Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Presumptuous Racist

I got a message on Facebook from a friend who also lives and teaches here in South Korea. Like me, she’s also a black teacher. Like me, she’s been here for a few years. I’m thankful to her and a few others who gave me advice about coming here way back when. Basically, she told me about this thread on Dave’s ESL Café’s Korea forum. Now I simply rarely go to that forum, if ever. So I was actually really surprised that with her being here way more years than I have that’s she’d bother with it now. It’s good to get the basics, but beyond that it’s so overwhelmingly negative in its tone that it’s not worth it. I've described in the past as being a shit-stirrer's and whiner's moshpit. It seems to be where all the foreigners who hate Korea congregate online. Now there are so many Korea-specific blogs that you can get the same information but with a smile rather than a pessimistic frown.

The thread is titled “Best thing about Korea”. There are a range of replies; I’m sure they range from the women to the booze to the work. However, there is one that had her worked up. I’ll reveal what it said later.

When I was researching whether or not to come to Korea I specifically set out to find other black people who had lived or were still living and working in South Korea. I found that soliciting advice from white teachers left a big void when it came to what it might be like here for me as a black person. Usually, because whites are coming from societies in which they're the overwhelmingly dominant majority the issue of racism never hits them from the crap side of the equation. They're always usually looking at it from the position of privilege. However, in these same societies the black teachers that are recruited to live and work in Korea arrive with a completely different perspective regarding racism.

I’ve not met a white teacher yet who has recognized that key difference in our points of view. It's always sad and very frustrating when you have to deal with racism. I've got to admit I kind of laugh when I see whites dealing with it for the first time ever. Of course, the black and other minority teachers that I meet here do recognize the difference in perspective. A lot of white teachers will launch into how overwhelmingly racist Korean society is. I advise all minority teachers simply not to listen to white people telling them about the hard racist road ahead in Korea. Their perspective is usually totally different. It's actually quite comical. You can tell that it's traumatic for a white person for the first time ever to get shit end of the racism deal.

What I've found is that essentially white teachers really exaggerate how bad racism in Korea. At least from the black perspective it’s exaggerated because in our home countries we have to deal with it, so when we come here, for better or for worse, we're used to it. We’re used to people gawking. We’re used to people assuming negative things about us. Of course, we’re used to discrimination based on the color of our skin.

What I've found is that Koreans actually have a steeper learning curve when it comes to racism and bigotry. I'm not saying that South Korea is a refuge from racism and I'm not saying it's ideal. All I'm saying is, for me, Korea is no more racist that the US or any other white country I've been to. Also, the racism is different. Here it's mostly ignorance and a naive belief of the stereotypes white Westerners have brought with them. In the West it's usually deep seated and virulent hate. Ignorance you can fight with knowledge, experience and a more sophisticated way of looking at the world. Koreans learn quicker and now that I'm seeing more black teachers, most of whom are nice, educated and hard-working folk, I think we'll keep seeing our numbers increase.

It seems that whites don't like to hear that Koreans get past racism quicker than they do. However, sometimes the truth hurts. I find that if a Korean judges me negatively when they see I'm black the prejudice melts away fairly quickly. This is for a few reasons. Maybe it’s a combination of my citizenship, my education, and my attitude. I have seen attitudes switch in a flash as soon as they get a whiff of my education and experience. However, those people I don’t like just as I don’t like the person who hangs out with you because you’re in the “right” crowd. It’s a variant of the same thing. I believe that it’s mostly because I'm essentially a decent human being and they simply get to know me. That "color of their skin" vs. "content of their character..." issue Martin Luther King, Jr. so badly wanted for us. I know it’s that way with my Korean friends and who else really matters?

What inspired this post thinking about the audacity of someone to write this:

I don't know about you, but for me it's the minimal amount of black and spanish people.

Oh yea and the gun thing. In the US, you can get *beep* at school, here guns are almost non-existant.

The bad, lack of and strict regulations of drugs.
Oh really?

What would possess someone to say they like Korea because it has less black and Spanish people? Actually, I know the answer; the anonymity of the Internet makes otherwise cowardly people VERY brave.

Well, duh, genius it’s an Asian country. It’s going to mostly have Asian people.

To be honest, it goes both ways. I prefer Korea because there is actually a higher likelihood that my race won't keep me perpetually fighting a loosing battle with people who are so committed to believing negative stereotypes about blacks and other minorities that I’m always the exception and never the rule. You just don’t know how frustrating it was to hear from white classmates when I was young “oh, well, you’re DIFFERENT from them.” No, asshole, I’m not.

I’m black and like whites we come in range from evil to angelic and dumb to brilliant. Speaking of brilliant, what makes this reply truly brilliant is the tacked on addition of the bad being the strict regulation of drugs. I’m sorry. I was never into drugs, so I love that drug abusers get chucked out of this country faster than you can blink an eye when they're caught.

My point to ImInKoreaAintI, the idiot that wrote that reply, is touché. I'm happy to be here because, for the most part, there are less dumb ass and completely unreasonable racists I've got to deal with. I can also point and laugh at you with the Koreans who don't like you as much as you think.

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