World-famous figure skater Kim Yuna says, in her ads for Smoothie King, to "Be White." In Korea, that's sage advice. Just like the smoothie -- and Korean positive associations with things and people "white" -- one should be "soft" and "innocent." I even remember the 90's music group called "White" (화이트), which sang saccharine love ballads that overflowed with affected expressions of innocence, youthful purity, and other positive emotions that reflected true love unaldulterated by the vulgar passions. Those emotions would be too dark. Ahem.
EBS has finally done the experiment I had always wanted to do, since coming back to Korea in 2002, when anti-foreigner sentiment was peaking. I remember in the 90's, when I first came here, I'd take my friend Beth around for the "blue-eyed special," as we named it, where Koreans would give us free food, drinks, and even tickets to shit for free. "Welcome to Korea."
I did an impromptu experiment at a CGV once with a white friend in 2002, who went up to buy his movie ticket after me. I spoke in Korean, got my ticket, came back. My friend, without prompting for any of it, not only got a free ticket, the ticket girl, enamored of his white, manly good looks, apparently, gave him another free movie pass and her phone number. I mean, I'm not asking for extras, but come on. I do little experiments like these with my white friends ALL THE TIME.
KOREANS LOVE WHITE PEOPLE.
And if you're a brother with another color, well...they just don't like you.
Now, I'm not saying that every single person won't like colored folk, nor that individuals aren't nice to us brown and black people -- but in the aggregate, Korean society just don't like black or brown people. And if a Filipino is standing on the street looking for something, he ain't gonna get nobody giving directions, walking his ass to the station, or even getting offered a phone number. The darker he is, it's much more likely that the police might come and stop him and ask what he's doing, and if he has a valid visa. And if you can't produce one on demand, they can arrest you and take you in.
And to those white folks who continue to insist "well, *I* never had any problems, or love to pontificate on how it must all be in our (colored folks) imaginations (because they would know, right?), try to walk a day in an coolie's skin, a sandnigger's clothes, or even the three-piece suit of a jiggaboo from Nigeria. 'Cause that's all a South Asian, Arab, or black man is in Korea, until proven otherwise.
That's why I apply for jobs by sending in the resume first, following up with the phone call and doing the dog-and-pony show in Korean second, then hoping for a first date in the interview chair. Funny thing is, without exception, unless the institution was told what I look like from jump, I walk in at the appointed time and am greeted with, "And you are...?" or "How can I help you?" I then remind them that I am Michael Hurt and I've got an interview at 3PM, at which point the person at the door or desk is like "Oooooooh! YOU are Michael Hurt! Oh, come right in..."
Yeah, fuck you, too, I think, but keep it to myself.
Most fun was when I was first learning Korean in the 1990's, on my little island, and I'd go around with Beth. Since there was no English at all where I was, people had to speak Korean. In doing so, they would have to pick between who they thought was more likely to speak it, since Koreans assume 1) Korean is so amazingly more difficult than other languages and hard for foreigners to learn, and that 2) any foreigner who does must be really smart to have done so -- so they would always speak to Beth.
It was so frustrating and stupid that it was nearly hilarious. I'd be in a camera or electronics shop in Seoul doing pretty OK in Korean, asking questions about something I was looking for, and they'd answer back to Beth. The triangle would continue, even if I was the only one talking. That's changed in the 2000's, since there are a lot of brown and black folks come here to work who now speak a lot of Korean, which Koreans assume "they learned in the factory" since they had to -- and it's funny that those folks are given next to no credit for learning the language.
But as my former director, Dr. Horace Underwood III, liked to quip, "If a white man stumbles out an an-nyee-ong-ham-sheeeem-neeker," Koreans lose their goddamn minds. "Oh, you speak Korean so welllllll!" What-the-fuck-ever.
Anyhoo, I propose more experiments!
How about a handsome, tall, black man and lithe, attractive Korean woman walk as a couple through the #1 subway line, from head to tail, on hidden camera? Watch the fun -- and verbal and perhaps even physical assaults -- ensue!
Or the same couple just walk through the Shinchon CGV as an obvious couple and watch all the people behind them snicker and point, as I did just a couple years ago? It was fucking ridiculous. Really? A couple at the movie theater?
Maybe we should have a black man in a suit try to get a cab next to his white buddy looking 90's-era Seattle grunge? Let's place bets! (I'm betting on Whitey, boys!)
Or sit an Indian man (or me!) on a crowded city bus and watch if the empty seat next to him is ever taken -- with a timer! First one who loses the bet that Koreans will choose to stand for an hour rather than sit to a dirty curry-eater buys lunch!
Oh, the fun we could have, EBS.
I'm game. Call me.