Friday, May 22, 2015

We Did Nothing Wrong, and They Destroyed Our Stores

(source)

I.

If you don’t tell your own story, someone else will.

Your story, told through someone else, is stolen. The stolen story is no longer yours; it is theirs, twisted and disfigured to augment their story, like a piece of metal hammered into form a small piece of a suit of armor. Our story can only be ours if we tell it. Only then can we imbue our own experience with the sovereignty that it deserves.

So here is our story.

(source)

II.

Last month, a black man named Freddie Gray died in Baltimore while being arrested by the police. Gray suffered multiple fractures in his spine in the course of the arrest. Gray’s death was a tragedy; he should not have died.

People got angry at this senseless death—the latest one of the many senseless deaths of black men at the hands of the police. The anger turned into protests. The protests turned violent. In the course of the protests, numerous Asian American businesses were destroyed:
What the rioters didn’t steal from Hyo Yol Choi, they destroyed, or tried to. When it was over, Beauty Fair, in a squat, unattached brick building that Choi leases, was ankle-deep in ruined inventory—in torn-down shelves, racks and counters; in stomped-open bottles, jars and tubes. The marauders took wigs, leaving dozens of bald mannequin heads scattered along the walls. Brushes and mirrors, ribbons and barretts, costume jewelry and women’s hosiery were strewn from front to back, and the floor was a swamp of bergamot grease, argan butter, tea tree oil and leave-in hair mayonnaise.
The story of West Baltimore can be told through life at one intersection [Washington Post]

At least 42 other Korean American businesses were destroyed. When the store owners tried to defend their business, they were beaten. Were Asian businesses targeted for being Asian-owned? There are some indications pointing that way. Witnesses say black-owned businesses were spared from looting. But that doesn’t matter. The fact that other businesses remain standing doesn’t magically pick up the destroyed merchandise from the floor and put it back on the shelves, fully restored.

Really, who cares about those other stores? For immigrants, your store is your universe. It is everything you own in the world, everything you experience about the world, rolled into a dingy strip mall storefront. You poured down all the money you had, plus a staggering amount of debt, just to own that shitty store. There, in that store, you spend your entire life—sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, for ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years. You barely know what other stores exist around the block, much less around the city. You barely know the weather outside. The only people you see are the customers, who don’t give a shit about another chink, another dot head, another Ay-rab manning the cashier at yet another deli, liquor store, nail shop, beauty shop, bodega. The store, its inventory, the people who come in and out of it, are the only things the immigrant knows about the world.

The Baltimore rioters destroyed our universes. Forty-two of them, at least. That’s our story.

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III.

Please, if you can just shut the fuck up. Didn’t I just say we will tell our own story? Our story is not yours. It is certainly not for you to pick up as a rhetorical cudgel, used to beat up people who are justifiably indignant with all the shittiness around them.

Nor will we countenance the well-intended, but tone-deaf, counsel to shut our story down for some kind of greater good. We did nothing wrong, and our stores were destroyed. And we are mad as shit about it.

Yes, I know Asian Americans enjoy privileges that African Americans do not. I’m not stupid. We did not go through the same historical suffering; we don’t have the same disadvantages today. I also know that when it comes to racial discrimination, Asian Americans hardly have clean hands. I know all about the petty racism that Asian Americans engage in, against whites, blacks, Latinos—better than you will ever know. It's a stain on our people. I have invested my own time and money addressing that, while you lazily decry Asian racism in the cesspool that is the Internet comment section.

I am still waiting to hear why any of that justifies the fact that our stores were destroyed. 

Don’t bother telling us that the riots were some kind of “forest fire,” a natural reaction to the greater oppression, because this disaster was no fire. This disaster had human faces, human hands that smashed the bottles, human feet that kicked us into submission when we were desperately trying to protect our stores. Don't ask us to extend understanding to those humans while we are still nursing our burning injuries. Bearing the brunt of this disaster gives us a view of those humans that are not kind and understanding. Because when our stocks are spilled on the ground, when a punch to our gut knocks our wind out, when our world is disintegrating before our eyes, we cannot understand how, just how, we deserve any of this punishment that those humans are raining down upon us, because the police killed a black man. We cannot understand why we deserve to watch our lives burn, helpless.


