This is from a month ago, as a reaction to that MBC thing, but it provides some interesting context for both the practice of blackface and its reception in various cultures (while not excusing the fact that it happened):
I think the singular difference between blackface in Korean contexts, versus blackface in the American (or European) context is that in Korea, it’s not clear whether blacks occupy a special negative place in the Korean mind — yet, or still. While it’s easy for the Western North American to assume so, since the mockery used on blacks is so often copied straight from our own historically racist entertainment, where blacks did occupy that specially excluded/hated status — and while it is offensive to most black people, and deserving of criticism — the Korean use of blackface isn’t necessarily a sign that blacks are the Most Hated Others in Korean thought. I think this assumption might be lurking behind the loudness the Western response to incidents of blackface (as opposed to the much quieter and gentler expat response to the mockery of Arabs in Korean media).
I also really liked this quote about the dominant culture’s perception of what racism is vs. its reality:
When people sympathize with me, they’re usually thinking of how alone they imagine I feel here, or how hard it is to be somewhere where your mother isn’t providing you with home-cooked side dishes on a regular basis — not people calling any woman beside me a “foreigners’ whore” or a “crazy bitch,” or being attacked in subway stations by random assholes, or having my contract illegally changed midway through, or going unpaid by an employer, as many white hakwon teachers seem to experience. When they imagine racism against blacks in Korea, they think of rude old men muttering bad words into the wind, not assaults on the subway or in the streets or a constant barrage of being told to “go home” or the way leadership in this society thinks of black people almost all the way to the top, or how insulting and dehumanizing the depiction of blacks is in the media here. When those Koreans who are at all sympathetic imagine the problems of Southeast Asians, they think of hard work and low pay, not fear of summary arrest or violence at the hands of employers or unthinkably dangerous working conditions.
To this I would add that in the North American context, this is often reversed: the popular perception of racism tends to be limited to physical violence and/or dramatic things like cross-burning (hence the fallacy that our society is “post-racial”, because things like that don’t happen in the open any more), not the more insidious, subtle things like Othering, stereotyping or withholding jobs or good grades. That’s not to say that physical violence isn’t part of the reality of racism - the recent cases of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi definitely say otherwise - but that it isn’t the whole picture, and racist attitudes still count even if their holder hasn’t committed an outright act of violence.