Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ask a Korean! News: Racial Tension Flaring in Dallas

Oh boy:
The African American community in Dallas has been protesting a gas station run by a Korean-born U.S. citizen in a predominately black neighborhood in South Dallas for over a month, taking issue with what they claim were racial remarks by the station’s owner.

. . .

According to the ministry and the local Korean community, the conflict occurred on Dec. 9, 2011, between the Korean-American owner of a gas station in southern Dallas and a black customer over the sale of gas.

The customer, complaining that the price of gas at the station was much higher than at other stations, demanded he be able to buy gas by smaller amounts than what the owner set as the minimum sales unit. The owner refused and told him to go to another station, to which the customer responded by telling the owner to go back to his country. The owner responded by telling the customer to go back to Africa.

That triggered a boycott of the gas station by the black community in the region, followed by them speaking out against Korean and other Asian immigrant communities.
African Americans in Dallas Target Korean Business [New American Media]

There are other reports that Korean American gas station owner called the customer names first. There are also other reports that the gas station owner is not exactly a first time offender with this incident. Fortunately, Korean American groups moved quickly once this made news -- the president of the Federation of Korean Associations USA, the umbrella group for all the regional Korean American groups, plans to meet with the NAACP on this issue.

The Korean has no interest in the pointless exercise of trying to parse out who said what first. The only point to be made here is this: a lot of Korean Americans, particularly first generation immigrants, have a long way to go in terms of catching up with the way mainstream America feels about racism. Addressing this issue is a task for other Korean Americans, because we are the ones best suited to deal with this issue. 

Was the African American customer wrong to yell at the gas station owner, "Go back to China"? Sure. But the proper response is simply to note the point and move on. It is not productive to lecture other minority communities about what they should or should not do, particularly when it is undeniable that a lot of Korean Americans operate their businesses while having their noses held up on their darker-skinned customers. Avoid the temptation of the dumb tribalism -- which, it must be said, tempts the African American community just as much as it does Korean community -- and get our own house in order first.

-UPDATE Feb. 5, 2012- The gas station owner publicly apologized on a Dallas radio program, attended by African American civic leaders like city councilman Eric Johnson. The Korea Society of Dallas also donated 500 winter coats to NAACP as a gesture of goodwill. Reportedly, there are still a few people picketing the gas station, but the situation is now unlikely to escalate.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

27 comments:

  1. Ugh... I know way too many Koreans who got robbed/shot in their stores to stay objective/logical on this story. And I'm in Phoenix - my friends from LA call South Phoenix a "Fetto" (Fake Ghetto), for crying out loud.

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  2. I agree with your point about the need for everyone to grow up on this subject, TK. However, assuming both people were equally culpable, I think if anyone should have known better, it would have been the African-American. Assuming that he was not a first-generation himself, his family has likely been here for well over a century, spanning multiple generations. And frankly I can't think of a racial group in the United States that has a higher percentage of its venerated heros as civil rights advocates. Obviously, everyone's an individual responsible for his or her own actions, but if there is any group that should be a model for racial tolerance, it should be African-Americans. Of course, I'm not that naive to the reality of things...

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  3. I worry for this man's safety. Is he going to get gunned down in the next robbery?

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  4. Not to take away from the seriousness of the situation, but TK, would you explain to me why Girls' Generation (featured in Letterman last night) is so big in Korea/Japan/China?

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    1. Please refer to the questions policy.

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  5. I don't know how serious the situation is. The whole thing sounds silly to me... and I've just laughed at 'Go back to China'.

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  6. By the way, are remarks like 'go back to china' or 'go back to africa' racism? I think they are just silly remarks. Sometimes I think people are overly sensitive and trying too hard to be politically correct.

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    1. It's one thing to joke around with your friends, but people who say "go back to China" to me generally seem to 100% see me as a foreigner (despite me being a US citizen) and want me to "go home and stop taking away our jobs". They are BEING HOSTILE and most certainly not being "silly". Wtf

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    2. Words do not become racist because of their literal meaning, but the racist intent behind uttering such words. Can "Go back to China" be not racist? In the right context, sure. But it is dangerous to write it off categorically as people being oversensitive.

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  7. After reading the article here http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/National_News_2/article_8499.shtml, I'm starting to think that if what's written is true, there is something seriously wrong with the korean guy.

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    1. As the OP said, this guy may not be a first-time offender. Although it would take an unusually strong grasp at American vernacular to say some of the things he allgedly said.

