Everything is…racist (Part 1)

Sure, everyone’s racist, but it sure feels a helluva lot different when you’re the minority.

All. the. time.

After a long day of shopping and feeling like I’d seen too many people, I went to Little Prince Coffee. While I was enjoying the patio, sunshine and latte, I was struck by the sincerity of the owners. The owners were kind, generous and genuine. It’s difficult for me to determine whether or not many of the people I meet are sincere or if they just want me to think well of them. It’s easy for this uncertainty to make me jaded and angry.

In Korea (and most places) there is much value placed on adhering to group behaviors and the norm. This means anyone who is different and unaware of the norms and mores will not have an easy time fitting in. Especially me, since I’m constantly being unintentionally rude and standing out from the crowd just by existing.

I find it strange that in a country so hungry for English, it is so easy for people to treat others so poorly. (I will be writing a separate post on how foreigners bring this on themselves.) But the demand for English, demands the existence of foreign in this place. It is this mixing in such a homogenous group that seems to be most upsetting. My presence is simply another sign of the rapid evolution of Korean society. Not surprisingly, reminders of change are scary.

I don’t think I understood racism when I was the white person in a white culture and I understood the language most of the time. Sure I knew what racism was theoretically and I hung out with Sasquatch enough to know that white people do treat brown people differently. I was surprised when Sassy would brush off racism as typical or joke about it. But that’s her: cool as a cucumber and always hilarious.

Now I find myself in the minority and experiencing racism. And belonging to such an obvious minority is different.

In one day, I was stared at (again). Then had gum spit at me by a six year-old boy much to his sister’s amusement. I was forced to wait while a store clerk refused to sell me some hair accessories. I was called names and yelled at in a language I still don’t understand. But the cherry on top of the pile of crap that is experiencing racism every moment I step outside my apartment was watching a mother teacher her child the word “wayguk” while pointing at me.

Wayguk is not actually a horribly rude word. It means foreigner, but probably translates more literally as “other country.” It’s not the worst thing I’ve heard someone say about me hoping that my lack of Korean means I don’t understand. But somehow seeing a mother teach her child how to identify a foreigner while pointing at me was the most demoralizing experience of a long day.

If I knew Korean, I wish I would’ve had the courage to tell that kid, “Somehow I’m supposed to represent all white people to you?! You’re three! You’re probably better at telling people apart than I am. I’m trying really hard not to assume your mom is just like every other Korean woman I meet. And I’m guessing by the time you graduate from high school, you will have had a dozen or more wayguk teachers. So get used to white people, as long as you live on this earth, you’re stuck with us.”

I’d like to think everyone on this earth is trying to teach their kid not to judge someone without even talking to them, but I guess everyone is racist.

(Disclaimer: I’d like to point out this is one day. Not everyone is blatantly rude to me, all day, every day. For the most part, the worst thing I experience is staring and now that I recognize a few words sometimes what people say. Admittedly it’s not much worse than what I might experience in America if I walked around in my undies.)


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