What the Church Can Learn from NBC’s Offensive Korea Comments

Commentary
By Grace Ji-Sun Kim 2-14-2018
Noriaki Kasai of Japan carries the national flag at the games' Opening Cermony. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard 

The Olympics are usually a time for athletic diplomacy, characterized by astounding performances of the world’s best athletes in a spirit of friendly competition. Unfortunately, this year’s Olympics began on a sour note. On Feb. 9, during the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, one of the NBC broadcasters, identified to be Joshua Cooper Ramo, introduced Team Japan by saying, "... now representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945. But every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural and technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation."

This was a highly offensive comment to Koreans worldwide. The Japanese occupation was devastating to Korea, and its effects are still felt in today’s divided Korea. Many Koreans were killed during the Japanese occupation, which began in 1910 and lasted until 1945. Many were taken as slave workers — and as sexual slaves to gratify Japanese soldiers. Korean culture was uprooted and everything Japanese was promoted. In 1939, many were pressured to change their names to Japanese names. Furthermore, the Japanese persecuted the Christians. The effects of Japanese colonialism are still felt today, and many believe that the division of the country of Korea would not have occurred in the absence of Japanese colonialism.

The colonial narrative that colonizers sometimes improve the lives of colonial subjects is false and is used as a propaganda tool by those who seek to justify continued invasion and colonization of the world through imperialism. America has achieved this through military conquest, promises of monetary aid, and by way of supporting or deposing political regimes. America continues to promote the narrative of all the good it is doing as it invades and takes what it wants, to the devastation of colonized countries. These colonized nations lose their sense of identity, ways of being, and their cultures.

As we reflect on the history of Christianity and how Christians colonized countries in South America and Africa under the pretense of “improving” the lives of “savages,” we must acknowledge some of the problems Christianity has caused in the name of Christian imperialism. Many people’s lives were lost, cultures destroyed, and identities lost. Christianity has its ugly colonial past that needs confessing and a road to redemption.

Furthermore, the NBC commentator’s thoughtless comment about Korea raises the question of why we continue to allow “white men” to speak on behalf of the Korean people. There is no shortage of intelligent and knowledgeable Koreans who can speak on our behalf. But for some reason, the wider American media persists in choosing white male commentators to speak on the Korean peninsula and challenging political situation. Many Koreans are tired of others speaking on our behalf. Is it really so challenging to hire a Korean commentator to provide the commentary on the Olympic games and the Korean culture?

Joshua Cooper Ramo has since been relieved from Olympic coverage and NBC has apologized for his unfortunate comment. However, Ramo has yet to apologize for his damaging and inaccurate comment. We, the Korean people, are raising our collective voice and demanding that Koreans be allowed to speak on behalf of Koreans.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Grace Ji-Sun Kim (@Gracejisunkim) is an associate professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is the author of 16 books, including Mother Daughter Speak: Lessons on Life and Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love.

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