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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obama in Korea: Dashing Hopes Worldwide

Daren Jonescu

Like many Americans, Koreans have implicitly chosen Obama as a symbol of overcoming a troublesome racial past. How sad for Korea, as for America.
Given the predilection of America's Actor-in-Chief for appointing Maoists to prominent posts within his administration, his latest foreign policy TV show, "BHO at the DMZ," in which he tackles the difficult role of pretending to find South Korea morally superior to the communist North, is amusing on numerous fronts. The comedy program gains an undertone of pathos, however, in light of recent events in Florida.

Without pretending to understand the sequence of events that led to the death of Mr. Trayvon Martin, or to the non-arrest of his shooter, the one thing that is crystal clear—and was as predictable as the sunset—is the manner in which Martin's death is being exploited by leftists of all stripes (including a few who ought to be wearing stripes) to stoke racial animosity and, in all likelihood, racial violence in the days and months ahead. Jesse Jackson, perhaps America's reigning champion of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, has leapt into the fray with thoroughly unnecessary remarks such as "Blacks are under attack," and "No justice, no peace."

In what sense are blacks in general "under attack?" By whom? And what does "no peace" mean in this context?—a context in which the New Black Panthers have put a $10,000 bounty on the shooter's head, and in which hundreds of teenagers have been sent into the streets by their teachers to "protest" this "injustice."

In the midst of this, President Obama, who, if he needed to say anything at all, needed to encourage law and order, used his bully pulpit to call for national "soul-searching" and to express his racial identity with the victim. In other words, he did what he has been doing since he was a Harvard law student: using elevated language to promote heightened race-consciousness and racial division. In an LA Times article published at the time of his selection as President of the Harvard Law Review, the 28-year old Obama was quoted as follows:

"I have worked and lived in poor black communities and I can translate some of their concerns into words that the larger society can embrace."

And in the NY Times' account of his Harvard appointment, he is quoted as saying:

"The fact that I've been elected shows a lot of progress…. But it's important that stories like mine aren't used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don't get a chance." (That there are hundreds or thousands of blacks with at least equal talent to Obama is probably the truest thing he has ever said, not to mention the understatement of the century.)

Further: "I personally am interested in pushing a strong minority perspective. I'm fairly opinionated about this. But as president of the law review, I have a limited role as only first among equals."

Well, that frustration at merely being "first among equals" is long past, but the rest of the sentiments remain intact. Notice, incidentally, that his "opinionated" interest in "a strong minority perspective" is expressed in the context of his study of law. Is it any wonder that he saw Sonia Sotomayor as a kindred spirit, when seeking a Supreme Court nominee?

So, what does Obama's oh-so-gentle stoking of the racial tension in Florida have to do with his comedy show at the DMZ? Just this: the appalling cynicism of Obama, Jackson, and other "community activists" who see, in the careless promotion of racial hatred and suspicion, a means of solidifying a significant voting bloc through dependency and poverty, causes collateral damage far beyond the boundaries of the United States.

For the past several years, I have lived and taught in South Korea. In my first job here, at a private English academy for children, I had the peculiar title, "Senior Foreign Teacher." Part of the job involved conducting interviews with foreign teaching applicants, usually by long distance phone call. As a sad matter of course, whenever I interviewed a black candidate—particularly one who had never been to Asia before—I took it as my responsibility to bring up the subject of race. The conversation would go something like this:

Me: Um, I know this will sound strange, but am I right in thinking that you are black?

Applicant: Uh, yes?

Me: Well, I, uh, feel obliged to mention, just in case you haven't already heard about this elsewhere, that some Koreans have, shall we say, uncomfortable feelings about black people.

Applicant: Well, I've heard a little. But what do you mean?

Me: Hmm… don't get me wrong, with most people there's no problem. But most Koreans have never met a real black person face to face, and they tend to be a little nervous. Sometimes kids will giggle and point. That sort of thing.

Applicant: I've got thick skin. I can handle pointing children.

