Why don't blacks and Koreans have a better relationship, and what can be done about the problem? It's amazing how Koreans living in Korea seem much nicer than Koreans in the United States. Do you think the U.S. has a way of dividing people?
The Korean firmly believes that America is the least racist country in the world, and this post will finally explain why that is. The Korean already wrote something about Korean-black relations here, but the second part of your question is most intriguing. Yes, the Korean does think that the U.S. has a way of dividing people of different colors – namely, U.S. is the only country where people of different colors live next to each other.
I know, I know. The Korean knows that there are minority race living in various parts of the world. But except for Europe, there is no country in which ethnic minorities, starkly different in culture and appearance from the majority (so excluding situations like Hutus and Tutsis in Congo/Rwanda,) constitute a percent that matters, something like more than 20 percent of the entire population. (In the U.S., the percentage is nearly 30 percent.) And as to Europe, well, look what’s happening to them.
Why do numbers matter? Because unless the minorities are somewhat numerous, they are not threatening to the majority. Hating takes energy; people don’t hate for no reason. Widespread hatred in the majority toward the minority takes place only if the minority is somehow threatening the majority’s position.
So if you are an African-American tourist traveling through Korea for two weeks, you will find that Korean people are generally nice to you. Why wouldn’t they be? You will leave in two weeks! But trying living there and see how you like it.
God help you if you were trying to date a Korean. Interracial relationship is a racist’s greatest fear, especially if it involves a minority-race man and majority-race woman. Ever wondered why Emmitt Till was so brutally lynched, just for whistling at a white woman? When a minority-race man dates a majority-race woman, other majority-race men feel their position threatened, because they feel that their possession is being taken. (It should not come as a surprise that racism goes hand-in-hand with sexism.)
Similarly, if all Mexicans in America were tourists, there would be no racism in America towards Mexicans. Racism towards Mexicans exists only because there is a perception (however incorrect) that Mexicans are staying in America, and are taking away things that belong to Americans – in the form of jobs, tax dollars through welfare, or literally taking away life and property through crimes.
On the other hand, Asians in America are not numerous enough to be threatening, so we have been spared from blatant racism so far. But whenever Asian Americans do appear to be threatening, the reaction is exactly the same – just look at what happened to Vincent Chin when Japanese automakers were threatening to American jobs.
Here lies the reason why America is the least racist country in the world – it’s one of the few countries that racial minorities are in a position to threaten the racial majority, and it’s the only one among those countries that is by and large successful in curbing the racist sentiments that inevitably follow from such a situation.
Notice that the Korean is not saying Americans are somehow morally superior by not engaging in the evils of racism. No inherent goodness makes Americans less racist than others – only decades of experience in an interracial society do.
To understand this, you have to see racism for what it truly is. As the Korean said several times previously (here and here,) racism is a heuristic; it’s an instinctively created survival mechanism. (On some level, it’s very easy to understand – wouldn’t there be something different about a person if he looks so different from the rest of us?) In a vacuum, racism has no moral implication. However, racism in our modern world, in which people of different races must live next to one another, it becomes an evil that it currently is.
For example, consider an act of running for your life and pushing away things that get in your way. That action, in a vacuum, has no moral implication. But what if you are a healthy young person, you are running out from a club caught on fire (and has only one narrow fire escape,) and the thing you are about to push away is a disabled man who can’t walk without his crutches, which were lost in the stampede? Pushing him away to die in fire in order to save your own skin is an evil act, but most people would do it anyway. And unless you are forced to make that moral choice by being in that situation, you can never claim that you are morally superior to the person who pushed away the disabled person to escape. Why? Because if you were actually in that situation, most likely you will do the same thing.
Similarly, a country that has no significant number of racial minorities cannot possibly claim that it is not a racist country. How can you confidently say that your morals will overcome your survival instinct, if your survival was never tested?
