Looks like my students put their dictionaries to use, although part of me does wonder whether they were trying to spell "beach."
Negro seems like an odd word to write, and a surprising word to retain. The second-graders just finished a lesson on the singer Marian Anderson, and no doubt learned different ways of talking about black people. Grade 2's textbook, Lesson 12 tells us:
Anderson soon won a contest over 300 other singers. But she was black. People would say, "Wonderful voice! But it's too bad that she's colored."
I have no doubt that people said that, though I wonder if it's really necessary to teach about America's social ills in English class. I'm especially wary of cross-cultural education in the hands of textbooks and some Korean teachers.
For example, the government-mandated elementary school textbooks are designed for Korean teachers, and are accompanied by a Korean-language teachers' manual. The manual has a bit of English, including cultural tips. The cultural tips usually touch upon the chapter's theme, and can be a bit outrageous. From Grade 5, Chapter 4 (emphasis mine, errors theirs):
Western people show exclamation even over trifles. This phenomenon isn't found an oriental culture that appreciates people who control their feeling and taciturn. We can usually see Americans who are moved so easily by things that Koreans aren't effected by. This means they are accustomed to expressing feeling freely and frankly. In Western culture, they start a conversation about the weather when they meet someone for the first time: "It's a lovely day, isn't it?" This is reference to the inclement weather in England. The people who live in an area with nice weather like Korea aren't touched by this kind of thing but Englishmen can be impressed.
For those who don't know, Koreans pride themselves on thinking Korea is the only country in the world with four distinct seasons, and they don't hesitate to remind people at every opportunity. Also, Koreans talk to themselves constantly and are always exclaiming "it's cold," "it's hot," "it's delicious," "I'm hungry," "I'm full," etc., making this particular cultural tip a bit froginthewellish.
From Grade 6, Chapter 7:
Perspectives on jobs differ across the countries. There's no sexual discrimination in jobs in America. So we can easily see many women who are bus drivers or fire fighters. Also, women soldiers played a great role in Gulf War. But, it's not so difficult to find sexual discrimination in English vocabulary. In Korea, people have preferred to have jobs which end with 'sa' such as Ph.D,([bak sa]), a judge([pan sa]), a prosecutor([gum sa]), etc. However, people's perspectives on jobs have changed with the development of technology and science. Besides, sexual discrimination has disappeared and women choose jobs according to their ability and competence.
From Grade 5, Chapter 16
Usually, in America, the elderly live alone. Unlike the elderly in Korea, who are supported by their oldest son. In America there are certain care centers for elderly people unable to care for themselves called, nursing homes or retirement homes for the aged. These are not government supported centers. The cost to live in these centers is quite high. Therefore the people who live on a pension can't afford to live there without assistance. They envy the Oriental family system because their golden years can be very lonely.
From Grade 3, Chapter 8
American and British people tend to be less sensitive to cold than the people of Korea. Therefore, when Koreans travel abroad, they often asks for extra room heat or hot-water. From time to time, they can't get it for them before the temperature falls down to the prescribed limited temperature level of that country. In regards to perspectives on wearing clothes, people of western societies are usually dressed simply. Westerners tend to focus on practicality instead of trying to following the fashion trends.
If you've been to Korea, you'll know that they judge temperature based on the calendar, not on a thermometer. You'll also know that, in 2007, most Koreans dress like it's 1983.
If you can navigate Korean and can view .hwp files, you can browse all the teachers' guides online here.
Anyway, there's also a CD-Rom that goes along with the books, and there's often a small claymation skit at the end of each chapter. Grade 6, Chapter 1 dealt with "Where are you from?" and the characters put on an international fashion show (always a recipe for disaster). This is how Uganda was depicted:
Blackface turns up occassionally in 21st-century Korea, like when singing "What a Wonderful World," or when trying to amuse an African-American panelist on a talkshow, or as a gimmick for a pop group.
