Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Racism Begets Racism

The internet has a lot of words about Jenny Hyun in light of her racist Tweets.

Here's how it appears to have all gone down:

- Linsanity, first of all, wherein a seemingly very nice Taiwanese-American boy named Jeremy Lin made a big splash in the NBA. I find the story very sweet and compelling, and I would probably blog about it if it wasn't for this whole Jenny Hyun thing distracting me.

- Due to Jeremy Lin being an athletic Asian-American, he's caused quite the upheaval in the social norms of America. This is all well and fine except that, with good press comes bad press. And in situations involving ethnicity, bad press comes with racism.

- Floyd Mayweather Tweeted: Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise

- ESPN suffered a huge backlash when one of their editors ran with this headline: Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin's 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets, for which the responsible people were suspended and fired.

- And then comes Jenny Hyun. In response to Floyd Mayweather's Tweet about Jeremy Lin, she turned to her own Twitter account:

WOMAN. There are better, more constructive ways to express your emotions than via racist ranting on Twitter! I mean, really, most people don't want to read or see or hear racist ranting- don't you know that by now? Her people did some quick damage control by way of her blog:
The thing that really got me about this story is the fact that she's so typical of many Korean-Americans; at least the ones that I've met in Southern California. She was born in Torrance, California, where there are tons of Korean-Americans. She was raised in church, singing hymns, as are most Korean-American children. She wanted to be a singer, and most Korean-Americans these days seem to think that the cross-cultural leap into Korean celebrity will be quite easy (see: Henny, Daniel and Gomes, Jessica, examples of pretty people without an excess of talent or ability to speak Korean that somehow still made it quite big here in Korea).

Hyun is a songwriter and performer, according to her blog, and has co-written two pretty famous songs, one for Girls' Generation and one for ChoColat. Even I've heard these songs, and I'm quite far removed from the reach of pop music. Suffice it to say, she had a lucrative future ahead of her and no reason to go off on a career-suicide jump, which is exactly what happens in Korea when anyone remotely famous does something foolish (Joo Ji Hoon's drug use, leading to an early entry into the mandatory army service, or Ivy's sex-tape-fueled withdrawal from entertainment for a couple years).

And yet, a career-suicide leap was made. Roboseyo was a little hesitant to post about Jenny Hyun, for good reason, mainly that this incident isn't really Korean (Hyun seems to be based in the U.S.) and Rob isn't Korean, Korean-American, or American. He blogged:
Is Jenny Hyun a typical Korean-American? No.
Is she a typical Korea-Korean? No.
Has she lived in Korea? Not that I've gathered so far.
Do her tweets say anything about Korea? No.
Do her tweets show us anything about how Korea Koreans feel about black people? No.
Do her tweets show us anything about how Korean Americans feel about black people? No.
Is there any reason I should care about her racist dumb comments more any other set of racist dumb comments? No. And hers even less than the other trolls racists and dumbasses, who are more likely to have been in control of themselves when they write their drivel.
Is this going to kill the Korean wave in America? No.
Should Girls' Generation or Chocolat continue to employ her? No.
Should Ms. Hyun have a twitter account if she knows this is one of the ways her mental condition manifests? No.
Last I heard, the situation is being explained as a possible schizophrenic episode... and should I get my knickers in a knickerbocker over words that are nothing more than the manifestation of an unwell mind? No.

Does she deserve to get off the hook if she really is sick? Not off the hook... but she clearly needs help here, either for dealing with racist attitudes, or for dealing with her condition. And she should have a few people around her who are filtering stuff like this.

If the schizophrenic thing is a line her agent or handlers are peddling to get her off the hook? That's just as bad as the stuff she tweeted (and her unapologetic response to the backlash), because schizophrenics and others who struggle with mental illness do NOT deserve to have their condition filed with "I was drunk" and "He's lived a hard life" as excuses for bad behavior that deserve to be met with jaded "oh yeah?" responses. Poisoning the compassion the unwell deserve is the most deplorable thing I can think of.