Me: Well, and… there's also another, slightly more difficult problem. During the Rodney King riots, a lot of Korean shops were looted and destroyed, and a lot of Korean shop owners lost everything. This is the strongest image many Korean adults have of African-Americans, and the effects of that image still linger.

Typically, the applicant would remain undaunted. Many black teachers do come to Korea, and succeed—but usually not without the aforementioned thick skin. Apart from anti-Asian rioters, and the occasional sports celebrity, most Koreans see black America through the prism of hip-hop and rap music—and now, through the popular figure of Barack Obama. Koreans are largely unaware of the policy details of the Obama presidency, except as those policies pertain directly to the Korean peninsula. Those who pay attention to American politics at all are generally supportive of Obama. Most probably hope he is re-elected, though not because they support Obamacare, EPA regulations, and the bankrupting of the American economy. Rather, they simply see him as a celebrity, a pop icon, and in particular as a "safe" black man.

Immediately upon his election in 2008, Korean children began using his name as a way to identify all black people. Seeing a black teacher for the first time, two or three boys will invariably look at each other and giggle, "Obama." When they see a picture of any black person in a textbook, they will laugh and point, "Obama." This behavior usually stems from nothing more sinister than ignorance and novelty, combined with the childish inability to regard strangers as fully human. All Westerners face some of this "look at that" reaction while living in Korea, but with blacks, the reaction is often a little more pronounced, and, at times, a little more disturbing.

And there is a darker side. Schools and school boards are typically reticent to hire black teachers for children, not so much due to racial bias on the part of school directors themselves, but rather out of concerns about parental disapproval. The country's ubiquitous private academies, which are for-profit businesses, fear that parents, themselves uncomfortable about having a black person teaching their children, will pull the children out of the school, costing the owner a lot of money. I can attest to the fact that this fear is not altogether unfounded. Black teachers in Korea are sometimes monitored more closely, and judged more peremptorily, than their white counterparts, even by school directors who are anxious to hire blacks precisely to encourage Korean children to become worldlier—simply out of a small businessman's fear of lost customers.

The same problem translates into life in the general culture. My most personally upsetting experience in this truly lovely country occurred while I was showing a new co-worker around town. She had just arrived from Chicago the day before, and was still horribly jetlagged. Nevertheless, she was eager to spend an hour or two getting to know her new neighborhood. At one point, we passed two middle-aged men, and, upon seeing her, one of them began spouting some trash in Korean about "Africa" and "bananas." I looked back at them with a scowl, but was too startled and humiliated to know what else to do. My new co-worker just kept walking, seemingly oblivious. I made some sarcastic remark like, "Welcome to Korea," to cover my embarrassment. She grinned a little, and that was that.

And here is where Obama's DMZ comedy turns tragic. He is now the single most recognizable black man in Korea. His name is now literally synonymous with "black man" among young Koreans. Many people here clearly see in him a way to turn a corner in their cultural problem with the black race, a way to put the LA riots behind them at last, and to overcome the racial fear and discomfort that makes this proud, impressive nation seem much smaller than it ought to.

Koreans have no awareness of Thomas Sowell. They do not know the name Clarence Thomas. Most have never heard of Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, let alone W.E.B. Du Bois. They have invested all their audacious hope of transcending the demons of LA in Barack Obama—in the trainer of "leaders" at ACORN, aka Voter Fraud, Inc.; in the not-so-reluctant beneficiary of New Black Panther thuggery at polling booths; in the President who, at the very moment when he ought to have pleaded for cooler heads to prevail, instead used the moment to foster racial division, describing himself as the man whose son would have looked like Trayvon, and saying, "I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen."

Something like what? Along with Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the Black Panthers, Obama doesn't care about "justice" or "truth." He cares only about any teachable moment in which the lesson is, "Black people must stick together, stick with leftist revolutionary politics, and stick with me."

Like many Americans, Koreans have implicitly chosen Obama as a symbol of overcoming a troublesome racial past. How sad for Korea, as for America.

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