The Metropolitician has pretty extensive articles about race and The Bubble Sisters (must read), and this post won't even attempt any of that. Just seeing "Negro" spelled out with magnets in my classroom reminded me of a few things I'd been thinking about lately.
Getting back to it, Chapter 12, from the middle school textbook I mentioned at the beginning, continues with a little blurb about different ways of talking about black people:
흑인을 가리키는 표현에는 어떤 것이 있을까요?
미국에서 흑인을 가리키는 표현으로 가장 일반적인 것은 "black"이며, 그 밖에 "colored"라는 말이 사용되기도 합니다. 간혹 "negro"라는 말을 들어 보았을 것입니다. 그러나 이는 경멸감을 담는 표현이기 때문에 잘 사용하지 않습니다. 얼마 전까지는 "Afro-American"이 자주 사용되었으나, 요즈음에는 "African American"이 가장 널리 사용되는 표현입니다.
It's important to learn how to talk/write about black people, because any student will invariably have to deal with it during their studies or in the real world. But I wouldn't trust such education to a textbook, a Korean teacher, or a dictionary. Naver---the most popular Korean webportal---is infamous for its translation of "흑인," the word used to talk about black people in general:
a black (person), a colored person, a darky, a nigger, a Negro.
The entry also shows you how to say "black ghetto," "negrophile," "the colored problem," and "niggerlover." Nowhere on that page does it mention that four of the five words are offensive, which means students and non-native speakers will inadvertantly use them. If you click on the entry for "nigger" it does say
N-COUNT Nigger is an extremely offensive word for a black person. [[[ VERY OFFENSIVE ,]]]
but the warning is in English. The other words, by Naver's standards, are fine.
Daum's dictionary turns up the same results, but with a little explanation about which terms are in circulation today. "He goes to a Negro college" is no longer acceptable, but "The victim is a black male" is. (LMFAO).
If you click on Daum's nigger, it is indicated that the word is scornful (경멸), but the entry continues with usage examples like "nigger driver," "nigger in the woodpile," and "work like a nigger," then gives illustrative sentences like (LMFAO again):
”But you're a nigger, aren't you?” he asked.
”그렇지만 너는 흑인이잖아?”라고 그가 물었다.
serve[work] faithfully;work like a horse[nigger]
a nigger lover
We don't keep niggers, we don't want social equality.
우리는 흑인들은 받지 않아요. 우리는 사회적 평등을 원하지 않습니다.
For any students reading this, Daum indicates that these are advanced phrases (고등), so don't worry if you haven't mastered them yet.
Dong-A's Prime Korean-English Dictionary (3rd edition, 2001) has the same five words and has a small useage guide for negro vs. black vs. Afro-American, the same blurb that appears on the Daum entry. There's no indication that nigger, colored, negro, or darky are offensive terms, and like the Daum entry one of the examples sentences is "The victim is a black male."
The issue isn't that these words are in the dictionaries. They are legitimate words with a long history of usage in English, and to exclude them would be revisionist and insulting. The problem is that they aren't accompanied with proper warnings. Look, for example, what accompanies the first search result from dictionary.com:
The term nigger is now probably the most offensive word in English. Its degree of offensiveness has increased markedly in recent years, although it has been used in a derogatory manner since at least the Revolutionary War. Definitions 1a, 1b, and 2 represent meanings that are deeply disparaging and are used when the speaker deliberately wishes to cause great offense.
When dictionaries fail to provide appropriate usage guides, and when textbooks and teachers lack the proper cultural grounding to give such lessons, you'll have non-native speakers causing great offense not only to the target, but also to the rest of the language community, who will be surprised that so little effort and thought went into acquiring English.
You'll also have more people like Lee Hyo-seon, the mayor of Gwangmyeong. In May he said, to a visiting delegation from Washington D.C.:
When I visited Washington D.C., I saw niggers swarm all around the city. How can you live in such a scary place? I was so afraid that I didn't come out of my hotel at night.