April 23, 2021

North Korea’s uncomfortable race relations

Willing to exploit racial conflict, the North does not welcome other oppressed peoples

When Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters arrived in North Korea earlier this year, the Western media was fixated on the oddities of this trip. A former NBA bad boy sitting next to a short, pudgy dictator certainly makes for an interesting photo. However, a key question was left unanswered: What did the average North Korean think of Rodman and the Globetrotters? The answer reveals a great deal about North Korea’s uncomfortable relationship with America’s racial diversity.

In state-run media, the Rodman and Globetrotter “party” were said to have mixed with North Korean citizens and enjoyed an “amicable atmosphere.” News of Rodman and the Globetrotter’s arrival did indeed “spread like wildfire” in North Korea, but the reaction was not positive. North Koreans said that the basketball players and former NBA star looked like the “American mafia” and “a group of goblins.” In any crowd, Rodman and the Globetrotters would stand out, and to an isolated populace that sees tattoos as capitalist decadence and a symbol of crime, it is no surprise that North Koreans viewed them in such a negative light. However, these comments may have a deeper ideological significance.