues. This is something every bright Korean I know realizes. So, in turn, I will add that your assumption that all Koreans feel this way (a likewise common assumption among Koreans, but also among know-it-all expats) is insulting, too.
By the way, I in fact am not completely unable to fathom why other human beings have anger about colonialism. Not that I have to prove myself to you, a stranger posting anonymously in a comment section, but in fact, when growing up, I was the one trying to explain to my father (who had grown up in a British colony in Africa) why people there had been and continued to be so resentful of colonial occupation (despite all the good he claimed individuals he knew did there for the native people). I carefully, painstakingly tried to explain to him the emotional logic and the bigger picture, though years of brainwashing by his government at the time he’d lived there made it difficult.
Which is the thing: whether colonizer or colonized, the whole system depends on the brainwashing of the majority of people on both sides. The two are really sides of the same coin, in many ways, and it’s astonishing to see how similar colonial-era indoctrination by the colonizers and postcolonial indoctrination by the ex-colonized can be.
So don’t make assumptions about what I can and cannot fathom. Perhaps you ought to ask yourself, instead, how much you fathom. The log in your eye, etc.
There are things I have trouble fathoming, however.
I am unable to fathom how people give in, for years at a time, to the pressure to simply engage in blind rage and irrational paranoia rooted in a past-centric view of the world (and of themselves) when it is demonstrably and quite significantly counterproductive to their own present living circumstances.
I am unable to fathom how people can justify being publically and vocally enraged about the depredations of foreign colonialism, while being utterly and blatantly–and even aggressively–uninterested in confronting other, very comparable forms of domestic oppression (such as sexism, homophobia, regionalism, and racism–against, especially, Chinese and Southeast Asians here today) that predominate in their own society at the moment. The degree of hypocrisy in that boggles my mind.
I am unable to understand why being jailed or executed for dissidence (or forced into the sex trade or into a soldier’s uniform by a Japanese political system) is a permanently unforgivable crime, while having the same indignities inflicted upon one by a Korean government (like Park’s) is Something We Shouldn’t Talk About Because He Was A Strong Daddy Figure And He Fixed The Economy.
(Because you can fix economies without jailing and murdering people, without forcing young women into whoring for foreigners, without the forced military indoctrination of all men in the country; and when you do it that way, you trash all kinds of other things that matter too.)
None of that makes sense to me, and I am incapable of fathoming it. (Just as I am incapable of fathoming the politico-historical stupidies of the country I come from, those we see in America, in France, in Britain, and so on).
Not that this is the point of my post. But since you seem bound and determined to school me on Dokdo, maybe you should know a thing or two about it yourself.
For example: Koreans’ rage at Dokdo is not a natural result of commonly shared memories of Japanese depredations, though those depredations were real. It is the result of an intensive effort by the government (via curriculum, via mandatory military service for men including explicit indoctrination sessions) and the media. It is not a natural feeling, but a learned one, and one that took a great deal of conscious, concerted effort to establish in the current generation.
By the way, I never claimed to have Irish ancestors. I have Scottish and French ancestors. Again, reading comprehension fail: apparently your blind rage has distracted you. But since you are living in an fantasy world about the Irish, allow me to school you: even among the Irish, there is some sense that the Irish struggle matters to Irish people, but that it’s not a point of natural concern to others. The Irish don’t think advertising anti-English ads in Times Square makes sense, or is a heroic thing to do for the Irish Nation. The Irish do not go about asking Asian strangers to ape Irish nationalist sentiments at the drop of a hat, or scream at the for failing to do so, and the impetus to do so does not stretch from the least educated to the most highly educated withi Irish society, with the people who don’t feel the need to corner foreigners on this issue being the oddball exceptions who feel like they don’t fit in within their own society. Trust me, I have Irish friends who could school you on this, except they wouldn’t see the point.
As for your goal-post changing: you said “a thousand years” in your first comment (assuming you’re not “Wow, really?”). Within a thousand years, I certainly have ancestors on both sides of my family who experienced colonial exploitation comparable to that Korea experienced, and yet… somehow, they are also free of the sillinesses I mentioned above.
And in case it needs any further clarification: I have not in any way, shape, or form expressed an opinion about whether Dokdo is Korean territory, Japanese territory, or anyone’s territory. I have read that by the statutes of International Law it would be deemed nobody’s territory (because it does not qualify for definition as an island) but I am not an expert and have no firm opinion on the matter.
