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[GOODDOCTOR'S LETTER] Long Time, No SeeThe Obscurity of Korean and African-American Relations
GOODDOCTOR'S LETTER | 승인 2013.03.07 16:32|(242호)

   
 
    Last semester, I had the privilege of teaching a course entitled “Topics in American Culture.” As one who specializes in Human Communication, it was a welcomed opportunity because it allowed me to teach subject matter that is closer to my area of expertise. Since my time in Korea, I have enjoyed teaching English language courses but, my teaching experience is always enhanced when I am able teach material that cuts across mere language acquisition. My personal belief is that English language acquisition becomes more effective if students are given the opportunity to understand how culture influences the people who speak the language. Because America is such a racially diverse culture, I welcomed the opportunity to provide my students with information and ideas that I have rarely seen discussed during my time in Korea. I am speaking of Race, Power, and Culture. For the 15 weeks we shared in the “Topics in American Culture” class, we discussed issues ranging from Manifest Destiny, colonization, genocide, racism, enslavement, capitalism, culture, media framing, propaganda, and politics just to name of few. Whether discussing a piece of literature, video material, or an interaction with an American Pen Pal, there was always a recurring question. “In an ever-increasing globalized community, how can we take this information and use it to understand citizens from other nations a bit better than we do now?” --and it is this question, that led us to explore the relationship between Koreans and African-Americans.
    “Obscurity” is term that is typically denotes something being “hidden, mysterious, shrouded, unclear, faint, or
   
 
not easily distinguished.” Through our classroom discussions, it didn’t take long to realize that “obscurity” was an appropriate term to describe the nature of the relationship between African-Americans and Koreans. Due to the lack of contact or minimal contact between our two cultural groups, interactions in the classroom early on were somewhat awkward. In retrospect, the rules and rhythm of our engagement were affected by this “obscurity” or simply put, lack of knowledge regarding our various cultural histories and trajectories. In the course of our engagement, we learned that both Koreans and African-Americans lack a certain level of knowledge about each other. This lack of knowledge is primarily based on a lack of interaction and conversation. As a result, most of the information learned about each other is through mass media outlets such as television, film, radio, internet, and newspaper. Scholars like, Boston University professor Kim Myung Ja (a student favorite), suggest this over-dependence on media outlets is the primary cause for the obscurity and confusion between the two communities. We can never truly understand each other if we are talking to each other “through the television.”

    This practice of “talking through the television” has contributed to underlying conflict and tension between Korean immigrants and African-Americans in cities across America; namely Los Angeles during the 1992 LA riots. Many culture critics (Bailey, 2000; Cheung, 2005; Kim, 2004; Kim, 2012; Stevenson, 2004) argue that “virtual media racism” was used to encourage and perpetuate conflict between the two groups Blacks and Koreans as a means to re-direct anger and grievances with the white establishment. This supposed tactic and strategy may very well be true. But, it could only be as effective as it was because Blacks and Koreans were accustomed to “talking to each other through the television.” If there was more conversation, communication, and community between the two groups, then “virtual media racism” may not have been as effective. In fact, with clearer communication, Koreans and Blacks may have very well formed coalitions that would have benefitted both communities in 1992 Los Angeles and even in 2013 Seoul, Korea. The process of establishing real lines of communication is a cause worthy of study and action a lesson reinforced by the ideas and opinions of my students.
   
 
    My students did an outstanding job! One of the beauties of teaching is the opportunity to learn as well as instruct. Though this has been my pedagogy for quite a while, it is even more beneficial when speaking about issues of Race, Power, and Culture. Early in the semester, information generally flowed in one direction. I was providing them with information regarding history and culture. I was assigning them articles and book excerpts to read. I would show them videos, read poems, and share experiences and personal perspectives of American life. But, gradually, information began flowing back to me and this is when things became exciting for me. Before long, my students were sharing their opinions and ideas regarding issues of Race, Power, and Culture and this allowed me to gain a better sense of my Korean brethren. In the midst of it all, my students and I were actually DOING what the scholars were SUGGESTING establishing real lines of communication. Because of the courage and sincerity displayed by my students, I have no doubt they are stronger and smarter as a result. 
   
 
    Before I came to Korea, I knew very little about the people and the culture. There were several people in America who questioned my decision to come. “You don’t know the language.” “You don’t know anyone.” “You may not like the food.” “The people may not like you.” I heard many more reasons to stay in America than to come to Korea. But, I have always been the type of person who follows his heart. Whether the experience is good or bad, at least I will understand it first-hand. This philosophy has worked for me. It has not always been easy. In fact, sometimes it has been difficult. I have often experienced discomfort, frustration, loneliness, and confusion. Yet and still, I would choose to live no other way. I can say this because I have also experienced the benefits of courage, love, strength, and honesty. So, to all those reading this essay, look beyond the Hip-Hop stereotype, the gangster, the dysfunctional relationships, the poverty, and the non-educational stereotypes of African-Americans which are far too prevalent in the media. Understand these images are not true representations of African-Americans. If anything, these images, and the frequency in which they are presented, are part of a larger scheme of oppression. If you want to really gain a true understanding of African-Americans or any group of people whom you are unfamiliar with, you should do what I did begin a conversation.

 

By Prof. eRiC Durham
Dept. of English Language and Literature

GOODDOCTOR'S LETTER  -

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