'How black is he?' (2015-06-17, The Korea Times)

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
In late 2012, I wrote a Thoughts of the Times column reflecting upon some racial slights that I received in South Korea during the 1990s. Unfortunately, I have experienced a few cases recently that topped all of those.
A Korean professor who is a fan of mine has been recruiting me to join her university. She secretly let me know her colleagues pushed back. One concern: I might be too independent. She says that Korean professors typically seek colleagues who won’t challenge them, so I will need to show humility.
Two, citing my career, they worried that I might not be satisfied with their lesser known university (Harvard graduate, previously taught at Yonsei University as a young man, and have worked at high profile organizations in both the USA and South Korea). In previous job searches, I have responded to the “overqualified” point by saying: “If you think I am overqualified then you should watch me work for a week.”
She listed a few other things, but the grand finale: They needed to be sure that I am not “completely black.”
It sounded like a joke, but she was sincere, as always. She said her colleagues were worried because they “know” that black people fight with white people. That university certainly wouldn’t want to hire a one-man riot who would burn, baby burn the university. She said they concluded that I might be mixed race, and debated what percentage black I am, and wondered about the racial makeup of my parents and grandparents.
My fan apologized. She said she deeply admires and respects me, that’s why she recruited me for the job. I had the sense that if they wanted me to run across hot coals or stick my hand in fire as part of the interview that she would have given me tips, without condemning the process.
She advised me that if they invite me for an interview that I should stress that I am a team player, have white people in my family and have many white friends. Amazed, I suggested that I might be able to get racial letters of recommendation from white family members, friends and former colleagues.
I thought to add that I could include photos of myself frolicking about with white friends, but stopped myself. After all, if I went through with the interview, I wouldn’t want them to reject my application because I had failed to include such photos to bolster my case. (“He said that he had photos with white friends, but he didn’t include them as proof he won’t cause trouble, so how can we risk hiring him?”)
I imagined a faculty meeting with those respected professors with their Ph.Ds, using their expertise and experience to determine my level of blackness as part of my job qualifications. “Is he completely black? If yes, how violently black?”
As often happens in life, your enemies slander you, and your friends deliver the news. She is an inadvertent whistle blower, demonstrating evidence of what many black people in Korea complained about when I was here in the 1990s _ blacks aren’t seriously considered for many university jobs and are hired reluctantly.
I thought about my own role: Should I reveal the university? After all, black people should not waste their time applying there. But I don’t want my fan who secretly delivered the news to get into trouble for trying to help me.
Two Korean friends I discussed this with cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, saying those Korean academics need to learn his message. I assured them that it wasn’t just Koreans.
During one of my recent trips back to the USA, I gave a speech about my project connecting North Korean refugees with volunteer language tutors and speech coaches. Everything went well during my presentation, but that night at dinner, one of the Ivy League professors who had been singing my praises all day informed me that a few of the people at the conference were asking: “Why is a black man doing so much to help North Koreans?”
I didn’t try to catch the source, I wanted to keep focus on my activities rather than race. Those respected people had revealed their small minds, so I doubted they could understand or would believe that I am focused on individual liberty and creating learner-centered opportunities.
It was good that I didn’t debate or argue with them, it could have been disastrous. Based on what the Korean university professors said about me in their meeting, such respected white professionals are the type to write racial letters of recommendation for me.
Perhaps I should tell my Korean professor fan that I didn’t argue with them. Plus I got some great photos of white people smiling with me.
The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu.
2015-06-17 how black is he upload


What's in a name? Thriving versus mediocre business

There are two Korean mom-and-pop restaurants that face each other.

* They serve similar "side dishes" as a meal.
* They have virtually the same names, such as one star being named "7-11" and the other being named "Big 7-11."
* They are in the same area here near the National Assembly.

One side has a line of people  waiting to eat...
the other side has no one waiting...

Ah, but the side that is not attracting customers does have a sign.

Complaining that the other restaurant stole their name...

The Korean customers who wait in line surely must know what is going on. Still, they choose to go to the other restaurant, waiting in line. One day, I went with a friend to that less popular restaurant. The food was not as good. Even the workers were not as friendly.

My co-workers and I had lunch again today at the more popular restaurant.


Changing pants (caught in the act)

About two hours ago, walking into a building I come to very often, the guard/gentleman at the front of the building who answers questions was sitting in his underwear, in the middle of changing his pants. It almost seemed that he had started changing them, got distracted by something on TV, took a seat, said hello to me as I walked by, then finished putting on his pants...

He seemed nonchalant about me catching him in the act. Instead of judging it from my immediate "what the hell" response, I was thinking about it from his perspective.

"Hey, I needed to change my pants at that moment. If I do this at the bathroom, and someone comes in looking for help, then I will get criticized for not being there. If I change my pants at my desk, then yes, some foreigner may wonder 'what the hell?' Damned if you do, damned if you don't."

* * *

The editorial writers of the Korea Times spend too much time watching movies. They want big symbolic actions that mean nothing. And they'd like to have photos to demonstrate those big symbolic actions that mean nothing.

The latest example is the response to MERS:

All this explains why Park needs to stay around the anti-MERS headquarters at least until the end of this week when the worst is expected ― or hoped ― to be over. If the epidemic still rages on, the President ought to consider delaying her scheduled visit to the United States. Nothing could be more important than people's safety and lives. And the U.S. administration will understand because President Barack Obama has also put everything on hold in the past when there is a national emergency.

That's exactly what Hollywood directors would stage--have the president show up on the scene, barking out orders about what must be done, standing around looking serious as solemn music plays in the background, canceling visits to assure the public. And as for Obama? Yeah, he would put everything on hold--in one case, he even held a press conference about the beheading of an American shortly before heading to the golf course. Okay, okay, the beheading of an American isn't the kind of national emergency the Korea Times is referring to. And I'm also wrong because the president didn't get caught changing to his golf pants.

President Obama, playing golf shortly after holding a press conference.


MERS, as if anything else mattered...

I picked up the Korea MERS Times, I found that a 5th person has died of MERS. The Korea MERS Times and Korea MERS media overall have been fixated on MERS. It got so bad that I have even bought a mask for the KC Mini-Me at my office.

Meanwhile, also in South MERS Korea...

197 cancer deaths per day (2010 statistic)

40 suicides per day (2013 statistic)

16 traffic related deaths per day

158 die every day from smoking related deaths

60 rapes reported per day

3.7 murders committed daily (2010)

2.4 rapes and sexual assaults committed daily by senior citizens

If the media focused on murders or rapes in South Korea the way it has gone wildin' about MERS, it would seem that this country was on the brink of disaster. The schools would be shut down and dynamited so no one would try to go, women would be afraid to leave home but also afraid to be home alone, husbands would be afraid to leave their wives or children home, and we'd kill ourselves because staying home we'd be afraid we would die of fan death.

Will update this with more recent or relevant statistics from others.
Thanks to Daniel Lee for this precious photo, which he says was probably a joke...

* * *

I'm not a medical professional--or a reporter--so I could be wrong about this, but swine flu, mad cow disease, bird flu, SARS, Ebola, foot-and-mouth disease, West Nile virus, MERS...