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Embracing Koreanness in Black America

Essyl Ghim

As a second generation Korean American, I grew up in Chicago with a single father that had a love affair with alcohol and the American dream. My mother committed suicide when I was too young to understand. The hardships that I endured were challenging and I felt like an outcast in the Korean community because of it. I was able to assimilate towards the Black culture more so than my own because I felt accepted. I learned street smarts, and immersed myself in Black literature, music, and film as it was manifested in my environment. During my teenage years, I was temporarily sent to a group home because my father was incarcerated. I was the only Asian person in a facility that housed mostly young Blacks. That experience alone transformed me and I was able to empathize with a different race I felt akin to.

Throughout my life, I witnessed the ripples of racism from Whites and other people of color, including Koreans and Blacks. A few relationships dissipated because of my acclamation towards the Black community. I didn’t find it acceptable to have one (or more) negative experiences be definitive for the whole community. Though at a certain point, I became tired of trying to imprint this idea on others especially when I didn’t feel it from the Black community. Passiveness overcame me and I became someone I didn’t recognize.

Instead of being anti-racist, I became pro-racist because I became a participant. I laughed at stereotypical jokes. I stayed silent when someone made a derogatory term toward another person of color. These actions aren’t uncommon for many people, especially when we get caught up in the cycle. Still, there is no excuse.

Motherhood became the pinnacle of change because I processed my actions and thought about the world I want my son to be raised in. What kind of example would I be if I’m not an advocate for what I truly believe in? How can I regain my ethnic and self identity without having to fit into societal standards?

I am in a difficult position because I am empathetic of both the Korean and Black community. They have faced negative consequences from one another due to racism. Though, I believe there is too much focus on the results, which is the very reason why some Korean people are not supportive of Black Lives Matter. It’s rather sad because there are historical similarities, specifically with oppression and demanding liberty from a dominant race.

I can encourage some thought processing ideas. For Koreans, privilege needs to be addressed. When in your life do you feel you had more advantages due to the color of your skin? For the Black community, we Koreans have suffered too, and some still are. For humanity, let us understand each other and unite in a time when we need to. Both communities must take ownership. There is no better time than today to be heard. Let’s be the voice for systemic change…together. #BlackLivesMatter


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