Friday, June 20, 2008

Black Like Me

In the classic Spike Lee film "Do the Right Thing," one of the most powerful scenes occurs after Radio Raheem is choked to death by the police. The scene is a reference to a 1983 incident in New York City where graffiti artist Michael Stewart was apprehended for defacing public property and killed by the arresting officer in a similar manner.

As in real life, the angry black crowd who witnesses the slaying eventually becomes a riotous crowd. They demolish Sal's Pizzeria and soon their rage turns to other non-Black businesses in the area.

Quickly they head for the local Korean market yelling, "It's your turn now, mothafucka!" But Sunny, the Korean owner tries to fight them off with a broom all while yelling, "I no white! I black!! We same!"

The mob spares his store realizing that he too is a racial minority, and begins to disperse with one of the older characters yelling to the mob's leader, "Leave the Korean alone! He's alright!"

It's an interesting situation.

Here in New York City, there has always been tension among the black and Asian communities. While attempts have been made to bridge the divide, there is still no sense of entente between them and they have never considered themselves to be "the same." The rapper Ice Cube even went so far as to highlight the tensions in his classic song, "Black Korea."

I think much of the distrust has to do with the fact that many Koreans don't feel the sense of racial prejudice that has plagued the black community for generations. The so-called "model minority" may face certain obstacles due to race. However, they never faced the oppression and second-class citizenship that defined America in the pre-Civil Rights Era.

And to be frankly honest, I think many Koreans (particularly immigrants) are racist towards black people. I'll take that even further and say that most Koreans are racist towards anyone who is not 100% Korean. This is evidenced by the controversies in Korea right now over whether half-Korean children should be given full citizen status. Where does this sense of ethnic superiority come from? Has their cultural and ethnic pride been reduced to racist xenophobia?

Those are questions for another time.

What surprised me today was coming across this article in the BBC stating that the HIgh Court in South Africa has ruled that Chinese South Africans are to be reclassified as black people.

It made the order so that ethnic Chinese can benefit from government policies aimed at ending white domination in the private sector. The Chinese Association of South Africa took the government to court, saying its members had been discriminated against.

An estimated 200,000 ethnic Chinese live in South Africa.

The association said their members often failed to qualify for business contracts and job promotions because they were regarded as whites. The association said Chinese South Africans had faced widespread discrimination during the years of apartheid when they had been classified as people of mixed race.

Thus far, there has been no protest from the black community with the reclassification of Chinese as black people. In fact, their shared struggle against white majority rule may lead to closer ties in a nation where white South Africans still earn around 450% more than their black counterparts, 14 years after the end of apartheid.


ka_Jun said...

Hey MetroDad, I sent this on to my Returned Peace Corps volunteer colleagues, check it, this says that the only "Black" Chinese South Africans are those that were in the country prior to the end of Apartheid, 1994. So if you're South African Chinese who came after 1994, you're still classified as Asian/Chinese.

Check this, there will be a backlash, and what people are saying there is pretty much the same stuff we get here, "Go back to China. They're not really South African." Seems like Chinese South Africans get the same "perpetual foreigner syndrome" we've got up in here.

Man, I could tell you some stories about the unintended consequences of American cultural imperialism.

papa2hapa said...

I'm finding that this racism has gotten worse over the past decade. I have heard from European Koreans that it is especially bad there, and I'm finding it getting worse in America. In America, I can only blame the intolerance to our leaders who seem to point fingers so easily at cultures different as the enemy. I know that is a gross simplification, but still.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who is interested there is an amazing documentary called Passing Poston. It is the tale of four former internees at the Poston Relocation camp during WW II. The film is a heart wrenching story, of the search to forgive a nation that turned its back to so many of its own citizens.

Its a must see! Its showing at the Pioneer Theater on August 8th till the 14th.