Looking at the devastation going on back home, i just have to shake my head in shame and marvel at how just plain horrible our citizens can be to each other, from the President on down to certain people in the flooded streets of New Orleans who wouldn't even lift a finger to help their fellow man escape the rising tides of death.
For all the crap that we expats give Korean folks for being a bit overzealous in their nationalism and perceived close-mindedness, I remind you of the scenes of horrible flooding and devastation that occupied the hearts and minds of Korean folks back in the fall of 2002, 'roundabout this time, actually.
You didn't see citizens and parts of the news media sneering at victims, or the authorities telling folks to head to designated areas for shelter and neglect to take care of their basic needs – namely, food and water – for four days while the rest of the city sank into anarchy and chaos.
We fat and pampered Americans should remember that no one is more than three meals away from taking matters into their own hands if basic needs aren't being met and you don't know where your next meal or swallow of water is coming from, and the rest of the country ought to remember that if they're going to allow their fellow citizens to devolve into violence and depravity while we sit in our armchairs and chastise them for "looting" stores to get food, water, and basic supplies.
Leave it to the rightist and the racists in the South – as well as those peppered throughout our government, which happens to be headed by the king of them all – to chalk up to racial characteristics the depravity of those driven to desperate acts of immorality because of circumstances.
As frustrating as certain of us foreigners are watching our images get constantly trashed in the media here in Korea, and even combined with the fact that some of our other foreigner comrades have it much worse in their factories than English teachers not getting the terms of their contracts met, I look at what has happened in New Orleans and mull on the fact that I have rarely been more disgusted in my entire life. Not because of the actual looting or madness that happened – yes, a lot of them are black, but then again, because of the fact that this is the group that by definition didn't have the ways and means to leave, of course they would be the ones left, in disproportionate numbers, to be the people to fall into that kind of immorality and madness. And let's not forget – there were other folks out there too, getting their loot on. They were just underrepresented because of the demographics of class and who was left behind.
When a society creates a class of the permanently destitute, preserving parts of the country that have never seen development or real change since the times when slavery was a viable economic and social institution – when the flood waters come, you get to see people at their most base. The fact that people simply chalk this up to how "they" think and live, instead of seeing the factors responsible for making people that way, that is what frustrates me.
God Bless America ('cause there certainly doesn't seem to be many other places willing to these days), but I ain't in no hurry to go back. Maybe when the social meanness and selfish shortsightedness of my country starts subsiding a little, I'll be happy to return.
But right now, I am content to disconnect – to continue pursuing my media interests, work slowly on my obscure dissertation topic in Korean Studies, and teach American History and culture on both the high school and college levels for a pretty decent paycheck. And when I do, I now have another interesting point of contradiction to include in my lectures and discussions about my late, great nation, as this is yet another moment of conflict with admirable and utterly American ideals unparalleled in their greatness, but which remain largely unrealized for many of our own citizens.
You know, I don't even hope for all of us to "just get along," to quote the once-iconic-yet-comic image of Rodney King after the last great conflagration of great injustice and tragedy. We got it backwards this time – we got the tragedy first, only to be followed by the great injustice. I mean, now we have the equivalent of thousands of Rodney Kings – blacks disenfranchised and abused by the system – asking an even more basic question: can't we Americans feel enough for each other to throw each other a crumb, or lift a finger to help a fellow human being in need? I mean – we don't have to like each other, but damn! "Can't I get a seat on the hotel bus, 'cause the water's coming?"
Just doesn't make any goddamn sense.