Hey, Koreans.

dex digital
Jul 12, 2013 · 9 min read

Is there a Korean word for ‘Uncle Tom’? Because if there’s not, you need one, yesterday.

I realize that developing good intra-ethnic burns takes time though, so in the meantime I’d like to propose that you use the name ‘Heesun Wee’ to mean ‘jive-ass sellout’.

In case you don’t recognize the name, Heesun Wee is the CNBC editor that wrote an article with the following groan of a headline: Korean Culture May Offer Clues in Asiana Crash.

Yeah, you can more or less stop reading now, because you already know what’s happening here.

‘Korean culture is broken’

Wee’s (non)working premise is this: there’s something fundamentally wrong with Koreans. Specifically, Koreans are incapable of performing tasks that require independent thinking. This is because their language, culture, and — my favorite! — ‘national character’ are broken, feeble and facile; unlike our robust Western values.

So, let’s have it. Wee wastes no time, and by the end of the second paragraph, she is in the meat of her (racist) point:

‘Korea’s aviation sector remains rooted in a national character that’s largely about preserving hierarchy - and asking few questions’.

In case you’re not comfortable just having Wee say that, she brings Thomas Kochan, business professor at MIT and bona fide white man, to back her up with his presumably expert analysis:

“The Korean culture has two features—respect for seniority and age, and quite an authoritarian style…You put those two together, and you may get more one-way communication—and not a lot of it upward,” Kochan said.

Wait, hold on.

Let me get this straight: so this Korean Culture — of which there is only one staggering monolithic incarnation — has only two features: respect and authoritianism. Wow, that’s it? That’s incredibly convenient.

Seriously, somebody should hire this dude to do reductive travel guides in 140 characters or less. Like, why go to the trouble of traveling to Mexico to see what it’s all about, when you could get a Kochan Summary™, which will helpfully explain to you that The Mexican Culture is all about tacos and being late?

In the right hands, this could be an absolute goldmine. We could put The Lonely Planet out of business in a fortnight. My twitter is @dexdigi, holler at me if you want to get in on this.

Calling in the (white) experts

Also, wait. I just looked up this Thomas Kochan dude that she quoted, and seriously:

Thomas Kochan,Professor of Management at MIT

You mean to tell me that you needed an expert opinion on Korean culture, and you asked a 65+ year old white dude that doesn’t even speak Korean?

Couldn’t she, I don’t know, ask her mom or something? Anybody but this dude.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’s a smart guy. But I’m looking at his credentials on his website, and there’s about a paragraph of fancy looking words like Industrial Relations and Human Resources, but I’m not seeing any ‘Korean Culture Scholar’ or ‘Grand Master of Asian Society’ in there. I’d actually be willing to cut dude some slack and if he at least had a line item like ‘Assistant Secretary of the Official Girl’s Generation Fanclub, Massachusetts Chapter’, but I’m not seeing that either. Yeah, it looks like he’s taken a few trips to Korea to talk business (through an interpreter), but that doesn’t seem like it would give him a good understanding of anything at all.

I don’t know, man. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that asking someone that’s taken a few business trips to Korea to make sweeping generalizations about a nation of 50 million people is a bad idea, for the same reason that I think asking someone who’s read a couple of newspaper articles about football to design a strength and conditioning program that will have the Cowboys ready to take home the championship next year is a bad idea: namely, because that’s a job for experts, and Thomas Kochan is not one.

And similarly, while I’m happy he’s made a couple trips to Seoul, I’ve got a feeling that there are lots of things about Korea that ol’ Kochan might not exactly be qualified to speak on.

In all seriousness, I get it: things are always more convincing when spoken by a name brand White Man. But I’d rather not get my lowdown on the One True Korean Culture from a dude that doesn’t look like he can even fucking Gangnam Style.

Korean: too backwards for modern communication

Speaking of language, Wee also gives one of the most asinine culture primers ever to grace the internet:

As a general point of reference about the Korean language, you speak to superiors and elders in an honorific form that requires more words and can be more oblique. Less, “Yo! You want water?”; and more, “It’s a warm day for a nice refreshment, no?” This may sound trivial. But put this in the context of a cockpit, where seconds and decision-making are crucial and you get an idea of how communication and culture matter.

Come on now. Are we seriously supposed to believe that in the thousand plus years since the Goryeo dynasty, Koreans haven’t developed a good way to say ‘Sir/Madam! Watch out!’?

(If this is true, though, yo, does anyone want to invade Korea? We could arrive on the beach in a canoe and just start shooting people, and they’d be too busy bowing and stammering ‘Your Most Dearest and Kind High Excellency, on this day we doth humbly appear to have a slight issue’ or whatever to do anything about it. We could totally take the place over. Seriously, holler at me, we could take over the Samsung factories and make tons of money.)

Pointing to supposed flaws in language as a sign of cultural inferiority is a pretty established maneuver from the old racist playbook, but usually it’s done with a bit more sophistication and class. Wee seriously suggesting that Korean people are incapable of transmitting messages quickly and efficiently seems to be a mark of either stupidity, maliciousness, or both.

Anyway, it’s mostly downhill from that point. Wee goes on to blame the Korean men’s national soccer team’s failure on its inscrutable Koreanness (and locate its success in the hiring of a white European coach). Then, she pulls from a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which tries to account for past Korean airline troubles by pointing to, wait for it: broken Korean culture.

