Growing up as a Korean-American it was not uncommon for people to ask me, “Are you from North or South Korea?”
I grew to expect this in grade school, middle school and high school, but I never thought this ignorant question would follow me throughout my college career.
It is common knowledge the North Korean regime is oppressive and has continually violated the human rights of its citizens. For several years, the North Korean government has treated its people with immense inhumanity with no end in sight. Yet, even after knowing this information, the amount of times this question has been poised to me is exceedingly high.
It almost seems as if the interrogators were mocking me, intentionally asking me a question they knew the answer to. I came to understand the mentality and perception of North Korea affects Americans in general.
When speaking about human rights violations throughout history, such as the Rwandan genocide or chemical weapon attacks in Syria, there is immense sensitivity and for good reason. The horrible actions done to those victims are unimaginable and therefore are treated with respect. However, the same amount sensitivity is not extended to the people of North Korea.
According to the Human Rights Watch, North Korea’s humanitarian violations include murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion, other sexual violence and constituted crimes against humanity. The citizens are put into prison camps without any formal charges, no trial by jury and the punishment can extend up to three generations of the same family.
Yet, despite this, films such as “The Interview” are being produced that mock the Korean people. The film depicts two Americans who are tasked with killing Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, while several scenes demean North Koreans in general.
As a reoccurring joke, the film depicts punchlines about North Koreans eating dogs. This dull joke would be acceptable if the citizens were not starving and dying of hunger.
Granted, the film was a satire and made purposely to be a comedy that specifically targeted the leader of North Korea, not its people. However, it still sheds a comedic light on something that should be taken more seriously. The citizens of North Korea being raped, tortured and enslaved is no laughing matter.
“I heard Americans know little about North Korea,” said Kim Joo-il, a North Korean defector for an article in Dazed. “North Koreans are always portrayed as obedient robots. So with all the vulgar words, it’s like there is a subtext which demeans Korean people. In this movie it looks like we are too stupid to realize our government is bad.”
Ultimately, the situation in North Korea is just one of the many inhumane acts happening around the world today. However, we should and can restrain from poking fun at something people are living through. Just because something does not affect you directly, does not mean it does not matter— North Korea included.
Before you ask someone if they are from North or South Korea, think about the context in which you are asking that question.
John Lee is a marketing freshman