Having read at The Marmot's Hole the explanation that the Black gentleman on the bus to Pundang had misinterpreted Niga (as in a casual "You..." as the subject of a sentence) as the incendiary N-word, it was painful to watch this man go off so badly over a misunderstanding.
I was all set to write a post where, well, I actually came down on the side of the Black guy in the video — at least a little. I'm not Black, but I spent half my childhood in Compton, long enough to have a very different view (apparently) of Black people than many non-Blacks in America, and long enough to recognize, when I later lived in Orange County and elsewhere, the often schizophrenic and hypocritical way that many non-Blacks regard and treat Blacks. (Not to mention later in Seoul, when so many Whites suddenly take up the cause of Blacks in Korea because, well, they suddenly feel they are treated the way they think Blacks are treated, even though this wasn't really such a bother to them back home. But I digress...)
I was going to come out and write sympathetically, as I have before, about how most non-Blacks really have no clue what it's like to live inescapably from the taunts, snickers, condescension, backbiting, and even racial epithets that are commonplace if you are Black in America. Which carries over in different ways to being Black in Korea. No, I'm not Black, but in the latter half of my childhood and adulthood I was very attuned to the knee-jerk reactions to Blacks they saw (seriously, there was a time when I would have said without a second thought that I was more afraid of White people than Black people).
So if the guy really did hear Niga but thought he heard Nigga, I'd cut him some slack for going off. Maybe the guy has anger issues, but maybe the guy also has just been seething from so much crap thrown his way, in Korea and back home.
An update at The Marmot's Hole link above says the guy was with his girlfriend, and I'm thinking that supports my suppositions that the guy — walking around or taking public transport with his Korean (?) girlfriend — has endured a lot of crap and he may have reached the tipping point.
Now, as Oranckay points out, none of that allows you to go off on a harabŏji (grandfather figure) in Korea. Nothing. You let him hit you with his umbrella and his words, parrying both in a defensive pose, but you do not attack. That earns you no brownie points and can land you in jail. Black, White, foreigner, or Korean.
But the constant barrage of "검둥이," "무섭다," etc., can eventually send some people over the edge.
Now just as I was about to hit PUBLISH, I get a link to Metropolitician's site, which has a post on the same topic, but from a completely different point of view:
Left out of the conversation -- and a question that every Korean would ask were the court of popular opinion turned against them -- is any consideration of what the context was. Not that there's an excuse for hitting another person without cause, but the funny thing about this video is that we're right in the middle of an altercation that obviously was started for a reason, OFF-camera, but no one on the Korean side seems to care what it was, and the video's title hints at what the real issue is: a scary black man attacks defenseless old Korean man. Case closed -- we know what we expect, we know how they do, we got the case that we want. It's a "BLACK MAN," after all. ...He also goes on to talk about the Shinchon stabbing, tying it in with the gang-up-on-the-foreigner impression he has, as if the Black guy on the bus or the White guy in Shinchon are mostly not responsible for their fate or their actions. (Metropolitician and others have characterized the Shinchon stabbing as having been instigated or "provoked" (Stephannie White's word).
Because life as a black man in Korea affords you about the same amount of sympathy, both in person and in the media, as one might have gotten in the Deep South in the 1950's. Doesn't matter that violence, both mental and physical, is done upon you day in and day out -- you step out of line one time, and that's your ass.
But like with the guy on the bus threatening people with his "rocks" and using Korean and English profanity and being a physical menace, the guy in Shinchon was not some babe in the woods caught up in the cogs of the Korean judicial system after being "provoked" by anti-American agents in Shinchon. As I wrote elsewhere:
They "provoked" the GIs to go to Shinchon which is off limits. They "provoked" the guy to bring a knife with him when he went out drinking. And then they "provoked" him to hold it to someone's neck.Okay, it's late (4 a.m.) and I need to wrap this up. I basically have found myself in a position where, owing to my own Compton roots, I was sympathetic to the Black guy who thought he was being berated in a directly or indirectly racist way and then reacted angrily and violently even though he didn't really have the Korean skills to back up his chip-on-the-shoulder feeling (that is fueled by K-blog rhetoric, but that's another story for another day), especially since he apparently apologized.
That's some mighty skilled provokin'.
But Metropolitician has gone and ruined that. His knee-jerk defense of this kinda sorta almost indefensible guy (despite my own defense of him), tied in with his sixth sense for all things racist and xenophobic, and held down by using that Rhode Island-sized chip on his shoulder as a paperweight, has made me rethink my cautiously contingent support for the guy.
It also doesn't help that I was going to cite in this post his earlier claim of a supposed Southern expression — "When the Nigger starts to win then we all jump in!" — and discuss how it didn't really pan out here (apparently there was no violence done by the Korean crowd to the guy), but Metropolitician went and made that the actual title of his piece.
Okay, anyway, it's late and I'm groggy and I'll probably take this post down after (a) getting lots of emails or comments saying, "Boo!" which is what we from Compton have to face in life, (b) waking up and realizing it's full of logically or grammatically unsustainable sentences, and/or (c) something else.
