Saturday, December 10, 2011

Taking the Metropolitician Challenge

On the recent EBS experiment which purportedly shows that Koreans are more likely to help those with white skin than those with darker-skin, Metro agrees wholeheartedly with the obvious conclusion and writes:

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.

I can't dispute Michael's experiences, but I think that the discrimination he seems to believe (and if he doesn't believe this, I stand corrected) is dominant is more likely to be widespread, at least when we're talking about individual people in a relatively mundane everyday setting. The more you try to do, of course, the harder it gets, both as the stakes get higher or you deal with institutions over individuals.

I'd like to think that I count as something close to an Indian man (all four of my grandparents were born in British India), and I can't say I've ever had the privilege of an empty seat next to me when the bus is packed. Men, women, young and old usually have no problem sitting next to me on the bus or on the subway.

A few times, I've noticed that people sitting next to me will leap at the chance to go sit next to another stranger, which I concluded as discomfort with the way I look, where I'm from or even the fact that I'm a man. However, I remember that Metro once said something along the lines of "what do you call a nigger who went to Harvard? A nigger!"

Even back in Toronto, high school and the comments sections of online newspaper articles have taught me that the city with the motto "Diversity our Strength" nevertheless managed to have an immigrant-despising id. I've been told in Canada that I was the "good kind" of brown guy because I spoke better English than the angry white guy who hated Sikh immigrants, but when I take the 37A going to Islington, you don't necessarily know that. Here, too, I'd be considered the "good immigrant" for learning to speak Korean, but the drunkards on line 1 don't know whether I speak Korean and make twice what they do, or whether I came here last week from Nepal and live in a one-room with six others.

I would never consider my experiences here to prove anything, but in three years, I wouldn't say that I've had any significant or memorable instances of being treated negatively because of my skin colour. There have been cases here and there. Sure, if a Korean is going to approach a visibly foreign person to chat, they'll probably choose the white person before me. If you're going to choose the visible face of your institution for promotional purposes, you're probably not going to choose mine if you can help it.

Have I been called "monkey teacher"? Yes. Have kids told me I smell bad? Yes. Have I heard kids being Indian or Filipino as an insult in my classroom? Hundreds of times. I once polled a class of grade 6 students and while almost none wanted a Filipino or an Indian classmate, almost all would have loved an American classmate. They quantified it on the basis of language and wealth, which I suppose is true to an extent, but I think the wealthiest Indian would probably still be ranked below the poorest white American in their books.

As for what the video or what my experiences prove is debatable. I do regularly roll my eyes when I see the trope repeated that somebody with dark skin wouldn't get the time of day here. That I've been here for three years without a memorable incident and Michael is closing in on twenty years in Korea is evidence that it's not true.

If nothing else, I can tell you that much of what's said online about race in Korea is simply not true. Claims along the lines of "Koreans will choose to stand for an hour rather than sit to a dirty curry-eater" express indignation with many cringe-inducing practices relating to race and appearance, and we might even believe them, but I can tell you that thousands of people have sat next to me on Seoul's buses and subways, and I've seen hundreds of dark-skinned people on public transportation with honest-to-god Koreans sitting right next to them.

1 comment:

havediplomawilltravel said...

Very well written counterargument.