Sorrows of Charleston, SC: Where is our focus America?

This blog is called “The Musings of T” and one thing I muse about on a daily basis is my place in American society. As a young Black woman I constantly find myself asking “What exactly is my place in a society that suffers from racism, even when it is rarely admitted that racism is still an issue?”  While I don’t feel any less American, I do acknowledge that America has its issues. Do I still love my country? HELL YES! Do I like those issues and choose to ignore them? HELL NO!

The massacre of nine Black people in a historically African Methodist Episcopal Church last week was devastating to me. I saw comments by many other Black American expats in the Facebook groups say that they cried, felt extremely sad, and had heavy hearts over this massacre. This massacre is beyond scary for us. When the dead look like yourself and your family, you will feel very different about this sort of situation.

The young man who perpetrated this atrocity admitted that he is very much racist and that his attack on and massacre of these nine people was racially motivated has been caught and will eventually face his day in court.

While I am pleased with the swift capture of the criminal and racist who did this, I am NOT happy with the narratives surrounding this tragic massacre in Charleston. I have been closely following the media coverage and the politician speeches surrounding this tragedy. President Obama called for better gun control, but said nothing about the systematic, historical and present racism that still plagues America. Other politicians, such as Nikki Haley Governor of South Carolina, have focused all of their efforts in taking down the Confederate flag.

While the confederate flag is an extremely racist and hateful symbol in America, simply taking down the flag at the South Carolina State House (and the halt in selling the flag on Amazon.com or at Wal-Mart) does not bring back the nine people who were killed last week and it does not solve the hateful ideas that linger in American society that allowed for this tragedy, and many, many tragedies just like it throughout American history, to happen in the first place.

The disease in America is called racism- the confederate flag is a symptom of that long plaguing disease! 

To simply center the conversation of police brutality and the massacre in South Carolina around the flying of a racist  flag, is to keep deflecting from a serious conversation about race in America.

-This is to say that YES, the confederate flag should not be seen, and common sense tells us this because of its history. However, the flag is not the BIG problem- what it stands for (RACISM) is the problem!  If our politicians cannot stand to have a serious conversations about racism in our country and how it has continued to covertly linger in American society, then maybe we should be asking why. Why can’t we tackle this issue so that we never have to experience another tragic massacre like the one that took place in South Carolina? What are we so afraid of? What good will come from continuously ignore racism in our country?

The families of these nine victims will continuously stay in my prayers. May these nine victims rest in peace.

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Black and Female in Korea: Fascinations and Frustrations

Living in Korea is a daily adventure. I remember before coming here I spent hours  on YouTube looking for videos of other Black women who had decided to come and teach in South Korea. Their stories prepared me for the realities of coming to this country having kinky, coily natural hair and brown skin. Many people will wonder what it’s like to walk around as a not only a foreigner in Korea, but a VERY VISIBLE Black female foreigner. Well, here are some of my experiences:

When I first arrived on the island of Jeju, I knew that I would attract stares, questions from my students, and probably touching of my hair and skin. Before coming to Korea, it’s very easy to think that constant attention because of your appearance won’t really bother you. The reality is, however, when you arrive in Korea with braids or twists or curly hair and brown skin, you WILL attract attention almost everywhere you go. Now, this attention is normally just coming from a place of curiosity or fascination because you look different.  While most teenagers and young adults will ignore you, many older adults (especially women) and children will ask you questions about your hair and your country of origin (your skin, they understand, is naturally brown, but the hair throws them).

In regards to my hair, I usually get questions like “머리 진짜?”- or “mori jjinja?” meaning “Is your hair real?”. I also get comments that my hair is “yeppuda”- meaning pretty. These comments are very common and represent an urge to understand something that is different from the beauty norms in Korea. I have not, in any way, been condemned for being different since I’ve been here and no one at my school has ever suggested I straighten or alter my hair to appear more “professional”.

Now, is it always fun to have extra attention? Absolutely NOT. There are days when I am sitting at a restaurant, enjoying a meal and minding my own business after staring at me and commenting on my hair in Korean, some brave “ahjumma” (Korean term for a middle aged woman) will indeed run her hand through my hair (without asking) or ask me to take a picture with her. OR my favorite: come and break up my shellfish for me and spoon feed me, then make sure to take a picture with me after my meal. Yep. That actually happened last summer back when I rocked large marley twists. Children are always asking where I’m from and why my hair looks so different than their hair. My students have grown accustomed to my hair, but whenever I change hairstyles they are sure to make a comment about it, ask me what I did to it, and every now and then, they’ll sneak up behind me to touch my hair. I’ve also had small children follow me at the public library to ask me questions about my hair. The point is, there are those days I just want to feel as normal as possible and not have eyes follow me everywhere I go. Being in Korea, however, does not make that an option.

