“So they watch every damn move that I make. They hope I don’t pull out a Gat, try to rob… ” so goes the words to a rap song by a famous Black American musician as portrayed by Anthony choe (www. hcs. harvard. edu). These lines are a clear representation of the enormity of the ever-escalating ethnic tensions between the African American-Korean American. The universal declaration on human rights believes in the equality of all humanity and posits to condemn and abhor discrimination based on any form or kind, be it gender, race or creed.
These are the values that are to bind all persons and ensure the rise and preservation of self-determination with no prejudice against any group. This however is theoretically oriented and a sharp contrast of the ever grim situation on the surface. Prejudice and discrimination has always defined relations amongst humanity world over; the near future does not look promising either, these prejudices shall continue to persist unless urgently addressed by all the parties involved.
This paper seeks to focus at brief history of the origin and nature of this conflict, its impact and incidences of violence and to a greater extent the solutions to a situation that day in day out is escalating to a bloody level. This conflict has rather a brief history unlike the traditional prejudices. The first instant of recorded public scuffle dates back to 1986 in a much publicized boycott of a Korean merchants, led by a black American reverend after one of the Black American had been allegedly mistreated in a shop.
Since then, these boycotts and hostilities have been rather predominant and continue to sour relations among the blacks and Koreans in America. The bases of these tensions thrive on both economic and cultural factors fuelled by retrogressive stereotypes held by both groups against each other. It largely stems from trader-consumer dynamics where majority of Blacks accuse the American Koreans of exploiting their community, by high-pricing their consumer goods and general mistreatment of the black shoppers.
The American Korean community has established businesses in areas predominantly regarded as blacks territories, the riots and the looting has considerably affected their financial and psychological status with some even contemplating leaving U. S. The socio-cultural aspect of the conflicts has been over-portrayed by the media who posits the ethnical tensions to have a predominantly social origin. (Kim, I, p 36) The solutions to these conflicts should be multifaceted, ensuring that they are all encompassing and embracing all the ethnic groups involved.
A solution to the blacks Korea situation cannot be left to the two communities alone, the government has also to play a big role. According to In-Jin (1998): …more(government) funding should be allocated for dispute-prevention and resolution centers in areas where there is a high probability of inter-group conflict. The past years indicate that the government has abdicated their role as key players in this conflict resolution and appear to take a backseat as the events unfold.
These dispute resolution centers will have a sole duty of initiating medication between the blacks and Korean. This group should also carry out counseling to the affected persons. The membership of this group should entail all persons from all walks of life from the affected persons; ranging from scholars, government agents, local residents and politicians. It should also ensure that it incorporates permanent staffs to initiate coalition buildings amongst the different interracial groups.
Koreans have over time decried low police protection and lack of timely police response. The arrested criminals too are accorded lenient penalties. Whether or not these claims are valid, measures should be taken to ensure that a crime-fighting unit and justice system are re-enforced to cope with the special case of inter-racial crimes that may arise. It will also enable both groups to report incidences confidently with no fear of a vengeful mission. Another key problem identified as fuelling the conflict is the communication barriers existing between the two.
Blacks are known to look down to the Koreans as far as their fluency in English is concerned. With most Koreans being of modest English communication skills, their non-responsiveness is sometimes interpreted as a sign of rudeness by the blacks. Programs should be rolled out to encourage English lessons to Koreans to ensure that they understand the language beyond the transactional level. Bilingual government agents and law enforcers should be employed to improve the interactions between the police and the Korean community and bridge the gap that currently exists.
The Black-Korean Alliance has made bold steps towards achieving this. It has an objective according to Edward and Angie (1998,p16): …of developing a model for facilitating dialogue and improving tensions in target areas (Los Angeles) and the replicate this in other areas with similar problems. Forums should be arranged to encourage these alliances. Although BKA could not achieve the set goals it is an indicator that of the potency of such inter-racial organizations towards conflict resolution.
The Koreans attitudes and practice towards proper trading and business largely differ from Blacks and misunderstandings arising from the behaviors towards each other have led to bloody confrontations. The Blacks claim that Koreans look down upon them and are overly suspicious and vigilant whenever a Black person is shopping in their premises. Koreans on the other hand have a problem with the Blacks foul loud language, and tendencies such as shoplifting (Hicks J, 1994 P. 79).
There is a widespread belief amongst the Blacks that their Korean counterparts see them as lazy and fatalistic as most of them are poor and largely depend on government programs, a sharp contrast to the Koreans belief in business ethics based on discipline and hard work. Any understanding of the Black-Korean conflict should find its rooting from this and the solution to this conflict should also seek to address these misunderstandings. It should seek to strike a dialogue between the two groups and elimination of the factors that led to the birth of the conflict initially.