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    2. That's obviously a biased version of the story and you're no doubt going to side with the community you came from. I suggest going to one of these news sites to get a more accurate presentation of the story.

      http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2012/feb/10/south-dallas-store-protestors-remain-defiant/

      http://www.dallasweekly.com/news/metro/article_8dc69b16-58be-11e1-a411-001a4bcf6878.html

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  8. I agree wholeheartedly with your post. I think both were very in the wrong here.

    If the customer didn't like the gas stations prices...why didn't he just take his business elsewhere?

    For example: Yesterday I went to a Korean Restuarant with my boyfriend, we ordered our food and the WAITRESS mistakenly gave us an appetizer that we didn't order. We had never been there before and we assumed it came with the food that we did order. We saw her once during our entire meal, and the restaurant wasn't particularly busy.

    Then the head waitress came over and informed us that we had been given the wrong appetizer,it was supposed to go to the table next to us and that we still had to to pay for it...even though it was the waitress's mistake. She was inflexible on this and my boyfriend was pissed but I simply told him that I would pay for it because we did eat it, even though the only reason that we ate it was because SHE(the WAITRESS) gave it to us.

    BUT!- I did not leave a single tip. That was bad service and I felt they were not gracious hosts. I'm not every well versed on restaurant etiquette to know if what I did was acceptable or not but that was how I chose to remedy the situation.

    We politely asked why we had to pay a third and final time, and the head waitress gave us her response and then we said "Okay." We asked for the bill, and I paid the EXACT amount nothing more, nothing less.

    And then we left and we will not be going to that business again.

    People always have to make everything into a drama. It's not that serious.

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    1. That story you told is nothing similar to what happened here. He wanted to charge less than $5 for gason a card and wanted the processing fee waived, and when the owner refused things got "Racey". Everywhere else you go you'd have to spend a certain amount of money on you're card without being charged a fee. I think you and your community are just targeting another minority group. Doing so won't bring jobs in or deal with other problems your community faces.

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  9. Both parties seem silly or stupid. What kind of gas station owner sets minimum for gas purchase? I've seen such practices at small stores because they have to make up for the credit/debit card charges. But for gas?

    And what about the customer? Why can't he take his car to another gas station?

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    1. "Yet they strike me as silly in the situation The Korean puts on this post. It's as if 5-year-old kids who don't want to recognize reality that they know they have to, whine "I don't wanna".

      Like how grown men and women are spending six months picketing in front of a mom and pop shop over the use of the "n" word instead of finding real jobs? :)

      A store here wrote "ching and chong" on the receipts of two uci students (http://blogs.ocweekly.com/stickaforkinit/2011/12/chick-fil-a_asian.php) Another wrote "lady chinky eyes" on a receipt of a Korean lady. Now, Is the whole entire Asian Amerian community and korean community going out to picket and protest months on end over it? No. Grow up.

      And what do you mean "I don't think even in your context they are racist's remarks (not that you think they are, just to stimulate the discussion)". You making a racist comment to a Korean by telling them to "go back to China" is the same as a Korean making a racist comment to you by telling you to "go back to Africa".

      "because it has little to do with you being American and more to do with you taking away jobs."
      You're response is bigoted and dangerous and fuels anti-asian, hispanic, jewish, muslim, or any other minority hate, and it is extremely misinformed. That shop there employs four African American workers, not to mention indirectly employing more, (getting the gas to the station requires someone to drive it, oil companies have workers (and i'm sure African american workers as well) in their companies that produce that supply gas to the sho[, etc.)

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  10. Oh boy...

    In my line of work (I work for a beverage distributor), I know several Koreans who run convenience stores and every single one of them is extremely prejudiced when it comes to African-Americans. They all use pejorative words and are immediately on guard when an African-American enter their stores. It's not exactly the fear of being robbed or of a shop-lifting incident, but the fear of some sort of confrontation.

    One day I spent some time talking to one of these store owners and I asked about the reason for this animosity. He told me he wanted to sell his business and change careers since running a convenience store was making him racist and bad tempered. He told me that most African Americans who shopped at his store were extremely rude and that there had never been a day when he hadn't heard "Go back to your country!" or a variation on the theme at least four times.

    He said most African-Americans expected special treatment and that if anything didn't go their way they always pulled the race card ("you are doing this because I'm black!"). He also said they were quick in uttering racist slurs like "chink" or "gook" but were extremely offended by any racial related response.

    At the end, he acknowledged that "the majority of African-Americans in this US must be nice people, but the ones who come to my store suck!". Thus, he wanted to sell his store.

    I've experienced some of these incidents a couple of times. One day, I was doing some survey in a convenience store when I overheard an African-American customer yelling racial slurs at the Korean teller. Since I'm also Korean I confess I was offended, but it was not in my place to say anything since I was there representing my company. The teller remained quiet and calm and after a few more yells and racial slurs the customer left. I approached the teller and complimented him on his behavior and he said stuff like that happened all the time and that he wasn't gonna spend time getting worked up because of that.