My opinion in general is that the “dispute”–as most Koreans understand and experience it–exists mainly to serve as a distraction for the masses, and that the more they obsess about it (and railroad every conversation about Japan, history, Korean politics, and so on toward it), the less they pay attention to the much more pressing problems faced by the majority of Koreans. I would add that the only reason the Japanese government lays any claim to Dokdo is to appease its own wingnut conservatives. Aside from the natural resources there, it’s all about domestic politics. Fighting over whose rocks they are is reminiscent of nothing so much as The Hunger Games: if you’re fighting against each other, you’re doing exactly what the people screwing you want you to do. Better to join forces and fight them.
(And, I hasten to add, if the screwed-over Korean peasants and the screwed-over Japanese peasants had somehow been able to join forces, they could have taken down the oppressive Korean monarchy and the oppressive Japanese one in a single fell swoop, and fought for more equitable governments. It didn’t seem like an apparent idea it the time, of course, though if you look back in time from where we stand, it seems a natural one: the peasants on both sides of the water had much more in common with one another than with the bastards who were exploiting them and running them into the ground at every step of the way. Of course, tragically, they didn’t have an internet, though, or access to theories of democracy, or any of the other many, varied resources that we do. But what’s our excuse today?)
Anyway, as I said, my point in the above was not to discuss Dokdo, or even the widespread obsession about it among Koreans.
It was to illustrate the fact that as a white foreigner, one is often pressured to endorse Korea (or Korean positions, on Korean terms and regarding issues irrelevant to the lives of non-Koreans) in social situations, and that the backlash sometimes leads people to express contrary positions to those they are asked to endorse, defaming and discrediting Korea just as monomaniacally as those who pressure them to praise the country.
If you have something to say about THAT, then feel free to post. If not, may I recommend you go fight with someone who’d be happier to fight with you on this issue? Me, I’m not interested in discussing it at all anymore.
Which, yes, is a warning. If you want to talk about the subject of this post, comment away. If you want to talk about Dokdo more, take it somewhere else.
I highly recommend Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth as a refutation of the idea that it is natural and inevitable that all postcolonial societies are permanently (on the scale of 1000 years) resentful of their former occupiers in the way Korea is… Fanon makes the point that it’s especially a society that didn’t fight for its own freedom (but got it thanks to outside forces) that ends up with the kinds of complexes so clearly on display in Korea… and he also points out ways that perpetuating that set of complexes amounts to self-harming.
Some Korean dude asked me with a huge smile “What do you think of Korean people?”… I replied
“Like any other people, you have good apples and your bad apples”. Took the wind out of his sails.
That’s my usual answer to such questions. I used to think maybe I was answering it badly in Korean, until one day I took a cab with two Korean women who, when he asked it, told me to answer in English and translated what I said. And then explained (in fluent Korean) what I’d said for 20 minutes, and the guy still didn’t get it why, “What do you think about Korean women?” is a weird and somewhat nonsensical question since it presumes Korean women are special and different than women in other places — some magical inherently racial distinctness and all.
It was all yeah-but, yeah-but as I told him some are cool, and some are boring, like women everywhere, until they finally got him to try answer why he cared what a foreigner thought. In the end, he confessed he thought Korean women were childish and boring, which was a little bit of a surprise–not because misogyny surprises me here, so much as because usually Korean cabbies are always [inexplicably] trying to convince me that I ought to marry a Korean woman.
“In the end, he confessed he thought Korean women were childish and boring, which was a little bit of a surprise–not because misogyny surprises me here, so much as because usually Korean cabbies are always [inexplicably] trying to convince me that I ought to marry a Korean woman.”
Misery loves company? :P
Great post. Occasionally, you can get away with speaking what’s really on your mind, but if you want to prosper long term, especially as a waeg, you need to at times do the white monkey dance, whether for family, business associates, or random strangers in bars. It actually becomes quite easy after a few tries, and I’ve made some great Korean friends over drinks when they called me out later on doing the dance for a supervisor or client. Good times.
Ha, perhaps you’re onto something with the cabbies, though, of course, I’m not miserable with Miss Jiwaku. :)
Thanks for your kinds words and your thoughts. Personally, I don’t think the White Monkey Endorser Dance will ever sit right with me: I can’t really stomach doing it. I can handle talking about positives, but I can’t handle the kind of unvarnished praise a certain kind of guy usually wants, especially when they talk utter nonsense and expect me to not know that it’s nonsense.
Lucky for me, Miss Jiwaku (and those parts of her extended family I’ve socialized with, if not her immediate family) are very cool about, you know, people having complex opinions. Her cousin’s family especially is great about that, and thinks it’s ridiculous how her parents dislike me for being, variously, white, non-Korean, non-Christian, and non-Korean-Protestant, as well as outspoken. If they ever, ever tried to get me to do the White Monkey Endorser dance, I’m pretty sure she would tell them off. (One of the first times we went out for a meal, she told her dad off when he started ostentatiously praising Park Chung Hee, if that gives you any idea.)