Overall, I would say that if you plan to come to an Asian country as a Black female, don’t let anyone deter you from doing so. Don’t fear that, for some magical reason, everyone will hate you because of your brown skin and different hair texture. Mostly, they will be fascinated by your differences. Of course, you should prepare yourself. Personal boundaries are different across cultures, so touching  and asking for pictures is common. It can be annoying , but you will adjust to this! You will learn to put on sunglasses and stick in your headphones and ignore the stares you get from simply entering a room or boarding a bus. And one last thing: Bringing your brown skin and other different features to Korea and other Asian countries, subtly prepares the children of these places to be comfortable with diversity. My students assumed I was from Africa when I arrived but they now understand that a woman who looks like me can be from America or many other Western countries (and just today my new students guessed I was from Cambodia, China and the Philippines).

So, in conclusion, yes sometimes being a VERY VISIBLE Black female foreigner is hard and annoying, but overall it has been a great experience, and I walk with confidence as I represent my heritage and my culture and my identity.

 

*Next time: A Black History Month Festival in Daegu, South Korea*

Adventures in Korea: Deciding to Move to South Korea as a Black Female

My name is Tabitha. I’m 24 years old and I currently live in South Korea. Ever since I moved here, I’ve wanted to tell my story about coming to a foreign country as an African American (Black) female working as an elementary school English teacher.  Now, I’ve been in South Korea for about six months and I’m ready to talk openly and frankly about my time here:

Let’s start from the beginning: Six and a half years ago, I was a freshman in my college dorm surfing the internet with my roommate. I had already been an anime fan for years before that, so Japan was quite familiar to me and I hoped to visit the country someday. Korea, however, was a complete mystery to me. It wasn’t until my roommate and I discovered the world of Korean Pop music (aka Kpop)  that I became interested in South Korea. At the time, the mega Kpop groups such as DBSK (also known TVXQ!), Super Junior, Shinee, Big Bang (and later 2NE1), and Girls Generation were taking the Kpop world by storm and I was hooked!  For me, music is not only a beat and lyrics, but a look into a culture. I was fascinated at how Korean groups were formed after years of training and composed of six and more members and how this correlated to facets of Korean culture. And let’s  not forget the amazing choreography in the music videos, something we haven’t seen in American music in a very long time!

It wasn’t long until I was introduced to the idea of working abroad as an English teacher by two Canadian bloggers, Simon and Martina, from the popular YouTube channel Eat Your Kimchi. Not only were they working in Korea and earning an income, they were free to travel throughout the country and be immersed in the culture and language of Korea. No one I knew personally had traveled abroad unless in the military, so the idea of working and living in a foreign country seemed like dream to me.  As a first generation college student, I had simply entered college looking to earn a degree, possibly attend graduate school, and get a well-paying job. The idea of living and working abroad was a new and novel idea.

Now let’s fast forward, six years later. I was completing my master’s degree in Educational Policy and after doing a little more research online, I finally decided that if I was going to live abroad and teach English, I had reached the ideal point in my life to do so. I originally wanted to study abroad in Korea as an undergraduate but decided that my educational goals, friendships and other relationships were more important at the time. I felt that if I didn’t go to Korea in 2014, I would never have a similar opportunity to do so again.

After telling people I was applying for a one year teaching contract, I got comments like, “Oh you’re Black, Koreans don’t like Black people,” and “Are you going to date a Korean guy?” and “Which Korea are you going to again?” and “That’s so far away!”  Of course, there was my all time favorite comment: “That’s great but when are you going to settle down and get married/but are you going to ever get married/have children?” (insert side eye right here)(that last one is a “perk” of being from the South).

Despite all those comments, both positive and negative, I boarded a plane in Little Rock, Arkansas on the morning of July 29, 2014 and made my first international flight to come to South Korea. Now, not only do I live in Korea, I live on the lovely island of Jeju. Jeju has a culture all it’s own and most Koreans only visit here once or twice in their lifetimes. I actually joked with one of my friends saying, “It would be just my luck to get placed on Jeju. It’s the one place every couple goes in K-dramas (Korean dramas).” and of course, I got placed here, much to my friend’s amusement.

My school is quite small, with only about 60 children across six grades. My job is to teach English after school to students from grade one to six. My school is also in a rural area. Children in South Korea living in rural areas don’t often have the same access to private English academies and foreign (native English speaking) teachers that children in the urban areas do, so my teaching program is focused on bringing quality English teaching to children in rural areas. The children at my school are just like any other group of kids: they love to have fun, they to play games, and they have different levels of interest in learning English. While I will admit that I was nervous to be a Black teacher in a small school, the students have adjusted well to me and ask me a million questions every time I change my hairstyle. Teaching is not the easiest job, but it is challenging and there is nothing quite like seeing your students master new vocabulary and new phrases in a second language.

Of course, you’ll be wondering what it’s like to live in Korea as a Black Female, so stay tuned for my next post.

*Next time: Black and female in South Korea: Fascinations and Frustrations*