Viral video hijacked by children prompts fierce debate on social media

Caroline Davies

It lasted less than a minute but has been viewed hundreds of millions of times. The BBC interview with the political scientist Prof Robert Kelly, from his spare room, on South Korean president Park Geun-hye is a global hit after being spectacularly hijacked by the professor’s two young children.

But amid the mirth and chatter the video clip has generated on social media, a darker theme has emerged.

Clear from comments on Twitter and Facebook, many jumped to the conclusion that the panicked Asian woman, who rushed in to drag out the children, was hired help.

Some media outlets initially made the same erroneous call, faced only with footage of the woman sliding heroically through the bedroom door and scooping up the two tiny protagonists, before making a last desperate lunge to close the door.

“The episode reaches a crescendo when a frenzied nanny burst in, in a cartoon-like blur, and corrals the children out of the room,” wrote Time.com in its haste to post online. An updated version now clarifies that the woman is Kelly’s wife, Jung-a Kim.

All of which has led the BBC and others to question: “Was it reasonable to assume Ms Kim was a nanny?

The issue has provoked fierce debate, with some social media users calling it out as systemic racism, including many on the comment thread beneath the Guardian’s story.

“Are we really still, in 2017, openly stereotyping? Seeing an Asian woman in a white man’s house with kids and telling ourselves: ‘Yep, that’s the nanny. Now, let’s send out a bunch of tweets to call her the nanny like it’s a fact,’” wrote Jen McGuire on Romper.com.

Even after someone found a tweet, posted by Kelly in 2012 of him and his wife at the South Korean voting polls, social media speculation continued to include the fact she looked so scared and panicked because she feared she would lose her job. Can’t sack your wife, others pointed out.

Korean viewers would probably have identified her as the mother, as in the video the older child appears to say “Why? What’s wrong?” and “Mummy, why?”


Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, tweeted: “Today one of the funniest, most charming videos showed me that we have way more work to do than I ever thought.”

Responding to a user who argued: “I think it’s a fair assumption. She looks way younger than the dude and looks like a different ethnicity than her children,” Gay replied: “It’s only a fair assumption if you’re racist.”

She added: “Some of you should look long and hard at why you assume that mother is the nanny.”

The writer Maria Chong also called out those who made the assumption, tweeting: “1) It’s his wife, not a nanny or maid. 2) She has a name, Jung-a Kim.”

Phil Yu, a blogger at Angry Asian Man, said that people had fallen back on stereotypes. “There are stereotypes of Asian women as servile, as passive, as fulfilling some kind of service role. People were quick to make that assumption,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Helier Cheung, writing on the BBC website, agreed stereotyping played a part. Some families in South Korea do hire nannies – especially if both parents work long hours, wrote Cheung, before adding: “But many people feel the assumption that Ms Kim was a helper, rather than the children’s mother, was grounded in racial stereotypes about the roles played by Asian women.”


She adds: “When I was at university in London, most people I met assumed that I, as a British Chinese student, was studying either medicine or economics, when I was actually studying English literature. It was a little annoying, but not a huge deal. But sometimes assumptions can be more hurtful.”

The family of Kelly, a professor at Pusan National University in South Korea, seemed to be taking it all in their stride.

His mother, Ellen Kelly, told MailOnline she thought the children, Marion, four, and James, nine months, probably thought their dad was Skyping their grandparents.

Speaking from her home near Cleveland, Ohio, she said: “Robert usually Skypes us from his home office, which is where he did the interview. The kids probably heard voices coming from the computer and assumed it was us. It was just hilarious.”

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