The Korea Times : Nationalism and Racism in Korea

Sad to say, but Mr. Le Fou (an obvious penname) has a point.

What’s sadder is that every criticism leveled by a foreigner is met with either:

  • You’re generalizing. Well, yeah. It’s possible to generalize in useful ways. When you have TV ads showing black people as cannibals showing on air and people think it’s cute instead of offensive; when you repeatedly experience people saying black people say “Oooh-oooh ahhh-ahh-aaahhh” like monkeys — not just once, but over and over — then you can usefully generalize. You can generalize that a certain degree of overt racism is not just tolerated by accepted and even tacitly cultivated in a society. Generalities do exist.
  • You’re not from here, how dare you criticise this society. Love it or leave it. How long would it take for me to be from here? If I lived here twenty years, would I have earned as much right to criticise as a twenty-year-old? Less? More? And why should one love a society as it is, or leave it? No society is perfect — meaning every society needs its critics. The idea that foreign residents should shut up when they see a problem is just… stupid. Sorry, but it is. They can try to be polite in their criticisms, perhaps; considerate. But birthplace is hardly a sensible criterion for who gets a critical voice. It really has to be everybody, or nobody. And since it’s obvious from the above all societies need critics, the solution is everybody gets a voice. Including pesky foreigners who bring up embarrassing points.
  • You’re not Korean, you can’t understand. Okay, here’s the thing. Koreans by and large don’t get Western culture either — many of the people I know get Western culture even less than I get Korean culture — but they still engage with it. Let me offer an example. “Western food is very fatty and unhealthy.” I’ve heard people say this over and over. And yeah, some Western food is really unhealthy. Fast food, snack food. But the thing is that many people here don’t seem to get that these things they consider Western food are actually just fast food — which rose in the West but has become a global phenomenon. Fast food isn’t all of Western food, either, but it’s all of Western food that most Koreans ever experience, beyond the odd steak and dodgy salad.So if I hear Koreans say, “Western food is so fatty and unhealthy,” should I remind them they don’t know enough about the subject, or have a misperception of the subject? Should I explain there are all kinds of healthy Western foods which are not widely available in Korea because burgers are more profitable?Or should I just say, “Shut up, you don’t know anything and can’t understand because you’re not Western”? Because to me, that response is more than just evasive — it’s downright lacking in respect.
  • Ah, there you go again, hating my country. Which explains why I live here after so many years. Believe it or not, frustrations aside, most people who live here a long time are relatively happy. I am, most of the time. The frustrations are starting to wear on me, yes; but in general, this is an okay place to live. Of course, not singing praises of a place seems to be perceived as a kind of hatred of a place, too — that’s what you get when rabid nationalism demands love rather than respect, demands superiority rather than just stability, demands praise rather than discussion. Everything gets exaggerated in useless ways.

What I’m saying is that it’s frustrating because anyone who criticises this society either sends people he cares about into tears or rages, and gets shot down as either a racist or ignorant or someone without the right to criticise.

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