For now, however, I leave you with the words of Pawi Kirogi, who sums up what I think should result, Metropolitician's defense of the guy notwithstanding:
no, don’t kick him out. the man’s sensitive to racial slight and lost his cool with a perception. he says he knows he was wrong and wants to apologize. if the ajoshi is willing to accept, that should be that.Yeah, I think that's what I've been trying to say somewhere up there. The guy has learned a lesson, and maybe everyone else has: "Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably; the lesson is, never try.”
I don't like this post, but that largely stems from not liking this entire issue. It has me posturing against posturers, he-said ni-said crap, "my experience trumps your experience" stuff, etc., etc. There's nothing clean and philosophical that can come from this, except maybe "Don't speak English loudly in public" (Marmot), "Don't ride the bus/subway while Black" (Metropolitician), or "Carrying around a massive chip on your shoulder might make you see/hear things that aren't there" (kushibo).
It also stems from having written the latter part of it way too late at night and the resulting me-too feeling I get from it.
Linkin' Lawyer Benjamin Wagner asks at The Marmot's Hole:
Curious about people’s opinions on what the guy could or should do at this point to try to makes things right or at least better. Especially interested to hear what Korean commenters would advise.I guess it's too late for "Speak softly and carry a big stick."
Um, I think the usual would be in order: a deeply contrite apology and an offer to make monetary amends for any physical damage caused, plus people from his hagwon and elsewhere — including Koreans who can speak Korean, if he has any — who can attest to his good nature in regular life. That might get him off with just a fine and no jail time or deportation.
Popular Gusts, as usual, puts together a first-rate set of links on this issue. I have to admit, though, after reading more detailed descriptions of the guy's violent behavior (e.g., trying to "strangle" the elderly gentlemen several times, etc.), my sympathy is quickly dissipating. I'm still leaning toward giving the guy a second chance if he's contrite and this incident was very uncharacteristic of him, but this is serious legal assault.
I'm also reminded of a post I wrote back in 2009, where I pointed out that it's sorta against your best interests to defend everyone in your group (in this case defending Mr H because he's Black, American, or an English teacher who may bear the brunt of xenophobia just like you). Sometimes the Korean public reacts badly to an American or English teacher or whatever because he has in fact done some reprehensible things.
At least this case is getting a lot of KoKos to think about and discuss the stress that builds up for foreign residents of Korea who are routinely singled out as different and, sometimes, even unwelcome.
At Marmot's, Metropolitician writes an impassioned defense of his use of this case to highlight what he considers increasing violence against foreigners:
This IS an appropriate time to bring up the fact that foreigners are harrassed at what I consider to be higher numbers than before. This is the “teachable moment” that the subject has been brought up in the Korean media, although in its most sensationalist form, and in the specific way that happens to NOT represent reality for most confrontational situations between foreigners and Koreans. Sorry, no matter what you say, nothing convinces me that foreigners — no matter how rude or culturally inconsiderate some can be — go around physically threatening or assaulting Korean people. Korean crime stats don’t bear that out, and you can bet a scandal-hungry media would certainly pick up on it were this to be the case.I'm not so sure I agree there is an overall increase or even a per capita increase (it would make sense that more foreign residents would mean more reports of being victim of violent or racist behavior). I also don't think that labeling the whole of the Korean media as "scandal-hungry" is correct or prudent. In fact, I know reporters who would probably want to focus on the foreigners-as-victims angle, if they could wade through Metropolitician's various screeds to see if there's any there there.
I do wish to question Metropolitician's activist wisdom. This guy, as I'm seeing more and more on the various blogs and news sites, was way out of control, violent, crazy, and even murderous. And that makes him not a very good poster child for crimes-against-foreigners. There's a reason that Rosa Parks, whose "character was impeccable," was chosen as the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that catapulted civil rights onto the national stage in the 1960s. She hadn't been the first one to be forced out of her seat, but she was the one that the civil rights leaders saw would be someone whose character could not be attacked by those looking to excuse what was going on. Mr H is no Rosa Parks, and this situation is no foreigner-as-victim set of circumstances.
I forgot mention this:
Criticize me, disagree with me, but don’t put shit in my mouth I didn’t say, or say I do things I don’t.I hear ya. If you're going to put shit in Metro's mouth, use scare quotes.
Jieun at The Marmot's Hole, another favorite of mine, left a comment I liked:
With all due respect, if you could kindly bear with me here:The funny thing about having a name like "Michael Hurt": it's an apt emotional descriptive.
A guy with an ethnic background similar to yours commits an act that is patently flagrant—in any way one looks at it (and no one with a right mind would act the way he did upon being told by a much weaker elderly man to “shut up.”)
Then, you appear, saying you’re not defending anyone, and start seguing into a bitter tirade about how you (and your friends)—all good model citizens and polar opposites of the guy on the bus, I’m respectfully sure—have been victimized for years by the society at large, or rather, by the social fringe.
Do you see it? I don’t think that is the strongest tack you can take to further your cause/grievance.
I’m truthfully (and sometimes hopelessly) empathic; I feel for you, but I think it’s time you reconsidered your paradigm of thought as to how to bring about change, away from focusing on the hurt.
If you’ve ever felt you haven’t gained much traction pushing the “issues” into public debate, there must be a reason—and a good one at that.