I just got this gem in my email box, with the lovely subject line, "u racist":
i understand the reason for your blogs, and everything, but you're generalizing against the whole race. Why target the specific country "South Korea"??, why not care about the country you live in now, instead of a place thousands of miles away. Your listing many of the problems, and negative things in South Korea, but its not such a bad place. You make it sound like all koreans are so bad. "You shouldn't air our dirty laundry", You make it sound like every single korean is saying, "our country is bad ,but don't tell everyone. And finally, "...What is the point in making blogs such as this??. Granted I have never lived in Korea, but is the situation that hopeless and hostile as you have proposed. After reading your blog I have a distinct fear of being followed, attacked maliciously stared at or even arrested on sight from reading your views of Korea. I need to know this before I step on a plane and travel there. If the feeling of isolation will be that great why would anyone bother to even travel there. There surely must be something of beauty in Korea. someone commented this on your blog. This is waht you have done. You gave South Korea a bad name. You made people scared to go to the country. Why?? Why?? It is a peacful place to live in, a place without all the" bomb iraq, send more troops to iraq, stop the war". And i understand that you have been educated in high institutions and all that stuff, knowing all that history, culture stuff but it really doesn't matter. I surely can't make you stop your actions for it is your right, but just think about what you are doing. Your making Americans oppose South Korea, and its people. Asians are already weak victims in America, so why make them hate them more. I am a South Korean, and i understand what it's like. I understand the things that the government has done wrong, but you have no reason to just make south korea look bad it self. Please be careful when you say about korea, Many aspects of Korea, I am proud of and really enjoy, while you don't understand it, and just talk trash about it. Thank You For reading this
And here was my pretty irritated response. This whole "Why do you hate Korea" schtick is getting old:
I have lived in Korea for 7 years total, off and on, from 1994. I live here now.
If you READ what I say, instead of what you think I say, you'll know I don't generalize to all Koreans, and this is a blog about academic social critique in a mostly casual way.
Most of my blogs use evidence and examples, and most of what I talk about is being talked about in Korean newspapers and television and is considered a social problem by Koreans, too.
The main difference is – I'm not Korean. So I must "hate" Korea, right?
But since this is one of the only sources in English that engages in social commentary, I guess I have to take responsibility for people's views? If they want to believe the thousands of pounds of publicity and media published by Korean tourism agencies, the books, etc, they can. The vast majority of the stuff about Korea is overwhelmingly positive, to a fault.
But I'm an academic. I'm a scholar who specializes in Korean Studies, has learned the language, and places my ass where my mouth is – I live and work and pay taxes and contribute to society here in South Korea. So you know where you can stick your silly accusations of "racism." I report and comment on society as I see it – I don't work for the Ministry of Tourism, so I could give a flying fuck what conclusions people draw, as long as I am fairly conveying what I have seen in its appropriate context.
You want flowers and puppy dogs? Then go somewhere else.
I "don't understand" Korea? And you said you've NEVER LIVED HERE?! I've lived here for seven years. I worked my ass off to pay my dues, learn the language and culture, and have rolled up my sleeves and pitched in to make this a better place. What right do you have, as a person who's never lived here, to just shut my mouth? To tell me to retain silence? Because your name is "Oh" and you have Korean "blood?" Because you are embarrassed that sometimes Korean people can do bad things?
How selfish and petty of you. You sit in your comfortable place somewhere not in Korea and criticize my blog as hurting Korea because it's offensive to your rosy notion of Korea and Asia that's a function of YOUR ethnic pride and identity in ANOTHER COUNTRY? Oh – you certainly are doing a lot to help. Too bad that it is not really concern for KOREA, but more motivated out of personal pride and your fanciful notion of the place, a place you yourself say you have never lived.
How DARE you excoriate me for what I say? If not only because you have little way to actually fairly judge the validity of my points because you yourself say you haven't lived here, your ASS isn't here, tied up with the fate of other Koreans in this place, working together to make it a little bit better. You imply concern out of an AFFECTIVE commitment to Korean pride, but it is little more than an AFFECTED commitment that is based more on your own sense of ethnic pride in a completely different cultural and social context than any Korean living on the peninsula gives a flying fuck about.
Whatever. That's about the dumbest statement out of the several contained in your inane email.