The Los Angeles riots of 1992 were an eye-opener to the intensity of the conflict and mostly to the Korean merchants who had established their business in America. Most had been ignorant of the American social history and culture opting to devote their time and money while clinging to their emotional attachment back at home (Min, P. p 22There are organizations that have sprung as a consequence of the Los Angeles riots to try and pave way for increased interaction between the blacks and the Koreans living in America. The religion-based organization called Black-Korean Christian alliance is a good example.
As a fore mentioned the tensions thriving between the Blacks and Koreans are predominately based on a general misunderstanding and ill-advised perceptions regarding the cultures and norms of each group. Any solution to the conflict should be aimed at focusing on the erasure of these social misconstructions. The Blacks generalization of Koreans merchants is a people out to squeeze extra dime from them through high prices. The Koreans are highly paranoic of the Blacks who they term as very prone to shop lifting tendencies.
There should be increased efforts to establish more organizations to act as bridges between these two groups, with an aim of fostering more mutual understanding. An increased interaction will see the quelling down of these ethnic tensions and be a gate way to higher level of ethnic harmony not just limited to the two groups but also to others like Hispanics who over time have been engaging in street fights in the name of protecting their gang territories. Any activity or project with an intention of bringing the two communities to a better level of understanding should be embraced.
The Korean and American human relations council is meant to contribute towards this. One of the key ingredients in resolving human conflicts is through the emphasis and initiation of dialogue. The past incidences in the black Korean conflict have escalated due to the reluctance of both parties to give dialogue a chance both opting to resort to violence. While the Koreans may be blamed for their prejudice against the blacks, on the other hand equal castigation should be leveled against the blacks for the violent reactions.
Intense dialogue between the two groups has never before been given much chance. The blacks have been reacting explosively when they are mistreated in addition to boycotting the Korean stores. It is this fact that exacerbates the situation further. While Koreans are fighting to stay afloat in their businesses and their livelihood they cross the blacks war path of dignity preservation, a cause passionately embedded in Black populations’ heart. Dialogue if embraced will be a major step in truing to resolve any conflict that might arise.
Dialogue will see the smoothening out of any generalization and blanket branding of the Korean merchants as looking down upon Blacks and they (Blacks) being ill perceived as shoplifters. The past years have seen these understandings being developed especially amongst religious organization. Tensions will now be detected early before they escalate and trigger a repeat of the Los Angeles, 1992 riots. Past records indicate very few interactions amongst the two groups with their relations purely being based on merchant-client relation with no other interactions at another level.
Most of the immigrants from Korea have a history in America that only dates back a few decades and are unaware of the Blacks poverty situation and its connection with the past discriminatory tendencies, economic and political marginalisation that has been practiced for years by the white population with the government’s full blessing. An interaction between the two groups should open each other’s understanding of the different economic-social backgrounds and motivations. The media has played a great role in escalating and connecting otherwise unrelated stories and branding them as racially oriented.
Although highly ambitious, the media should play the key role in solving the Korea store that later sparked a major out roar and boycott could have been addressed as an isolated criminal case of violence involving two citizens and not blown out of proportion to encompass the woes of racism. Media especially in the United States plays an enormous role in informing the public of the intricate happening in America. In so doing it provides linkages to various other events. It plays a role in shaping peoples preferences, tastes and even stereotypes.
Most of the isolated incidences sometimes end up being branded as racial oriented often when there is small or no connections at all. It is this generalization that many a times re-awakens deeply concealed resentments and emotions and leads to community finding a common ground in solidarity against the now perceived enemy. The Black Americans print and audio media have been seen to be vocal in rallying them behind a certain cause in the name of fighting for their rights. These fights more often than not end up turning bloody and end up creating more resentment between the two communities.
The media should be at the forefront in urging for the peaceful co existence of the two groups in the understanding that both are mutually beneficial to each other. A lot of Korean hate music done by the Blacks contains lyrics that are inciting and often praise violence in the name of “Black Brotherhood”. The change towards erasing prejudices can effectively be championed by the media stations and the key personalities in the Black population. Hate campaigns should have no room in today’s world.
General consensus is in the agreement that poverty and illiteracy that is widespread amongst the black population is largely to blame for the violence that exists. The much touted “middle man minority theory” explains this aspect thoroughly well and its commonality in America. Immigrants whenever they may be, often face stiff opposition from the natives in the belief that they are consuming and exploiting their local resources (Yu, et al, 1982 pg 75). That is the perception characterizing the black Americans view of their counterparts the Korean Americans.
Economically the blacks are rated among the poorest populations in America, together with the Hispanics. One of the reason or excuse fronted for this is due to the discriminatory practices meted against the black population for ages, right from the days of slave trade to the most recent times of civil right activist. Most of the population that lives in slums continues to wallow in a miasma of poverty and surviving merely from the government’s welfare handouts. Some of these people are a disgruntled lot that have a fatalistic and timid view of the world believing they are where they are as a result of exploitation.