IV.

We have to tell our own story. Because if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will. And this is our story: we did nothing wrong, and they destroyed our stores.

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

14 comments:

  1. You are right that being discriminated against and persecuted does not give anyone the right to turn around and persecute other people.

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  2. My heart goes out to all of the immigrants that worked hard only to have their livelihoods destroyed by knuckleheads. This is infuriating. I can not fathom the type of mindset needed to do something like this. What good will this bring? People that could have potentially become allies in the fight against injustice will definitely not have anything to do with us. I wouldn't either.

    When I was a young woman in college, I met most of my lifelong friends that also happened to be of Asian descent. We share a commonality as people of color and experience oppression from the dominant culture in varied degrees. It is often not a cakewalk in the US for people of Asian descent or any minority. Yet, many black people continue to fail to see the bigger picture. It's so frustrating. The divide and conquer tactic continues to work well. There is never an excuse to behave in this manner.

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  3. Don't expect too much sympathy from me. They know that that's the price you may pay later. Call it the price of doing business in those black neighbourhoods. Why do they continue to do business in those ghettos is beyond my understanding. It's been several decades since the LA Riots, and many riots after that. Isn't it time they started to pack up and leave and do something else?

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    1. You do realize that 'white' people stores don't sell ethnic hair products..

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  4. Don't expect too much sympathy from me. They know that that's the price you may pay later. Call it the price of doing business in those black neighbourhoods. Why do they continue to do business in those ghettos is beyond my understanding. It's been several decades since the LA Riots, and many riots after that. Isn't it time they started to pack up and leave and do something else?

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    1. I'm a simpleton, and will take your "beyond my understanding" comment at face value. If you were to start a retail venture with whatever funds you yourself currently have, how would you make enough to pay your overhead, your inventory, your employees and still have enough to house and feed yourself and your family? Let's not even think about health insurance or business insurance. These costs are more or less fixed, or have a limited range. The only wiggle room is the price of retail rental space, which --like all real estate pricing --is dependent on desirability of location.

      I searched Baltimore retail space for lease and sorted the results low to high. The cheapest storefront space I found was $7.50 per square foot for 2,000 square feet or $15K per month.

      This Washington Post article...
      (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/the-story-of-west-baltimore-can-be-told-through-life-at-one-intersection/2015/05/19/cde0d476-f980-11e4-9030-b4732caefe81_story.html)

      ...states that Mr. Hyo Yol Choi's looted and ransacked store is 3,000 square feet. If he pays our guesstimate market rate of $7.50 psf, his rent is $22,500 per month.

      I also searched Baltimore retail spaces for sale, in case anyone was building equity. The cheapest property was a liquor and convenience store with an asking price of $250K. The next property listed was $679K, and the next thereafter was $2.2M.

      Is Mr. Choi's choice of store location still beyond your understanding? He may not have your sympathy, but he certainly has mine.


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  5. Good thing those store owners didn't have guns. They just might been able to defend themselves, and the looters may have gotten hurt.

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  6. Could it be that African Americans are sick and tired of being treated with contempt by Asian Americans (particularly Koreans) and are lashing out?

    The simple fact is that 'blackness' carries negative connotations throughout Asia (particularly East Asia) and East Asians treat them like animals (often subconsciously). The LA riots were a response to this.

    Why did blacks target Korean businesses? Because they were sick to death of being persecuted and judged by Koreans. Apparently in any Korean owned business, blacks would be followed everywhere they went (in case they stole something).

    African Americans aren't stupid. Sounds like 'the chickens coming home to roost'.

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    1. Though what you say is true all too often that still doesn't justify what they did.

      My father owned a convenience store in Watts, Los Angeles.

