Bad Word or Beautiful Country?
In an era where words and things are seen as objectively bad and can cause immediate and unfavorable impulses from people, it isn’t often that we’re able to openly discuss the issue slurs and ‘deragatory’ words.
Much of this has to do with situational awareness, but a great deal of it is the general public being afraid of poking some existential bear and unwittingly being punished for it. For example, most Americans have some understanding of why using the term “nigger” in any scenario is unsavory and usually very offensive (though there is much gray area including when singing along to music) and the usage of the word “Jap” is still pretty fresh in the history of American conflict. On the other hand, lesser understood slurs are simply seen as attached to a particular ethnicity and not so much is known further than that. Regardless of the complexity of each slur, we steer way clear from ever discussing such things, even in the highest of conceptual ivory towers and definitely not so in media or common social circles.
But with a bit of digging, we can find that not all slurs are equal in depth and consequence. Some, like “beaner” have extremely superficial attempts at hate and connect a people’s identity with a type of food, a form of slur much more feeble than the complexities of the ’N-word’. Slurs are also contextual, used only in certain parts of the world to label certain people and don’t cross boundaries. For instance, Koreans call Americans “burgers” with condescension because… well, it’s pretty obvious. On top of all that, the groups to which a slur applies to take varying levels of offense as well, an offense that may or may not cross generational gaps. I find all of this very fascinating and worth discussion.
The reason I began thinking on such things was the commonly known slur for Koreans (and Vietnamese historically) in America - Gook.
BTW, I haven’t seen the movie yet. I’ll be sure to check it out and so a review here.
I’ve heard the word passed around jokingly amongst Korean Americans occasionally and never thought much of it. Mainland America has a relatively short relationship with Korean populations which all occurred in the last bit of the 20th century, thus never really facing the same marginalization as blacks, Chinese, Irish, Japanese, and a number of other ethnicities. I’ve never heard the word gook in real life nor in any music or movies. I had been told it was technically a slur, but I can’t imagine myself being offended unless it was screamed at me by some nutjob on the subway.
My understanding was always that it stemmed from misunderstanding. When American soldiers occupied newly formed South Korea during the war, they always heard the term “migook,” the Korean word for America and character breakdown means “beautiful country,” and it sounded to the soldiers like “me gook.” Hence, the labeling. Unless a professor of East Asian history can correct me, most sources I’ve found corroborate that origin. Most Korean-born Koreans I’ve asked aren’t even aware of the usage. The example usage of it on Urban Dictionary highlights the almost non-seriousness of the word -
From research, I also began to understand it’s parallel relationship with Vietnamese history and is interestingly one of the few slurs to be applied to multiple nationalities simultaneously. This case is of course more severe as America was in direct conflict with much of Vietnam at the time of heavy use. Anyway, another thing learned from my dive in.
Again, I find this topic fascinating overall. There’s an almost unspoken rule that only people of certain ethnicity and skin color can talk about the slurs that are typically used against them. As always, I find that PC limitation absolute BS so I encourage sharing thoughts on this topic and personal examples. My blog is always a safe space for unsafe yet civil discussion. I’m curious what particular people’s relationships are with their relative slurs.