In fact, left alone long enough without a decisive intervention from the central government, a country will manage to find the differences within itself to hate upon each other. Northern Italians and Southern Italians bitterly hate each other; Walloon and Flemish Belgians hate each other so much that one New York Times commentator wondered how Belgium manages to stay together; Southwestern (Jeolla) Koreans and Southeastern Koreans (Gyeongsang) don’t get along to the degree that, until recently, each region would give 90 percent support to the parties representing the respective regions; the hatred between Hutus and Tutsis in Congo/Rwanda ended in genocide; same in Sudan, in Darfur.
Of course, in all the situations above, the Korean fully understands there are deeper underlying causes for the hatred – difference in wealth, colonial legacies, and so on. But regardless of the reason for the initial spark of hatred, that hatred is escalated through the same mechanism as racism – i.e., people falling into such bigoted logic as “if he is from so-and-so region, he has this-and-that characteristics.” It is hardly a leap to think that, if a significant number of racial minorities were to be introduced to a country that can be swayed by such bigoted logic, the country will inevitably fall into a heat of racist hatred. In fact, the race riots in France is exactly this. Korea is the same way, with the new wave of immigrants from China, Southeastern Asia, and the mixed-race children born in rural areas – the Korean sincerely believes that Korea will find itself in massive race riots in 20 years unless Korean government anticipates the problem (and most likely they won’t.)
America is the least racist country in the world because Americans have the longest experience in living in a truly multiracial society – more than a century. White Americans have stood in the middle of the burning club the longest. At first, they panicked like everyone else in the world. Those minority people – those chinks, wetbacks, and jungle monkeys – will take everything they had! Such fear of losing their position to the minorities is no different from the fear of fire. Just like everyone else in the world, white Americans pushed aside and oppressed the weaker, minority people, to maintain their superior position.
And then something remarkable happened. Because of an amazing collective effort, white Americans began to see that minority people were not out to get them. The fire was not real. And what they used to do in order to maintain their superior position has been unfair and evil. Here is a stark truth: most Americans renounce racism, to a degree that people of no other country in the world does. Racism has become such a social taboo that even those Americans who remain racist cannot dare speak up on their views without instantly becoming a social outcast.
Here is how much America is not racist. In 2002, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was attending Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. Praising Sen. Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948, Sen. Lott said this: “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.” Problem was that the main thrust of Thurmond’s 1948 campaign was to maintain racial segregation. Controversy rose, and Sen. Lott resigned from his majority leadership.
The Korean is willing to bet the lives of his as-yet-unborn first two children that something like this would not have happened anywhere else in the world in 2002. Running for President is an achievement in and of itself, as Rev. Jesse Jackson reminds us all the time. It would be nice to be recognized on that achievement, on your hundredth freakin’ birthday. For god's sake, if someone lives until 100, he deserves to hear anything he damn well pleases. If the Korean ever lives until 100, he would like to be recognized for saving the Earth from alien attacks in the year 2046. On top of that, the presidential campaign happened in fifty-four years ago! Who the hell cares? American people did, and Trent Lott was gone.
This is, of course, not to say America is a racism-free country. Quite the opposite is true. But those who are quick to decry that America is more racist than other countries by focusing on racist incidents in America, are simply clueless. In fact, America is one of the few countries in the world where such incidents would even be recognized as racist. The first step to cure alcoholism is to recognize that you have an alcohol problem. Even if you slip and have a few drinks, you are still ahead of those who don’t even realize they have a problem.
The world is getting more diverse by day. World economy is more integrated than ever, and no single country can afford to live in racial and cultural isolation. Immigration will be a greater and greater trend. People who are not accustomed to living with different types of people will soon find themselves sharing a subway car with a strange-looking person; their sense invaded by unfamiliar smell of exotic food; their streets covered in signs of incomprehensible languages; their jobs eliminated by those willing to work harder, cheaper. And inevitably, a racist fire will build in their hearts, stoked by the fear of losing what is theirs. But even when the whole world is on fire, Americans, by and large, will remain calm.
Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.