As for business associates, there’s a reasons I’m not in business. And as for random strangers in bars, ah, yeah, I remember.
You reminded me of something, though: there’s this pattern I’ve noticed with older Korean guys, who have been abroad. Not all of them, but a fair number, I’ve found, seem to assume that I, as an expat in Korea, can be expected to know absolutely nothing about Korea. And is therefore needing a long explanation of the “highlights” which invariably includes how poor Korea was not so long ago, and how hard people worked to raise the status of living, and what a Great Man of History Park Chung Hee was. (Ugh.)
Forget trying to explain that where I come from, people a century ago–or in some areas, only a couple of generations ago, like back in the late 30s and early 40s–were living in sod houses in some places. You’d think that talking about the Korean Three Kingdoms period, or interjecting, “Well, yeah, and you know, during most of the last thousand years, half or more of the people on this peninsula were hereditary slaves,” would clue people into the fact you’re not quite so blitheringly ignorant, but it never seems to bust through the assumptions.
Then again, I also find that these same guys, despite having lived overseas themselves, seemed to maintain a surprising degree of ignorance about the culture of the place where they lived. Not everyone, mind: I know Koreans who did exactly as I did when I came to Korea, picking up a history book and bringing themselves up to speed, visiting historical sites, the whole shebang. But those people tend not to expect total ignorance from a foreigner.
But I encounter the expectation of foreign ignorance far more often, even when people going in realize I’ve been here over a decade. Which is to say, another component of the White Monkey Endorser Dance is that, while one is expected to praise Korea, one is also expected to be sublimely ignorant about Korea. Which is really funny: if you talk to Koreans individually, many, many people have their pet peeves about Korean society, things they hate, resent, or wish they could change about it. Yet the White Monkey Endorser is somehow expected to have purely and straightforwardly positive things to say. It’s very odd.
I understand the “white endorsement monkey” stance. I think it implies to all foreigners and not just white people in general. I’m an African-American, and many people from my co-teachers, students, to random people on the street will ask me about Korean situations or dance moves, whatever. I do feel pressured to act this way for the sake of my job, or to get people to leave me alone, or be more accepting of me due to my looks (being African-American and all). I get the phrase in Korean that, “I’m cute” and the pat on the head. I understand your position on not wanting to be some type of clown and I applaud you man and wanted to let you know that you have another person here who thinks exactly like you do. Wanting to do your job and live in a country that’s extremely nationalistic and pressured to fit into the societal in-group is very tough. I’m tired of having to choose between me keeping my job or leaving with my sanity trying to stay in a country that cares nothing about my culture or my societal norms, values, and sanctions. On OCN (tv channel) they air this commercial that shows a foreigner dressed up as an ATM machine, lightsabering with a Korean who ultimately wins the sword fight and knocks the foreigner ATM machine on it’s knees. The Foreigner still stays on the ground, looking at his defective lightsaber and the Korean swings his in victory. Makes me sick.
First of all, sorry: as a new commenter, somehow my blog dropped your comment in the spam box. I’ve retrieved it now.
As for your comments: Thanks!
I suspected (and have heard) that people of African ancestry have similar (or worse) experiences, but I didn’t want to assume. (I perhaps half-expected that Koreans would be less interested in what a black person thinks about Korean issues, given the attitudes I’d run across at times here.) Rather than talk out of my ass, so I left it at what I can confirm through my own experiences… which means maybe “White Endorsement Monkey” could be used when I refer to myself (or when a white refers to himself or herself), but the term needs tinkering for using in the the generalized sense. “Foreign Endorsement Monkey” sounds clunky, though; “Western Endorsement Monkey,” maybe?
As for the struggle between not being a clown but being able to get by here, I have been lucky to have a certain number of Korean friends who wouldn’t dream of doing that kind of thing, and Miss Jiwaku–who is bright enough and had enough experience abroad to know exactly how offensive it is (and, occasionally, to inform dumbasses of it).
I can say from my own experience, though, that a perverse stick-to-it-iveness is not necessarily the best way to go. If you’re unhappy here, and have no overriding reason (having met the love of your life here, making so much money that the relentless unhappiness of the majority of around you doesn’t affect you, or whatever), I’d get out of Dodge.
(Hell, even if have met the love of your life or are rolling in dough, if immersion in Korean society adds up to more negatives than positives for you, well, there’s a whole world out there, with a significant number of places that are less nationalistic, less aggressively unhappy, and more fun than Korea for almost any given definition of “fun.”)