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Whites, Blacks and New Immigrants (Sa-I-Gu, Part 3)

June 1, 2012

Many Koreans and new immigrants are guilty of racism based on skin color. More than that, Koreans and other immigrants do not want to be on the side of the Black. They want to be on the side of the powerful. Why would they go with the loser if they had left everything behind for a better life?

It has been said often that many immigrants are engaged in the process of “becoming White,” in pursuit of the American dream, even before they leave the land of their birth. This process also applied to European immigrants before 1965.

In his essay “What America would be like without Blacks,” Ralph Ellison wrote, “Many Whites could look at the social position of Blacks and feel that color formed an easy and reliable gauge for determining to what extent one was or was not American. Perhaps that is why one of the first epithets that many European immigrants learned when they got off the boat was the term ‘nigger.’ It made them feel instantly American.” At the time of the riots, many Korean Americans shared this attitude.

And what did the powerful mainstream do with African Americans and immigrants?

If and when those in power need expansion numerically and otherwise, they are ready to recruit Asians and other immigrants to attack Blacks as the source of the ills in the great American society, where dreams are achieved and opportunities are given. Simultaneously, this does not mean that they do not discriminate against new immigrants.

New immigrants are not exempt from the ingrained sense of White superiority, though America is still largely divided between Blacks and Whites. A most poignant story came from a Korean couple who lost their Swap Meet in Watts in 1992 and opened a café in Santa Monica to get away from African Americans. I visited them ten years after the riots (Wet Sand: Voices from L.A.)

They had thought all their troubles would be over, now that they were in an upper middle class section of Santa Monica, away from those awful African Americans. Alas, they told me:

Mr. Chung

The whites have a very strong sense of the ownership of this country. A yellow person like myself, if I don’t serve food right to a white person, the customer even stares at my fingernails. I can’t list all the things that they do, making me upset. It was not just once or twice that I had to endure a deep sense of contempt from them.

Mrs. Chung

Some of them appear to be awfully kind. However, if you really study the white people, you can feel that they look down on Koreans. If you stand in front of them, you can feel that.

They both told me that it was at a well-to-do white neighborhood where they obtained real insight into the white people and learned about the rich humanity of African Americans.

to be continued–


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