North Korea reserves special vitriol for blacks

Foreign PolicyMay 12, 2014 

“In 1965, the Cuban ambassador to the DPRK, a black man, was squiring his wife and some Cuban doctors” around Pyongyang, the scholar of North Korea B.R. Myers wrote in his 2010 book, “The Cleanest Race.” “Locals surrounded their car, pounding it and shouting racial epithets. Police called to the scene had to beat the mob back with truncheons.”

I thought of this anecdote after reading about an anti-President Barack Obama rant published May 2 by the Korean Central News Agency, which contained such quotes as “it would be perfect for Obama to live with a group of monkeys in the world’s largest African natural zoo and lick the bread crumbs thrown by spectators.”

While news agencies run by the North Korean government regularly insult foreign officials, they usually don’t use language redolent of Nazi pulp novels. The translated excerpts are the angriest pieces of writing I’ve seen in a long time.

Myers writes that the country’s forced cult of personality has fashioned the Kims into guardians of the Koreans’ purity and innocence, and protect them from contamination by the outside world.

Indeed, racial purity is the only thing that North Korea – whose population includes so few foreigners that it can plausibly claim to be 100 percent Korean – does better than everywhere else.

North Korea reserves special vitriol for blacks. After Dennis Rodman and members of the Harlem Globetrotters visited Pyongyang in January, a journalist claimed that a North Korean source told him people were “asking each other, ‘where did they find that group of goblins?’”

In their 2009 book “The Hidden People of North Korea,” Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh relayed the story of a May 2006 meeting between North and South Korean military officers. The southerner offhandedly mentions that rural farmers in South Korea sometimes take foreign brides – incensing the North Korean officer.

“Our nation has always considered its pure lineage to be of great importance,” he snapped. “Not even one drop of ink must be allowed to fall into the Han River.”

Iit’s hard to think of a more visceral symbol of North Korean racism than its fears of black ink polluting a clear river.

Stone Fish is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.

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