OK, I'll bite.
I think the kid's right, and I've written about the same things, although I think he's just guilty of thinking he's showing the expat community "the light" with his undergraduate Ethnic Studies tools (I should know, since I've taught, at some point, most of what he's regurgitating here) when he's pointing out the perfectly obvious to anyone who's lived here a long time.
And I don't think he's talking "mumbo jumbo" or getting too deep into "critical theory" – it's pretty simple and straightforward, actually. I HATE critical theory, but it is sometimes useful, even if it's fun to bash its most many bad writers and the egregious cases of mental masturbation onto paper. I'm one of the ones who rolled my eyes and groaned the most in my department's core course seminars; I also got a reputation for being the "conservative guy" in my department. Oh, the irony.
In any case, I think it's pretty simple: There is the fact of European and American colonialism, and the power of English, whiteness, and American policy does exert force on the world. If one is "white," you cannot exist outside of it (nor can anyone who is not "white"). The problem with calling it "white privilege" is that you can't talk about WP within the United States and WP outside as exactly the same thing, although they are linked.
That's the mistake I made with my first major post on the topic, and the comments to that post (mostly rude and irrational, but a few made some real valid points) made that critical slip in logic clear; I think I defined WP too broadly, painted it with too large a brush, especially when we're talking about the real fact that whites are indeed "raced" in a place like Korea, and do not enjoy social power here. This is an important and easy-to-miss fact that many US-based considerations of American power vis-a-vis Asia continually miss, since extending American hegemony from slaves to Indian policy to Hiroshima to camptown girls is an easy thing to do rhetorically, but to leave the analysis at that masks the complexities of the issues and cultures and history involved.
That's why Chungmoo Choi's piece in the book Dangerous Women seemed so thin and her lead-in to her part of the book so hard to swallow: to argue that primping to show a good face to the white highway patrolman who's pulled her over, as the alleged symbol of white male American power, and link that to the camptown prostitutes whom she imagines does the same to American GI's, implying that both her (as a comfortable American academic with most likely a pretty nice car) and a Korean woman in a markedly different situation (a prostitute who lacks social options and advantages for a whole lot of reasons besides just American hegemony) share some essential subjectivity – that's a crock of shit, to put a fine, academic point on it. And it comes from not examining one's own point of privilege and and critical difference (being an upper-class American academic who has likely never been in the socio-economic position to even consider selling her body to any man, let alone an American GI) from the people with whom you claim to share a common point of view.
Americans have to be careful before looking at things in terms of identity politics that really only apply on the American side of the big water; and too many Asian American scholars, theorists, and undergraduates often make this mistake – and I include myself in that group.
"Whites" may enjoy advantages over people who are stigmatized both by Korean cultural patterns as well as the influence of say, the American media, which has perpetuated the same stereotypes of blacks as dirty, dumb, and dangerous across the world – but in the end, foreigners here are generally in the same boat when it comes to being part of a social group devoid of any real social or political power. And what that means for whites who live say, in Vietnam or the Philippines, also depends on how American (white) power connects to the actual, lived conditions of life in those countries, which depends on their particular histories, cultures, and other more specific factors.
That's why I think many whites here in Korea – from what I see in my comments, as well as here, as well as talk about with friends – bristle when people start talking about "white privilege" in the Korean context.
Which is also why I think Lee's being careful to point out the immense privilege enjoyed by some kyopos – especially, in Korea's case, American kyopos – is key; in a way, there are the benefits of being both insider and fetishized Other, and even the apparent disadvantages of being a kyopo (being held to unrealistic linguistic and cultural expectations of native Koreans, for example) are a function of what is an expectation – an affective inclusion – that few "real" foreigners ever get access to.
I think this is a point worth emphasizing, much more than the "white privilege" allegedly "enjoyed" by so many here. Lee's talking on a level much higher than the standard "git yer hands off 'my' wimmin!" mode that defines a base level of critique for many (male) kyopos and Korean nationals, so I think to attack him on that point is a bit straw man in itself; but I also think that Lee's missing a major point, one that I missed myself in the critique (and link) I mentioned above.
In the end, I think Lee's critique to be totally valid, he needs to have a real point; that's what I think is wrong with his analysis. So whites get treated differently here than most Others? Sure. But you gotta complexify it and think about what that means here – not just extend one's American Ethnic Studies learning, which can be arguably valid in the specific context of America. One has to nuance any critique with a consideration of what it means in terms of historical/cultural factors, i.e. being "white" doesn't help apparently white women from being stigmatized as Russian hookers and bar girls, and being "black" in a certain way gets you treated a whole lot better when you are an American who speaks American English, as opposed to a Nigerian laborer with an accent, demeanor, and different "look" that even Koreans instantly pick up.
Why do you think so many Nigerians here bend over backwards to show off the accoutrements of being unmistakably "American," with the hip-hop clothes and other "American" affectations? That's the power of American hegemony, too.
I just think that what we see as "white privilege" here isn't the "white privilege" that we see back home. If anything, the fetishization of, preference for, desire to experience "things white" are simply one more manifestation of American hegemony in general, more than the extension of the power that comes with having white skin in countries in which whites have always enjoyed the majority of economic, political, and social power.
To say that WP here and back home are the same is a critical mistake, an easy-to-make elision that can really undermine any attempt to delve deeper, or have a real conversation about this.
And a P.S. –
To those who simply dismiss this as "mumbo-jumbo" and the product of "Equality Studies", which I guess, is a sarcastic stand-in for real-world departments such as "Ethnic Studies" or "Peace and Conflict Studies" or "Women's Studies", all of which many in the academy would have to admit, no matter how begrudgingly, have contributed a great deal to the way even the most conservative departments and disciplines such as History, Anthropology, or Political Science conduct themselves – have you actually read a lot of the work in those stodgy departments before these new fields from the 1960's and 70's shook things up? One shouldn't be so quick to write off these new ways of producing academic knowledge, even if one doesn't like their styles or most extreme practitioners.