[from my tumblr blog, posted earlier today]
In my last post, I talked about the problem with white people coming
to Korea and suddenly becoming conscious of race. Except, they don’t see
white power and privilege, which is everywhere on display. They see
Then, I received an anonymous ask shouting at me for being white and
calling out white supremacists and racism. An obvious troll, but one who
provides me with an opportunity to discuss why white people
experiencing racism like the young woman in the former post are so
I’m white. I argue I have a responsibility to betray my inherited
privilege and unearned ambition. And not for any reward either. Simply
because I, like everyone else, have an ethical obligation to fight the
white power structure that constructs individuals as white subjects.
White people don’t exist. Whiteness is constructed and protected and
inherited. I may be able to benefit most from this racist ideological
apparatus that shapes capitalist society, but I should reject it. It’s a
moral obligation, in my opinion.
And as some folks are claiming, I’m not doing this to point the
finger at white privilege. I’m actually trying to examine how it works
for myself and in my life, and I’m writing about it. DagSeoul isn’t a
“white people are privileged” blog. So, please stop sending me stupid
shit in my ask-box about that.
I don’t go around claiming I’ve experienced racism in the manner most
white people do. Most talk about angry black people, hateful hispanics,
crazy Koreans—jealous others whose envy for power causes them to hate
their whiteness so much that they act in a racist manner. Of course,
that’s utter nonsense. It’s bullshit. That’s not racism. Yelling at
whiteness, hating whiteness, having a problem with white people isn’t
always racist. It’s a sign of white power. It’s a response to white
I play football almost every Saturday in Korea. I live in a Korean
neighborhood, so all my teammates are Koreans. They’re all men. They’re
almost all younger than me. I’m bigger than all of them. Stronger than many. I’m
not the most skilled footballer, but I’ve played since 1978. I’ve got
skill. I can score. I’m fast. I know and love the game. And, I can run
all day. When a bald (I shave my head) and bearded white guy is booking
down the field with the ball, it’s intimidating. A lot of Korean guys
are super-fit and strong, but smaller than me. When I run into them at
full speed, I feel it, but they really feel it. And I play a much more
physical style of football than Koreans do. Fans of the game will
understand this. Most guys love it when I show up with my Korean
teammates to play. They talk to me on the field. It’s fun. But it’s not
When I first arrived, a colleague took me around to meet various
clubs in the area. Word got around rather quickly that there was a
foreigner who wanted to play and he was good. I got asked to play by my
team. I was invited. I considered myself lucky. I really figured I’d
have to find foreigners to play with, but I wanted so much to play with
Koreans. It’s one of the reasons I was excited about coming here.
Anyway, I felt accepted. In a few months, I had twenty-five younger
brothers. It was a wonderful feeling.
One of the teams we regularly played often got very mad at my
teammates that I was playing so well. It appeared that way to me. I
didn’t get it. I’ve since learned that some Korean players think its
unfair that they should have to play a foreigner. I’m big and strong and
can hurt them. I don’t hurt them, but we’re talking intimidation here. I
had so intimidated a couple of players that they couldn’t contain their
frustrations any longer. After a day of playing together, they
confronted me and my team. We almost had a brawl. My teammates were
standing up for me. I was pulling guys away from one another. And one
player on the other team yelled, “Yankee, Go home!” Some of us laughed.
Some of my teammates wanted to fight. The oldest players stepped in and
yelled at everyone. My wife had showed up to watch. She was very upset.
Simple story, right? I play. I play with Koreans. I play well. A
little physical, but nothing dirty. I score goals. My team wins a lot.
The frustrated players on the other team blame the foreigner for fucking
up the peace. One guy says something insulting. Many white people would
call it racist. Dude’s a hater. It’s not even racist.
Once, I parked my scooter in front of a cafe and the owner told me to
move it somewhere else. She didn’t want it in front of her shop. I told
her it was legal. She yelled at me for being a spoiled foreigner. Many
white people would call it racist. But. It’s not even racist.
I’ve been involved in pushy moments in the crowded subway where I’ve
been yelled at in Korean, called out as a rude foreigner. Many white
people would call it racist. But. It’s not even racist.
Koreans who call me out for doing things Koreans often do and
explicitly scolding me as a foreigner are often referred to by white
people in Korea as racist Koreans. They’re not racists.
White people love to see racism against them. And why not. White
power works that way. White people are raised to feel precious and
deserving of good treatment. They deserve respect. Why would anybody
pick on them because of who they are?
Fact is, there are haters in Korea. The longer I live here, on the
other hand, the more I recognize my white privilege is in full effect
here. And the rudeness with which I’m treated at times simply requires a
little patience and understanding. This might sound patronizing, but
it’s not. After all, I was brought here and treated well because of who I
am, treated well in a manner that the majority of Koreans will never
I’m often asked, Why would you come to Korea? Koreans talk about
their country being no bigger than a booger (우리나라는 코딱지 만큼…) or no
bigger than a palm (우리나라는 손바닥 만큼…). Why would I come to a place most
Koreans can’t leave? Well, the answer is because I’m privileged. That’s
the answer. The humiliating aspect of that answer is its correlation: I
can leave whenever I want to. In other words, I can go home. I have a
place to go other than here. I can return. That’s what Koreans see me as
sometimes, but especially when they’re annoyed at me. They are
confronted with privilege. And they sometimes take it out on me. It’s
not racism. Try telling that to many white people in Korea, though.
I’d have to be a real dick to deny this privilege. That guy yelling
“Yankee, go home” at me is reaching for something to say at all in the
face of my belligerent presence in his life. He was being a dick, but he
can’t speak English and he yelled the one insult in English he knew
might hurt my feelings. The power he feels that oppresses him in a daily
manner is a problem with Korean culture, centuries of oppression. Shit I
don’t get. But I’ve added another element. Now he has to play soccer,
on his day off, with a white guy who reminds him of a specific and
painful lack of privilege and I’m going to knock him down, too. I’d be a
dick not to expect some sort of response.