Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ave, Gord!

Food for thought as Gord leads his classes of Korean students through discussions of race, prejudice, and all the rest. An excerpt:

I have in the past written about negative things in my experience in Korea, and not as much (especially in recent years) about positive experiences. So I thought I’d talk about a positive one, and believe it or not, it was a class discussion of the recent blackface incident on MBC TV.

It could have been a negative experience, if I’d just sort of scooped up what people said and poured it into a blender and posted the mess online, or had decided (as so many do) to ignore the fact that a lot of people have never talked about such issues in a class before.

Instead, I asked the groups to share their opinions and thoughts, taking notes (and sketching out themes and connections) on the board. There were things that, you know, are quite obviously problematic, such as, “Since there wasn’t an intention of hurting black people, the intention wasn’t bad, so it wasn’t racist.” There were reactions like, “Well, since old people don’t get it about racism, and young people do, we need to understand our elders.” There was also the perennial standby, “This is all a big misunderstanding.” Or, “Those bloggers are overreacting to this incident.”

So I left my students with a few questions to consider. Like:

1. Who gets to decide whether something is racist or not? Why do they get to decide?
2. Where do we draw the line between reaction and overreaction? Who gets to say which is which?
3. What kind of action are we talking about when we talk about “helping” older people understand, or being “patient” with them?

There were other questions.

I encourage you to read the rest. And if you're a Korean unused to dealing with these issues, I definitely encourage you to read Gord's post and do some serious thinking. For my part, I think that, when Korean racism rears its ugly head, excuses like "it's a misunderstanding" or "foreigners don't understand Korean culture" are little more than a childish dodge-- an attempt to avoid real discussion. Many Koreans privately acknowledge the existence and power of racism; it'd be nice for the discussion to become more public. I take satisfaction in noting that Korea's economic success has brought with it an influx of foreigners desirous of opportunities on the peninsula; many of these foreigners stay for years and start families. A demographic shift is slowly but surely occurring, and Koreans are eventually going to have to address the question of what, exactly, it means to be Korean.


No comments: