Wednesday, January 15, 2014

We Belong to Eachother

Our friends, Bob and Trish invited us to a basketball game on Saturday night. The women's pro-basketball league seems to be pretty legit in Korea. I was surprised by the number of the fans and the volume they produced.

The video will do this no justice, but let me tell you: those darn "thunder sticks" never ceased. Not once.


And then, whaddya know (?!), Bob and Trish did their juggling gig for the half-time show. These two do NOT mess around, folks! They are driven and pretty darn talented, too. I recorded their performance in three clips just like a proud momma, "Oh, watch out! Oh, this move is tricky. Ha ha, nailed it!" I'm kind of their little groupie now.


The whole night was fun.

Fun to be at such a big event and feel as if I belonged there.Fun to just observe and take it all in.Fun to be apart of the group, cheering along with the locals.

Fun, also, to take in something I've not ever thought about:WNBA players going abroad during the off-season.

The Cheongju KB Stars have two, very-talented Afro-American WNBA players on their team: Monique Currie and Marissa Coleman. I did a double and triple-take when I first walked into the arena. I had just never thought about it. Never considered that b-ball players travel during the off-season and play on teams around the world. The whole evening, I could only think about one thing: I wonder what their experience has been like in Korea?

Because, I know how mine has been: relatively easy. But, without sounding too naiive, I'm guessing from recent conversations with Koreans that being black in Korea is quite different. (Note: often times in Korea "white" and "Western" are thrown around interchangeabely, even though, obviously, Koreans have white skin)

A few weeks ago, I had the following conversation with one of my co-teachers. We were talking about how, by-and-large, foreigners like myself are exempt from Korean standards:

"Well, that doesn't seem fair," I told her. "Shouldn't we be modest and respectful of Korean culture."

"Well, yeah, but you can get away with things that I can't," she told me. "Especially, if you are white."

"Why's that?"

"Because Korea likes white," she said flatly.

"Do you mean, Koreans like Western culture?"

"Yes, but many Koreans want to look white, talk white, be white."

"Is that true for all foreigners even if they don't look white? Is it the same as me?"

"Oh no," she said. "We Koreans are very critical of other Asians. If you are not doing anything to help us (Cambodia, Vietnam, India), then you are only holding us back as a race."


"Koreans like white. We don't like black," she added.


"It's hard for me to hear you say that. Why is it that some Koreans don't like black people?"

"Personally, they make me uncomfortable."

I said, "Well, I think that's understandable. It's okay if something brand new makes you uncomfortable."

(Unlike the States where we have 31 different ethnic groups, Korea is largely homogenous. Despite the small, but growing, population of foreigners, Koreans are mostly accustomed to their own norms and make up 98% of the population if Korea.)

I continued, "Is there some sort of bad history between Koreans and people who are black? I wonder where this comes from."

Without missing a beat, she told me, "I think since Koreans like white so much, we want to be like you. And because we see subtle messages in movies, TV shows, and magazines that tells us that black is less than white, we just follow suit."

Jaw drop.


Obviously, we are all responsible for our own behaviors, and I don't think she's blaming all of Korea's race problems on Americans, but she is essentially saying: We learned some of this from you.

That's a hard one to swallow. Not because I think that this one conversation holds true for every Korean everywhere, but simply because if one person thinks this way, there's a good chance there's a few others.


Note: This post is not meant to generalize the notion that everyone in Korea dislikes black people or Cambodian people or any other group of people. That is simply not true. The reason I chose to write about it at all, is because this conversation really surprised me. And it reminded me that our prejudices and our attitudes effect more people than we know.

We belong to each other.








Adam Newbold said...

Hi, Heather!

I am glad that I signed up to receive your blog posts - they're always so thought provoking and well written.

I wanted to write and tell you that this post about the basketball games really struck/startled me...and not for the reasons you may guess. Haha. I realized that I know BOB & TRISH! In fact, they Couch Surfed at my apartment a few years ago! Crazy! If you see them again, you can ask them if they remember me (and my middle brother, Aaron) and our apartment in College Place. I showed them around town when I met them. Then they were interviewed by our local newspaper about their "joggling" - so cool.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you the connection! This world seems be getting smaller as it gets bigger.

God bless you on your upcoming trip!

- Adam

Ashley Barber said...

Bob and Trish are awesome! I'm so glad you're their groupie :)