    I agree that the most reasonable reaction to an unreasonable customer is to remain calm and let it go. But I understand why Korean store owners have this animosity towards African-Americans. I guess years and years of confrontations can make you bitter. Having said that, it is my belief that people like this gas station owner in Dallas should change careers or at least go thru some anger management class. You're there to make money, not to teach people what's right and what's wrong.

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    1. I do agree. Even as a student, when I see a black male walking towards me, I would try to walk around him. Because I know that he is going to ask me for money. It happened to me several times so I'm not going to take any risks. One thing though, if you do get to be friends with African Americans, they are really nice people. They might seem rude sometime as a Korean but they seem to mean no harm.

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  11. There's also the fact that whenever anything negative happens between a Korean & a black person, the news runs like wildfire throughout the Korean community. They discuss it obsessively to the point that it (the incident) almost cancels out all the positive interactions they may have had over the years.

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  12. Thank you for sharing this detailed summary.I believe it will help all of us prepare for what to expect in the future.

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  13. To Erika
    I stand corrected. They are hostile as well. In fact such languages are meant to show hostility and hurt feelings when one engages in a heated argument with another. Yet they strike me as silly in the situation The Korean puts on this post. It's as if 5-year-old kids who don't want to recognize reality that they know they have to, whine "I don't wanna".

    In the context you mention, yes, they are mean, hostile, unreasonable, divisive and unfair. However I don't think even in your context they are racist's remarks (not that you think they are, just to stimulate the discussion) because it has little to do with you being American and more to do with you taking away jobs.

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    1. Would they say things out of fear of taking their jobs away to white Americans as much as they would to visible minority groups such as Koreans or any other Asians? How about Hispanics? The assumption and fear that "they" would take away jobs is based on non other than racist ideas. If "I" am an American citizen, I should be treated just as same as other US citizens of various skin shade no matter what "my" race may be.

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  14. Oh boy, as if we hadn't gone through this enough already in LA and NYC...

    I feel like everyone who lives here, immigrants and American-born citizens alike, should be required to take courses on race relations in the US. People are just astoundingly ignorant about other cultures other than their own.

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  15. I think the Korean store owner was wrong to react like that, BUT, the customer really shouldn't have done what he did first. If he didn't like the terms of the purchase, go elsewhere!! My Korean parents had a dry cleaning store in Harlem back in the 80's and it was tough--they were vandalized, cursed at, robbed and then finally arsoned.

    Koreans go where others fear to tread, they're bringing revitalization to areas in sore need of it. I feel very sorry for the gas station owner. He doesn't deserve the retribution of the whole black community for his misplaced and yes, probably somewhat racist comments. Koreans as a whole don't go protesting when a perceived racist comment is made to us by some person, then again... Maybe we should, as there's a lot of racism directed at us in this country, by people of many races. A lot of sad things happen to the first generation Koreans who've come to this country to make a living for their kids, and I think people don't appreciate the dangers they face in trying to make that living.

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  16. It's a bit pointless sprouting stuff to one person and getting offended when they sprout the same back! OMGOSH are you freaking serious? This had me laughing a bit. I mean, there's a golden rule which says 'do to others what you wish would be done back to you'. Why in the world would you be offended if someone said a similar thing you've said to them, back to you? - Furthermore, why would you include a whole community into your quarrel? I just don't get it. :/

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  17. Honestly it would not surprise me to see a repeat offender. We have many first generation immigrants in that age range around Dallas. Pretty much if you don't cater to the local Dallas Korean population (which is hard with the suburb spread throughout the region) then it gets a bit harder. Another unfortunate thing of Dallas is that it is a little pretentious overall. Koreans can be quite rude to each other so to be rude to a minority seems hardly surprising. South Dallas is known for being more heavily "colored." Not nearly as many Koreans live on that side of town so it's kind of a no man's land. There's been incidents in the past for Korean people on that side of town http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ea_EFOkNFCw http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/dallas/headlines/20100121-Family-police-ask-for-help-4254.ece It's very unfortunate when things like this happen, but I can see why they do. Not say the Korean guy is as fault, but as a business owner on any MLK Blvd in the nation you have to use a little more common sense if money is your primary concern. I wouldn't want to work on that side of town. Once you get into "the hood" you're dealing with different kind of people. They are necessarily inherently bad, but the odds of running into obnoxiousness are significantly higher. I'm not sure how many people have immersed themselves in the less lustrous part of their towns, but it's an experience in and of itself. Glad to see the issue resolved regardless.

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