Which is interesting, because if you read the Amazon reviews for Outliers, there’s a review by an actual retired airline pilot from the UK that says that Gladwell’s analysis of Korean airlines shows not only a cultural bias, but a complete lack of understanding of how planes are actually flown. And there’s another that says the same thing — Gladwell doesn’t actually know anything about aviation. Maybe Wee should have, I don’t know, talked to some Korean pilots?

And no, using an Amazon comment as a source isn’t very good journalism. But then again, I don’t feel all that bad, because I’m not getting paid to do responsible journalism, and apparently neither is Wee.

Beyond that, I’m a more than a little confused about how Wee missed the memo that using Gladwell as a source of Asian insight is a stupefyingly bad idea. After all, Gladwell’s the dude that gave us such intellectual gems as the logically airtight “Asian kids are good at math, because rice fields”.

I’m not really sure what would prompt someone to write an article like this. Off top, I can envision a few scenarios:

1: Her boss coming in and saying: ‘Hey, that plane crash, that was Korea, right? You’re Korean, right Wee? Great name, by the way. Glad we kept one of you people around (cue head-pat). Okay, 800 words, two hours. Get on it.’
2: Seething, deep-seated self-hatred.
3: Thinking that if she shows that Korea-Koreans are crazy, then Korean Americans will look more ‘normal’, or assimilated, in comparison.
4: Thinking that any Asian culture can be reduced to some glib bulletpoints, and that there’s no reason to consult an actual Asian person, because their culture is primitive and backward.

I’ll get to number 1 in a moment. As for number 2, that’s pretty normal for colored folks in America, so I can’t be too mad at her. I mostly grew out of that when I was twelve, though.

I can definitely say that number 3 will absolutely backfire, because after the crash, Twitter was already blowing up with ‘LOL THATS WHY THEY CANT DRIVE EITHAR BECAUSE THEY WONT OPEN THEYRE EYES LOLOLOL XD’.

But really, where it comes down to is number 4. Number 4 is the reason that immediately after posting her article, Wee was getting retweets like this:

which, of course, she’s eating up.

For some reason, whenever someone that’s not white does something strange or bad, we immediately start thinking up ways to tie it to flaws in that particular person’s culture. Instead of, you know, thinking about that person as a unique individual with their own thoughts and ideas. Like the way we think of white people.

I mean, think about it.

Think about all those anti-American articles that hit the newsstands when they realized that that one of the little girls that died in the plane crash was actually hit by a fire truck that was driving too fast. Remember all of those articles discussing America's horrible driving culture, pointing to the BART protests to show that America refuses to modernize its transport? Remember that one news report that talked about how Euro-Americans' barbaric and egotistical nature prevents them from looking in front of them while they drive? Remember that inflammatory headline that read 'American Superman Complex to Blame for Death of Innocent Chinese Girl'? Remember that third-rate linguistics professor that explained how English has too many consonants to allow for smooth communication in a fire truck?

Oh, you don't remember those? Well, that's because those articles were never written. It didn’t even occur to anyone to do it. Because we assume that white people are people. Asians, and by extension, Asian Americans, are not allowed that luxury.

Hey, it’s a living.

Recently, though, white folks have realized that it seems racist if they write these nonsensical articles, so they get someone of the appropriate ethnicity to do their dirty work for them (see #1). This has been happening for a while, and it’s a pretty reliable phenomenon: note, for example, that the other major news story blaming the Asiana crash on Korean culture is also done by another Korean American. CNN didn’t want to get shown up, so they found their own Wee.

The phenomenon isn’t new, but in the past, it’s been a little limited. Partially because people of color couldn’t even get media jobs in the first place, there was really only one or two ethnic informant-apologists for each racial category. What we’re starting to realize now, though, is that this is actually a booming market. There’s room for more than one sellout superstar, and people are starting to make moves for a piece of the race-traitor paycheck. Michelle Malkin is no longer the only game in town.

Actually, Wee may be a bit brighter than she lets on. She’s not just shucking and jiving for the racist media, but she’s also using their revered method of gathering knowledge about Asians: only asking non-Asians (preferably whites). She’s providing the ethnic ‘wrapper’ that racist America needs to assure itself that it’s not racist, but still defers to racist America’s need to feel that it knows everything about everything better than anyone else. She’s playing the game both ways, and seriously, doing a pretty good job of it.

And yo, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Korea. I’ve got some Korean American and Korean friends, I’ve taught some Korean high school and college students, watched a couple Korean dramas, and one time after I got my wisdom teeth pulled I tried to learn Hangul, but the Vicodin made all the shapes blurry and I started hallucinating about Ron Paul before I could even get through the vowels so I gave up.

But even in that short experience, I managed to pick up on the impossibility of distilling the lives of tens of millions of people into a couple bullet points. I also learned when something bad or strange happens that involves a Korean, that it’s probably not a good idea to run to tired cliches like ‘Korean Culture’ for answers.

I wish Heesun Wee had, in her 30-some-odd years of being a Korean American, picked that up as well.

But, you know, whatever. She’s getting paid, so bully for her.

Epilogue: I found the word I was looking for! Click here to read more.

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. scholar slash baller . @dexdigi . whatupdex.com .

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