YOU TELL ME WHERE I GENERALIZE ABOUT THE WHOLE RACE, based on some racist or essentialist assumptions. I don't ramble on about how Koreans can't do this, or the "Korean mind" can't understand that, or engage in facile pseudo-cultural arguments that assail Korean people, mores, or values.
I talk about social structure and learned behavior and the specific problems of this society based on this country's particular history. I take a good, hard look at this society and base my critiques on pretty universally accepted notions of fairness, democracy, human rights, and social justice. Koreans arguably take pride in being treated as a modern, rational, and developed society – in fact, newspapers and the person on the street bristle whenever the country is treated as anything but, and rightly so – but when I engage in social critique based on these assumptions, I am "racist?"
It would be "racist" to treat these things around me as quaint idiosyncrasies of an undeveloped, immature people and simply shrug my shoulders and say to myself, "What do you expect? They're Korean."
But I have higher expectations. People accuse me of being a cultural imperialist, or ethnocentric; but these same people – do they sit in bars and restaurants and converse, argue, yell, laugh, debate some more, and finally learn from one another – IN KOREAN? Do you?
The fact that I talk with folks, I hash out my ideas, that I am brave enough to do have these conversations with Korean folks in Korean, means that I have a right to have a voice and an opinion, too. And for as much lip service as you give about wanting to defend Korea or whatever – what have you done? Have you paid your dues? Do you even talk to real Korean folks in their own language about these things?
This blog is the result of thousands of conversations and having gone back and forth with Korean folks, living and working in Korean society, about putting my ass on the line to back up my moral and ethical beliefs. So I quit a lucrative teaching position because they were a bunch of unethical assholes who were forcing me to make choices that I felt would no longer allow me to function as a moral person, to maintain my self respect. Would I be a cultural imperialist for doing that? Or like you, should I have just kept the job, ignored the people certain policies were hurting, and actually participated in the immorality?
You would have shrugged your shoulders and said, "Oh, well. It's Korea." Right? Or excoriated anyone who spoke out about it?
You're so stupid that you don't even realize that amount of LOVE it takes to tenaciously try to change the world you occupy, to leave it a better place. You're so stupid that you don't realize that all of the social issues I am so angry about has emotional relevance to me because they materially affect people I know, I teach, I work with, I share this earth with.
And YOU DARE accuse me of racism? How DARE YOU?
You don't even realize the amount social good that can come from social work, criticism, taking the harder path.
Who is responsible for "giving a bad name" – the people who commit immoral acts, or the people who resist and report them? And exposing them makes them more difficult to carry out.
You are the person who blames the victim for reporting the rape because it shames the family, because it makes others look bad. You are the person who tells the students to keep quiet about the bribery scandals because the "school's name" would suffer. You are the person who attacks the whistleblower and ignores the problems. You just want to kill the messenger and close your eyes to reality because it embarrasses YOU?!
You, sir, are a moral coward.
The simple-minded, knee-jerk responses of people who are more concerned for Korea's "image" (their image, actually) that the actual welfare of Korean people irk me not just because the entire perceived slight is so obviously selfish, but also because the people who take the most offense tend to be the ones who don't even live here, or they once did and left.
In my flurry of keyboard rage, I kind of misunderstood the boldface quotation and thought the writer was saying he hadn't lived in South Korea. Brainfart. But the point is that this is just the kind of moral cowardice that, yes, in my country, enabled practices such as Jim Crow laws and lynching, which got my people hung from trees.
Yes, it was the Cold War and civil rights movement protest pictures of police officers hosing down non-violent protesters and one image of a young boy being viciously attacked by a police dog were showing up on the front pages of Pravda and across the Soviet Union. Yes, they were destroying the image of the United States. They were traitors.
No, the police weren't the ones embarrassing the nation. Or the Ku Klux Klan, which was murdering civil rights workers. Or the terrorists who murdered Medgar Evers on his front lawn, or the cowards who bombed four little girls into oblivion in a black church.
Yes, the people committing the immoral acts were not morally culpable. It's those who report them, right?
Where does the moral burden lie if there are embarrassingly unethical or even inhumane aspects of a society? On those who commit the acts, or those who report and resist them?
So – to paraphrase Janet Jackson – what have you done for Korea lately?