The final takeaway... probably the only real takeaway here:
The response to racism (Mayweather's comment) is not more racism.
The response to Hyun's racism, is not more racism, either (NB: people using this to say all Koreans or all Korean-Americans are racist, because of their tangential association with Ms. Hyun.)

OK I'm done.

Also... Jeremy Lin... Taiwanese-American. Intersects with the themes of this blog even less... though I like a good sports Cinderella story as much as the next guy, and it's really easy to root for him.
I concur. With everything, really. Since, though, I am Korean-American, and a Korean-American woman, to boot, I'll go into my reaction a little more. In no way am I going to defend Hyun; I unequivocally believe that what she did was wrong and stupid. I can't believe that anyone with an ounce of common sense would use such a public forum to spout such obviously inflammatory words.

However, I will say this: Koreans (including Korean-Americans) are very, very proud of their culture. I include myself in this group-- I've said it before on my blog, and I'll said it again, I love my heritage. I do not love my ancestry to the exclusion of all else, though. If someone insults Koreans, I try not to take it personally (unless that someone is deliberately trying to bait me, in which case, I can be mean). During the Olympics, I root for Korea and America. I love it when both my countries, both my cultures, do well. I love that Koreans embrace (most) things American, and that mainstream America is slowly starting to come around to Korean culture.

Floyd Mayweather was a jackass. I never, for one second, thought that he was insulting all Asians (and heaven help the person who manages to offend ALL Asians, because there's a hell of a lot of us in the world-- who's going to put together that iPhone for you if we all go on strike??). I though, Floyd Mayweather is being a jackass and boy, is he going to get it from Asians. I may have sighed when I first read about the Tweet, but I didn't see red. I didn't want to take to a public forum to put a curse on Mayweather. And I certainly didn't want to suggest a genocide of ALL black people because of what ONE jackass Tweeted.

I mean, really. What is wrong with people??

I have what I believe is a "normal" amount of racism. That is to say, I have the same ethnic expectations that most people (okay, most people I know) have: Asians are good at studying, black guys are good at basketball, Latins are good dancers, and white people are the only racial group that is acceptable to tease (kidding, white people-- but only a little, and you know it's true). I don't hate any one race. I don't begrudge the fact that I will never be taller than 5'2" or be able to dunk a basketball. I can readily admit when someone surprises my expectations- and, in cases like Jeremy Lin's, I cheer heartily for them. The kid really seems like a good boy with genuine delight about his unexpected situation.

So why, oh, why, are so many Koreans still bigoted? There are older Korean people that I meet in Korea in 2012 that still mutter darkly about "foreigners" and "tainted blood" and "dirty." These are the people that give me the side-eye when I don't know some word in Korean and so say it in English, instead. To my friends, mind you, but it doesn't matter. My pronunciation makes me one of those "foreigners," even if my blood is 100% Korean.

I don't know when racism in Korea is going to become taboo. Because that's the real problem- racism is accepted and expected here. In L.A., people were shocked to come across examples of racism, and friends expressed racism, even jokingly, only in private settings. In Korea, blatant racism is not only accepted but a very typical characteristic in middle-aged and elderly people. Yes, I know about the whole Japanese occupation; I have family members that suffered during that time. That does not mean that I hate Japanese people now. My best friend is Japanese, and she had nothing to do with what my great-aunt went through during the occupation.

All I can do is hope that, at some point, perhaps by my children's generation, Korea will be a more diverse and less racist place. No, I'm not advocating that Korean people go around marrying foreigners willy-nilly- I just want Koreans to give foreigners a chance. Stop being terrified of strangers and talk to them, for crying out loud. Given that people like Jenny Hyun, people in my generation, are still flaming bigots, I don't hold my breath. The fact that she's Korean-American makes it all the worse- educated in the States and still THAT racist? Really?

I've been keeping myself distracted by working a lot, getting facials, manicures, and massages, and generally becoming more girly. I wear make-up every single day, a concept that was foreign to me in L.A. Plus, a close family friend is coming to Korea tomorrow (yay!) and spending the weekend with me (yay!). I'm sure I'll have photos to post of the fun-filled (and hopefully rain-less) weekend.