Open Letter in Response to NYT's 'Go Back to China' Open Letter
Here in Seoul, theSeoulite monitors world happenings, especially when it comes to news about New Yorkers treating Asian and Asian American people badly. The latest case involves a 'well-dressed woman on the Upper East Side' who chose on the wrong day to hurl racist insults in front of the wrong metro editor of the New York Times and his children.
Upon being questioned for her behavior the woman threatened to call the cops on the Asian American New York Times editor Michael Luo! He was stunned and thought this lady resembled all the other well put together ladies who could be the fellow parents of the children at his child's school. And yes, it always seems to be the 'nice', put together, yet racist ladies who throw us for the biggest loop because we are trained to believe that kind of behavior from THEM is simply not possible.
But of course not all well, put together ladies have this mindset and attitude. As we would like to share in the following open letter in response Luo's open letter, it may be time to really acknowledge that racism is actually quite difficult to grasp if you've never been consistently on the losing side of this power imbalance.
It may be normal for minorities in America to take for granted the experience of discrimination, but you cannot take for granted that American whites will really understand your case intellectually. Racism is often described as visceral. If you're a minority, you probably didn't understand racism yourself until you had your first 'Oh man. I'm a minority' moment. And then you felt it. Hard. If you're a white American, you can't just ask a friend to give reverse racism a go on you just so you can feel it. You have to ask a whole society to do it to you. For real. 24/7 without escape.
And that's where the experience of one Seoulite, Hilary Vanessa Finchum-Sung, can offer insight into how we can't just 'tell' white Americans to understand the minority experience. She is an Associate Professor, Theory/Ethnomusicology at Seoul National University. Here's her open letter.
So tired of this. I know this has been happening long since some felt they were right via manifest destiny to discriminate and be hateful to blacks, indigenous people and pretty much any people they did not see as like them. To use those who were in their wake as resources, and to dispense of those in their way. The self-proclaimed 'majority.'
Once, when I was a grad student at Indiana University and walking with a friend (who had been adopted from Korea, raised by Jewish-American family), we were shocked--and a bit scared--when a truck and truck bed full of white guys in baseball hats screeched to a halt in front of us. They screamed, "Go Home Chink!" before bolting off like the cowards they were. All she could think to do was yell at the cloud of dust the truck left behind, "But, I'm Korean," as I stood in stunned silence. I was ashamed at my incompetence, my lack of action, at that moment. I swore to actually DO SOMETHING if once again faced with such a disgusting display of hate.
Which is what this is: a display. It does not seek to engage, but desperately wants camaraderie in its putrid, seething sense of justice. It does not seek debate, or a chance to hear the other side. It seeks to be 'right' among all those it deems are just like it.
But, here I am, a liar. Standing in stunned silence, once again. I'm stunned at the utter lack of humanity that is appearing in my Facebook news feed now on a daily basis. Ya'll, is this happening with more frequency? Is this a direct effect of Trump's hateful voice? I'd hate to think he has that much power. I have to say, at the moment, I am just stunned.
Since living in Korea, I am way more sensitive to racism, even subtle incidents or micro-aggressions because now, as a minority in this country, I am often subjected to blatantly racist actions and comments. But certainly nothing like my colleagues and friends here who are Black, or Latino, or Indian. I know that, even here, I've won the weird expat lottery of privilege my white skin affords me.
It's amazing it's taken direct experience for me to 'get it.'
Yes, racism and bigotry happen everywhere, but that does not excuse it. It does not make it OK. I look back on when I lived in the US and I turned a blind eye to racism, and even when I said something that to me was 'nothing' at the time but to the listener may have been a 'wtf' moment they were too polite to address. I remember conveniently downplaying the reality that a server at a restaurant treated a friend with indifference, even utter disdain, because he/she was not white. I overlooked a dear friend's discomfort because I wanted my favorite burger when I should have decided to go eat somewhere else.
We have a responsibility to be the best we can be. To strive to be better than we are now. To show love to those around us and embrace the differences that make us unique. To say and do something if we are confronted with attitudes and actions that work against these ideals of love, acceptance, the willingness to learn and inclusiveness. We need to be aware of our own privilege and to strive to make it a reality that we all have the same opportunities in life.
We are so much better than this. THIS IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY.
- Hilary Vanessa Finchum-Sung