      Initially he was respectful and friendly but suffice to say many of the blacks were not and quite hostile in fact and the degree of stealing was so much that not only did he have to raise prices to compensate but also had to be extra careful since people he had once trusted stole. Never once did he ever curse or say anything bad about the blacks. He was a strong believer in kindness being the best ingredient for success in running a business. He always used to say that it was just their upbringing and poverty that made them steal and be so disrespectful. But over time after many of the same people he had been kind to betrayed his trust he realized that he had to take precautions even with the customers he thought he could trust. After a few dangerous situations with drug addicted sociopaths he had to get some firearms to protect himself. Given that he had a black belt in judo and was extremely strong and healthy, he never thought he needed to get any firearms until he realized that it was just too dangerous.

      You make it sound like African Americans are the ones being nice and respectful while the Koreans are the ones being rude and arrogant. Unfortunately that would be very disingenuous because more often than not it was the other way around.

      Often times I would see black customers coming in being loud, rowdy, and demanding and expecting the asian behind the counter to respectfully, quickly, and quietly serve them. Other times I would see angry or upset (about what we had no idea) youths rudely throw their money and grab their change as they said a few choice words quite loudly. Other times some would be so cloyingly nice trying to get something without having to pay full price if they didn't have enough money, only get angry and stomp out cursing and kicking and damaging things on their way out if they were politely but firmly refused. Other times, they would come in big groups and quickly make their way through the store buying one to two things or without buying anything and later we would discover that things had been taken when we were doing an inventory check. More often than not, negative stereotypes were enthusiastically played out to the tilt by many of our customers.

      Only a handful truly bothered to return the kindness that my father sought to give. So I would be careful to dismiss Koreans as the only ones at fault in this messy situation.

      After 3 courageous years my father had to give up. It was just too much for him. Unfortunately, he never had the same problem in any of his others businesses not located in a predominantly black community. I say unfortunately because it does speak volumes about the state of the many poverty stricken black communities in the U.S.

      If they want to be treated with respect, they need to realize that certain behaviors do in fact discourage it and in fact encourage the other more negative kind of feeling instead. They can't expect to act and do whatever they want that antagonizes others and then demand respect. It only serves to fan the flames of negative stereotypes.

      Still I pray and hope for true respect and love for all.

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    2. Black people are not a monolith that you should ever refer to as "they" and obviously we do not have a hive mind. Unfortunate that the people in that community treated your father with contempt, but it does not mean that you should refer to Black people as one generalized group as a way to tip toe around what you truly wanted to say.

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    3. Pink Jaws, Simon Baik was replying to a comment that most certainly referred to both African Americans and Asian Americans as if each of them is a generalised group with a hive mind.

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    4. So why not criticize Gus for doing the same thing? Asian Americans (particularly Koreans) are also not a monolithic group. Ironic that no one seems to have any problems with referring to white people as tho they were a monolithic block all in total mental lockstep. Bias preference. perhaps?

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  7. This is the way it's supposed to work. Immigrants and African Americans marginalized by economics and bigotry living side by side with distrust and contempt. Of course immigrant businesses were looted and destroyed, they'd never be allowed to go into white neighborhoods to protest. The black community sees the immigrant business owner as a "surrogate" oppressor. The immigrant business owner views the black community as a potential threat. It shows in their everyday interactions, boils over during a crisis. Rather than turn their attention to the real problems of institutionalized racism that marginalizes both they blame each other for their problems. What could come from something like this would be a coming together of the entire community. Face the problem of the real oppression. Immigrant business leaders and black business leaders could attempt to work together. Create a community that works toward cooperation and trust. Expend some of that hard work and energy toward something more than just eking out a living and never seeing beyond your own self interest and that of your own ethnic group.

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  8. I have no idea why such hatred is being continued in these comments.
    Who could disagree with this article?
    I do not understand the Internet world. Nor the real world, judging by what happened to those shops.

    ReplyDelete

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