On the other hand the Koreans are endowed with both economic power unequalled by the slum dwelling African Americans and business niche. They are in the hot pursuit of the American dream believing that most blacks are poor as a result of their own sluggishness and not the prevailing economic and political system. The conflict hence is unavoidable as blacks seek to preserve the only thing left in them; Dignity and the Koreans carrying out the business practice as they have been brought up to do: Conservatively.
To resolve this conflict hence requires addressing the issue of economic imbalance that exists among the various racial and cultural groups existing in the American society. It is advisable for the government to come up with an elaborate plan of stemming out rampant disparities in the society. The riots maybe the blacks’ natural way of striking back against an establishment they believe has been working against their cause, only this time the target of their fury is the Koreans.
Illiteracy continues to thrive in the blacks’ population, education may be one of the key ways toward economic empowerment, and although majority of the black population weild more political participation and sensitivity then the Koreans economic level puts them at a disadvantaged position. Structures, schemes and policies should be erected to uplift the economic status of the black population; this probably will see their more involvement in economic activities and their consequent uplift to their living standards.
The 1994 efforts by the Korean government to provide an international solution should be hailed as an important step towards reconciliation. This is where some African American youths form Los Angeles were sponsored to attend cultural festivities in Korea. This was an important gesture that would show the African Americans back home of the importance of racial co-existence. The cultures and history of black Americans and Koreans through the varying greatly have some instances of semblances.
Koreans had for a long time been under the leadership of the Japanese and undergoes a lot of suffering under their leaderships. The blacks have also had a share of their hot soup through the discriminations and servitude undergone for any decades in the U. S. There are some of the points that should be emphasized instead of over blowing the differences that exist between the two groups. Exchange programs between the two groups should be encouraged mostly at the cultural and educational levels to help open up the two communities in understanding each others cultural, political, economical and ideological elements.
Advanced interactions can be initiated through the audio-visual tapes to be distributed to both these groups. For a long time many Koreans immigrations to American had been of the nature of U. S culture and the diversifications existing among the racial and ethnic groups. It would be imperative if civil societies and Korean American social groups would carry out, intense lessons about the nature of the American Socio-cultural organization and compositions aimed at enlightening them on the things to expect in the United States.
The level of ethnic escalating evidenced was aggravated further by Korean Americans merchants’ aloofness of the special needs and interests of the African American community, their differences in culture not with standing. The Los Angeles riots and the subsequent scuffles that have taken place in America have left and portrayed the Koreans as a discouraged lot especially considering the amount of their efforts and capital that went up in flames, in the end it emerges the American Koreans are the ones that have lost in these conflicts.
This brings out one point clearly; while it would be foolhardy and an act of timidness for the Koreans to withdraw their investmetn from their African Americans inhabited territories, one point is clear that they need to consolidate thir political suppport behind the formation of a single political force that would see them empowered enough to withstand such onslaughts. The government has been accused of reacting in a lucklustre manner towards the Korean Americans plight even as it watched their investments go down the drain.
The reason behind this is the political sensitivity of any issue with anyting to do with the blacks. Due to their large numbers compared to the Korean Americans, they hold more political power than the Koreans and it would have been imprudent for the government to emerge to be supporting the Korean Americans at the expense of the blacks. Political empowerment of Korean American would see them acquire the full recognition and authority in the political arena ensuring that their economic rights are catered for. Political and empowerment will also level the ground of social interaction and dialogue with the black community.
In conclusion, the conflict between the African American and the Korean American communities since its start at around 1986 has seen lots of lives lost and property worth millions of dollars gone to waste. This water down the internationally held nortion that America is an epitome of social justice and excellece. The root cause of these conflicts has been found to be emanating from the cultural, political and economic disparities that exist within the society. It represents with a loud voice, the need for the American government and the society in general to address the societal imbalances.
The African American society living in the slums is faced with a lot of social problems ranging from drugs and crimes. Their fighting the American Korean society is explained along those lines. The solution hence is in tackling the causes of economic imbalances. The past years have seen the income disparities among the Americas rich and the poor grow wider and wider. African Americans and the Hispanics are the worst hit in this. These are the two communities most involved in major insecurity cases in the neighborhoods they predominantly live.
Dialogue is another solution among others that has been identified as key to quell down the raging animosity between the two communities. Interaction between the two communities should be improved through the formation of organizations that would act as a link between the two communities and be in a position to resolve conflicts as they arise. WORKS CITED. H. K Ryoo. Achieving friendly interactions: a study of service encounters between Korean shopkeepers and African American customers. Discourse society, January 1, 2005. 79-105 Anthony Choe, Ice Cube?
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