In the clip, a man squints his eyes, and wears a black wig and thin black mustache. He speaks in a mish-mash of English with a generic «Asian» accent and a faux- «Asian» language of nonsensical words. It’s clear he’s conjuring up the stereotype of an Asian man.
Who created this so-called comedy segment? The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), Norway’s biggest media group.
For the past week, NRK has been airing and promoting new episodes from «Helt Ramm», a comedy show hosted by Nicolay Ramm. The latest episodes feature the segment «Korean Rammshow», NRK’s parody of a Korean gameshow. That’s where the mockery of East Asians comes in.
Ramm is parodying Korean game shows by reducing Koreans to a set of played-out, harmful stereotypes. Are game shows funny? Of course, and it would have easily been possible to feature a similar segment, minus the racism.
To make matters worse, the clips feature actual Olympic athletes. Yes, NRK saw fit to make a segment showcasing racial stereotypes and making fun of the Olympic host country, with the help of Olympic athletes.
Many people I’ve talked to about this, most of them with East Asian heritage or family, have been appalled. We’ve sent emails to NRK, official complaints to the Broadcasting Council, and posted comments on the videos. The responses have invariably been complete silence or a canned response.
The solution to this situation would cost NRK absolutely nothing but a small dose of pride: an apology could have come quickly, with maturity and grace.
Instead of getting it over with quickly, they’ve doubled down. The videos were posted on multiple pages, and the front page of NRK.no. They show no sign of stopping, and certainly no sign of issuing an apology for the content.
But what exactly is the problem? I can hear the Norwegians asking. On a purely academic level, the video is indeed a parody. The responses I’ve received from NRK have been insistent on that point – it’s seemingly their only argument. It’s satirical they say, and making fun of another race isn’t racist.
Some might say «Korean Rammshow» is a tribute. I’d argue that a tribute doesn’t need to go so far as to imitate another race – simply having a Korean gameshow element would have been fine.
It shouldn’t be a newsflash that parodies aren’t immune to racism. Some of the earliest parodies in modern comedy were minstrel shows in the US, based on racial stereotypes. Nowadays when that happens, we call it blackface.
Imagine if NRK had made a video like this in 2010, when South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup. Imagine a white host imitating a black South African, using racial stereotypes. Imagine the uproar.
But the context of «Korean Rammshow» lends itself to acceptance. Mocking Asians is often perceived as acceptable, for a myriad of historical and social reasons including the «model minority» stereotype (the idea that East Asians are successful minority groups and that it’s therefore less harmful to be racist toward them). These short clips are part of a much bigger issue in Norway.
Acquaintances and friends have accused me, as an American, of being obsessed with race. What they don’t seem to realize is, Americans aren’t more racist, or more obsessed with race, but we are more willing to talk about it. To what end is not always clear – we have our own problems, after all. But the kind of racism present in Norway is often insidious in its innocuousness. It slips by without challenge, because Norway’s history is less checkered than the US. Norway’s cultural genocide and removal policies toward the Sami, based partly on American tactics, shy in comparison to slavery, Japanese-American internment camps, or the more recent «Muslim ban», to name a few.
Without the same dark history, Norwegians’ go-to defense when confronted is that they did not intend to be racist. That since they don’t hate Koreans, or Somalians, or any other group, they can’t be racist. But in these every day cases of racism, which happen right under our noses, it’s not usually about intention. History is not vacuum-packed and sealed up by national borders. Prejudice doesn’t stop at the Atlantic.
This accumulation, bit by bit, of racist remarks and incidents constantly reminds minorities in Norway they’re still the «other.» It is so prevalent that Norwegians have a word for it: «hverdagsrasisme.» It divides the country deeply.
But these divides are only visible to white Norwegians when it’s convenient – like when immigrants need to be blamed for something. That’s the thing about white privilege: thinking about race is a choice, and if you can’t be bothered to think about it, you won’t.
NRK’s absolute refusal to apologize, acknowledge, or even contemplate that these videos are harmful is incomprehensible to me as an American. Why would Norway’s largest, most respected media organization want to throw away its reputation for a few cheap laughs?
Then again, it’s not so surprising. If no one confronts it, calls it out for what it is, then why should NRK worry? White Norwegians, the majority of the population, clearly don’t care. They’ve left minorities to fight on their own, against an organization that is supposed to work for everyone, and would ideally be building unity, not deeper divisions.
It’s this simple: don’t reduce racial minorities to a stereotype, and don’t use a national platform to alienate your audience. Is that so hard, NRK?