Monday, February 06, 2012

interesting parallels

A Korean scholar in small-town USA chafes at the prejudice she encounters. Excerpt:

I made the mistake of going to this Chinese New Year festival that the students put together. I ended up at a table which included the parents of a (white) students who attends the school. At one point that father asked me if the students are “shocked” to find me in the class (teaching American literature) when I am probably not who they expect to teach American literature. Wow. I said something to the effect of “well, if they are shocked, they don’t show it.” But I had to excuse myself from that table pretty soon after that. Actually, there was another guy at that table–a friend of these parents–who was a tad worse than this other guy.

A Canadian university instructor in Korea chafes at the bigotry he encounters. Excerpt:

After all, it’s one thing for you to encounter a bigot out there in the world, out in life. But classrooms are not life, and it’s far from unusual for me to run into a student who seems to think it’s all well and good to criticize Jews, blacks, women who behave in any way other than the wholesome expectation set upon them, white foreigners, “the Japanese” (each of these in one huge, easy-to-generalize-about monolith) or any number of categories of people. Richard Morgan attributes his penchant for violence in his writing at least in part to all the pent-up rage he repressed during his years of teaching ESL, and hearing people say the most nasty, bigoted things in a context where it was his job to be friendly, supportive, and to encourage them to speak more, as long as they use English.



Sperwer said...

Wow, someone is way too sensitive if she finds it unusual that in some small town someone might express surprise to find a foreigner teaching American literature

Kevin Kim said...

Yeah, I recall Koreans' astonishment at my ability to

-speak Korean
-use chopsticks (with my left hand, no less)
-eat spicy food
-cite bits of Korean history
-navigate Seoul without help

At the same time, I do know it's possible for Koreans to hear stupid crap in the States, like

"Are you Chinese?" (probably the #1 irritant)
"Are you from North Korea or South Korea?" (as if most Koreans in the US could be from North Korea)
"Ching-chong-ting-tong-ling-long!" (you may recall this YouTube sensation)
"Samsung? That's Japanese, right?"

Perhaps she's conflating ignorance and bigotry/racism. The problem, of course, is that these are overlapping concepts. If I were in her shoes, working in a college town, I might expect people in the Internet age to be a bit more educated about the world. Bumpkins and rubes abound, and they don't have to be confined to the rural areas, either.

Korea provides its own examples of this fact. People in Seoul-- the most metropolitan place on the peninsula-- still stare at me as if (to borrow an expression from a friend) I've got tarantulas in my eye sockets. Staring is what rubes do; Seoulites should know better, but many-- way too many-- obviously don't.