So this is not going to be a typical post but it’s on my mind & I feel like writing about it. Not exactly “happy thoughts” on my latest Hello Kitty purchases, but whatever.

I spent my evening catching up on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills - which, by the way, is amazing. In the “Dinner Party from Hell” episode, Camille calls Kyle’s friend “the morally corrupt Faye Resnick” - so clearly, I needed to get more background info via Wikipedia. This led to me reading about the OJ Simpson trial for quite some time. And somehow that led to me reading about the Rodney King trial for quite some time. And then that led to me reading about the 1992 LA riots for quite some time. And so here we are…cue background music:

Korean-owned businesses were the primary targets during the 1992 riots for many reasons, including the death of Latasha Harlins, cultural differences and tensions, and the perception of economic competition and exploitation in an impoverished community. People of all colors were suffering from extreme economic hardship, creating a highly-combustible environment. The publicized cases of racially-fueled injustice lit the flame that blew up into the LA riots. When I think of the conflict between African-American and Korean-American communities, I immediately go to this scene (which is one of my favorites) from Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing. My eyes tear up almost every time I watch it.

Sonny: “I no white! I black! You, me, same! We same!”

The message is powerful. Why do we turn on each other? In a 1992 NY Times article, Seth Mydans quotes Korean security force member Carl Rhyu: “Why did it happen? That’s a good question.” Rhyu was amongst a group of armed Korean-Americans who defended Lucky Electronics from its rooftop during the riots. This excerpt from Mydan’s article does a good job of summarizing the tension between the two communities.

“I think the black people are jealous of the Koreans,” [Rhyu] said, voicing a gut feeling that many Korean residents express privately but are too careful to state in public. “They’re lazy; we are working hard. They’re not making money; we are making money.”

In the South-Central area, where Korean shops have become the object of resentment even as they provide what is often the only retail service to residents, some shopkeepers climbed ladders to remove the Korean lettering from their signboards. At the Korean consulate, where National Guardsmen stood watch, an identifying plaque had been covered up by tape.

Yumi Park, the former director of the Korean American Grocers Association, said about 600 Korean-owned retail outlets had been damaged in the South-Central area and about 200 in Koreatown.

Lawrence Aubry, a member of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, said Korean merchants had become a lightning rod for the discontent of some black residents. Many blacks in Los Angeles have remained poor as, one after another, immigrant groups have arrived and climbed past them to prosperity.

“It’s illogical, but it’s convenient to target the Koreans,” he said. “Why were they burning the businesses that serve them? Why has that anger not been vented at the educational system that has failed them? Why weren’t the employment offices burned to the ground?”

It’s sad how economic circumstances can lead to bitter segregation in a community of minorities that should be working together. These attitudes become racially-colored when individuals come to represent their entire race or ethnic group. Thus, the success of some Korean-American businesses creates the false image of a model minority, while the failure of some African-American youth cements the illusion of a perpetually lazy and impoverished black community. These stereotypes persist even today and are all too apparent when one signs online and simply reads comments to any news article, YouTube video, etc. mentioning race relations.

Ultimately, I agree with Aubry. We cannot place blame on other groups within the same community. Instead, we should work to improve that community as a whole, from the roots. That is the only way to move closer to a world where we truly view ourselves as equals - “We same.”

While researching the LA riots was quite depressing, I did see one kernel of hope amidst the violence - the Korean armed resistance. The police abandoned them in a time of need, but rather than stand back and watch their lifetime work go up in flames, many Korean shop keepers carried out an act of agency by deciding to defend themselves against the mob violence.

According to Ashley Dunn of the LA Times, Korean marine veterans spearheaded the movement by sending out a call for volunteer security guards over Korean-language radio stations. The community security forces stayed up for days after the Rodney King verdict, guarding their livelihoods - guarding their interpretation of the American dream. Over a decade later, their actions inspire me to be thankful for the privileged life I’ve been blessed with and to practice my own agency when fighting for my dreams.

And yes, I know that sounds corny, but this was an interesting find for me and I felt compelled to write down my thoughts. And with that I return to catching up on my RHBH.

Links to the original news articles:
LA Times
NY Times

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