Happy Chuseok, or, “If I Were White, Would You Beat and Abuse Me?”

While the holiday still registers on my own radar as little more than some time off work, I know some people out there might excited about Chuseok tomorrow, and I hope people do enjoy it as much as possible.

(Though in my experience, Chuseok is viewed with dread by women of all ages, and young men, as the time when family tortures one another; when women are stuck doing insanely intensive kitchen duty, and where young people are constantly grilled about when they will get plastic surgery, get more plastic surgery, finish school, get a job, get a better job, marry, have kids, or whatever else their random, nosy, indelicate, and disrespectful relatives have decided is de rigeur this year.)

But hey, it’s the holiday, and I’ve heard that some companies at least have given people Monday or Friday (or both) off to enjoy more time with family. Er.

If you’re one of those people, enjoying time with your family, please try to have fun, but it also behooves you to remember that there are plenty of people here who deserve to enjoy themselves a little too… and deserve to be given basic human respect.

While I did have a terrible experience today — and I could rant about it — my annoyances pale next to the experience of one Bangladeshi student named (as far as I can figure out from the Koreanization of his name) Rezaul Karim who was, it seems, falsely accused of having and using drugs in Korea. This, of a man who claims not even to smoke cigarettes.

His complaint was that, after coming here in 2007 and maintaining a scholarship since his arrival; after having top marks in school; after being a good, law-abiding resident of the country for over three years, he was subjected to brutal treatment by the police while under arrest for a crime he didn’t commit.

He was accused in front of his (Korean) friends and girlfriend, who he says left him after his public defamation. The house that he shared with his mother (here in Korea) was searched, and of course no evidence was found, but he was held for several days by police and during that time he says he was taken into the bathroom — where there were no CCTVs, of course — and beaten; when he protested, he says the cop beating him told him to just confess and “go back to his country.”

Which is to say that whatever one feels about the cruelties and criminality of the police during the Park and Chun dictatorships, this apparently remains the reality for non-Koreans, especially non-white, non-Western non-Koreans, who have the ill luck to be accused of anything at all. (Or, for that matter, who happen to be in violation of immigration law. Being locked up for that can cost you your life, as it did nine people in Yeosu in 2007. And if you check out that article, you’ll see some other pretty eye-opening stuff, like how little the human rights of non-Koreans are respected and upheld by immigration officials.)

What evidence did they the police have of Karim’s ostensible nefarious drug involvement? He says what he was shown was a video of him coming home from buying something at the local grocery shop. Which is to say, the evidence was simply his race. And he asked the question — quite rightly — “If I were white, would you abuse and beat me this way?”

So if you’re a Westerner and frustrated at life in Korea this Chuseok, think again. Whatever crap you’re dealing with is very likely nothing like as bad as this, and if it is, you’re likely able to do get some sympathy from Koreans about it, and maybe even do actively something about it. Well, indeed, I do hope this man also gets some sympathy; I also hope he sues the daylights out of the cops. South Asians have won in court before, when complaining of racist harassment — but I’d be surprised if he would win a case against the police. (Very happily surprised, but surprised nonetheless.)

If you’re a Korean or a Westerner and enjoying Chuseok — by all means, do so. But I’ll call one thing to mind: a lot of Koreans tell me that Chuseok is the closest thing Korea has to the Western holiday of Thanksgiving. Well, it’s worth a moment’s pause to reflect on the fact there’s a lot to be thankful about in this country, but there’s still a lot to think about changing, so that everyone living here can be thankful, productive, and happy on a day like today.

(And it’s not like there’s not a lot to work to improve the livability of Korean society for Koreans themselves, after all.

2 thoughts on “Happy Chuseok, or, “If I Were White, Would You Beat and Abuse Me?”

  1. hi, thanks for spreading this.

    just a reminder, “thanksgiving” is not a western holiday; it’s an american holiday. says the pedantic german. ^^

    happy chuseok!

  2. Well, we have it in Canada too; I wish we had a word for that — stuff shared by Canada and the US, but not by Mexico. “North American” implies Mexico, so it’s not quite right.

    And see I think here for a comment on my use of “Western” this way. I think maybe this comment helped me figure out another part of why: the lack of a good word for Canamaerican things.

    Happy Chuseok back at you — and I hope the rain didn’t affect you. My word!

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