Thursday, April 30, 2009

On this day in 1992...

The Korean notes that this is the seventeenth anniversary of the Los Angeles riots.



White cops beat down a Black motorist.

White cops acquitted despite being videotaped.

Angry Blacks riot and target Korean stores.


I'm somewhat simplifying things, of course, but there's a point: Prior to that, the only conceivable connection between Rodney King and anything or anyone Korean was that he was driving a Hyundai Excel (supposedly at 100 mph).

Given how badly the Los Angeles area Korean-American community was blindsided, I'd say it was prudent for kyopo across America (and other Asians, as the JACL said) to be at least a little concerned about a backlash against Koreans following the Seung-hui Cho massacre, though that sentiment was roundly mocked in the K-blogs two years ago.


The L.A. riots made me both angry and depressed. I'd naïvely been thinking that Southern California was progressing toward greater and greater racial tolerance, and that notion was shattered. It had been some years since my family had left Compton and moved to a part of Orange County where Whites and Asians predominated... I'd become out of touch, even though I knew a lot about Korean-Black tension (and found myself arguing what I thought was the side of the Blacks sometimes).


The Korean and Korean-American media was shameless and shameful during those days. Media whore and self-styled Korean-American spokesperson Angela Oh (left) going on Donahue and proclaiming Koreans as victims of history just like African-Americans — completely missing the point of Black complaints — while the Korean media (i.e., in Korea) was reporting that the LAPD was abandoning Koreatown to go protect Beverly Hills, which they'd translated as a 구/區 (ku, a "ward") of Los Angeles and not a separate 시/市 (shi, a city) that would have its own police force (Hello? Beverly Hills Cop!).

And I will say one thing about the Cho massacre: It seems the people of Virginia — and almost all of the United States — did not treat the Cho massacre as "a Korean thing" at all. There's the moving forward I'd thought we had back in 1992.

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6 comments:

  1. I don't think it's fair to label Angela Oh a "media whore" as she was one of the few voices of the Korean community that was in the media at the time. And I don't quite see why you would disagree with the Korean community as being a target during those times. Yes, we understand what the black community's gripe was about showing respect, etc...but does that justify the specific targeting of the korean-owned businesses? Wasn't there another way to make their point heard than to try to burn down people's dreams? That type of activism didn't make a single progressive step forward.

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  2. LastnameKim wrote:
    I don't think it's fair to label Angela Oh a "media whore" as she was one of the few voices of the Korean community that was in the media at the time.

    I don't recall it that way at all. She used the riots to push her way in to the media. There were, in fact, other Korean-American voices who had been in the media already and were better equipped and more experienced to deal with this issue.

    Specifically, there were KA pastors who had already been dealing with the Black community to reduce tensions. I had read about such groups several times in the few years or so prior to the riots.

    Angela Oh saw an opportunity for professional aggrandizement — an opportunity to be in the spotlight — and she pushed herself past those people. She ajumma'd those other community leaders.

    And the stuff she said — in part because she was not a particularly experienced person on this issue — was embarrassingly deflective.

    And I don't quite see why you would disagree with the Korean community as being a target during those times.

    I'm not sure where you're saying I was disagreeing with that. I absolutely agree that Korean-owned stores were targeted, though the overall targeting may be a bit overblown.

    What I mean is that while I'm sure some were targeted because some locals had beefs with Koreans, I think at least some stores were attacked and/or destroyed just because they were there. At the time I read in the newspaper that 37% of the stores in certain affected areas (maybe the whole area?) were Korean-owned, while 40% of the businesses destroyed in those areas were Korean-owned. That sounds a bit proportional, and don't forget that Black-owned businesses were also attacked.

    So while I'm not sure of the extent overall and by the vast majority, I definitely believe that at least in a number of cases Koreans were targets of racist attacks.

    Yes, we understand what the black community's gripe was about showing respect, etc...

    Do we? I'm not sure Angela Oh did. While Blacks on the same program were complaining about the blatant contempt with which some Korean business owners were treating them, she was making 핑계 after 핑계, making up bullshit excuses that "oh, that's how Koreans give change because they don't like to touch other's hands," or "they're following you around because you might need help in the store," or the worst, "You have to undertstand, Korea has been a victim of others for thousands of years!"

    Rather than listening to these complaints and saying, "Gee, how can we get the Korean immigrant business owners to show more respect for the customers, so as to not alienate them, or at least not look like they despise them?" Angela Oh was making the "we're victims, too" speech — on national freakin' television.

    No, the pastors in the community would not have done that, but Angela Oh had pushed them aside so she could bask in the spotlight and jumpstart her career as unelected kyopo spokesperson.

    I have a low threshold of tolerance for people who disdain those off whom they make their living, be that Korean liquor store owners who look down on their Black customers or English teachers who think Koreans are all fucked up (or Chinese students on full scholarship who bitch and bitch and bitch about how bad or stupid Americans are).

    At my church there was one friend whose parents owned a laundry and dry cleaners in the area. She would talk about how screwed up Black people are for bringing in all their laundry to a dry cleaner to have someone else do what they should be doing themselves. "What the hell?" I asked her. "This is how your parents are paying for you to live in Orange County, so what are you griping about?" What it came down to was that she didn't like Black people, thought they were beneath her. Her parents weren't quite as bad as that, but they really didn't like a lot of the Black people off whom they made a living.

    Maybe it's not a fair interpretation on my part, but I saw a lot of this in the people who set out to operate liquor stores in these poor neighborhoods. I lived in Compton before, and what these places needed were businesses that contributed to the neighborhood's well-being. Not liquor stores that sold alcohol and crappy foodstuffs. But it was a quicker buck to open a liquor store, made off people that the owners didn't really care about all that much anyway. Sort of like selling legalized crack.

    Sorry for the rant.

    but does that justify the specific targeting of the korean-owned businesses?

    No. Absolutely not.

    Wasn't there another way to make their point heard than to try to burn down people's dreams? That type of activism didn't make a single progressive step forward.

    It was not activism, it was opportunism. It was angry and emotional retaliation for perceived insult. In the whole scheme of things, Korean business owners were probably more likely to die than all the Blacks at the hands of people like Du Soonja.

    I'm not saying there was no defense; I'm saying Angela Oh was a media whore who grabbed the spotlight from others and then botched that defense, possibly making tensions worse. If things have gotten better, it's despite her efforts, not because of them.

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  3. There's something wrong with your post. A Hyundai Excel could never be going 100 mph.

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  4. ksoje wrote:
    There's something wrong with your post. A Hyundai Excel could never be going 100 mph.

    Right. Hence the word "supposedly." A bunch of people I knew were talking about how the police seemed to be exaggerating after the fact the danger Rodney King had posed, since no one could imagine an Excel going that fast.

    I once drove an Excel from a couple years after King's model, and I think the top speed was 80 or 85. And that took a while of pushing the pedal down to the floor.

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  5. I think there were cultural misunderstandings as well that led some blacks to feeling mistreated by Korean shop owners. So I don't think it's valid for you to dismiss that.

    And perhaps Compton did need more grocery stores, but why is it up to Koreans to run them? I don't think it's fair to expect private entities/individuals to do community service.

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  6. Sadly, because of the shooting incidents that left two dead at Virginia Tech today (one of them a police officer), this 2.5-year-old post has been getting hundreds of hits today.

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