Q: What’s it like being black in Korea? Honestly, there’s not a lot I can say on this topic. I’m black. I know it, other’s see it, and sometimes they comment on it. I mean, what am I gonna do? It’s out there for people to see.
I’m not easily offended by comments about my skin color, and I try not to imagine the worse when someone says something related to my color. Unless someone is being obviously racist, there’s a good chance I’m not going to say anything or assume the worse.
With that being said, so far I haven’t had a negative experience with being black in Korea but, something happened to me the other day that I thought was pretty funny.
So, I was walking down the road near my apartment, going to the gym, on the phone with my brother, minding my own business, when I pass a little girl who stops me. She says something to me in Korean, which doesn’t register at first (because I’m on the phone), and she stares innocently waiting for my reply. Unsure what to do, I asked her to repeat herself again and get the same mumbled response. So, naturally I put my brother on hold, crouch down and ask her to repeat herself again. This is how the conversation went. (It happened in Korean. I translated it for convenience purposes.)
Me: What was that?
Little girl: (points and says something in inaudible korean)
Me: (looks at my hand to the bluetooth headphones I’m carrying) Oh, these? Oh, these are headphones.
Little girl: No, skin.
Me: Aha! My skin color?
Little girl: nods
Me: Yes, I’m a foreigner. I’m from America. My skin looks a little different, doesn’t it?
Little girl: nods
Me: It’s because I’m a foreigner. Anyhoo, Ta-ta!
Then I leave and resume talking to my brother on the phone.
I think that was the first time someone has ever really confronted me about looking different. Most of the time, people just stare. I wasn’t offended or anything. I thought it was the cutest thing ever. I am probably the first black person she’s ever seen in her life and to me, that is an honor. I have the ability to shape the way she views black people for the rest of her life. I’m not sure if she understood a word I said to her, but I smiled the entire time, so I’m hoping I came across as super friendly and nice. 😂😂 I feel like a trailblazer sometimes.
Anyways, I don’t know if that started some kind of effect, but literally an hour or so, as I’m working out at the gym, this guy calls me over and asked me where I’m from. (I feel like I need to stress that this is all happening in Korean. So, I barely understand what these people are saying. Maybe he asked me where I was from or maybe he asked something else. We shall never know.)
Apparently, this grandpa had told him that I was related to this African guy (who was a professor? I don’t even know), and the guy at the gym was curious if I was related to this professor for clarification purposes (?). Not that any of it mattered, but I kindly set the guy straight and clarified the misunderstanding.
Again, I wasn’t offended just genuinely amused.
I think it was interesting that the grandpa never asked me where I was from or if I knew the professor dude, but told the Korean guy that I was probably related to this man since I was black. But hey, it started conversation with a random person, so I’m not complaining 🤷♀️.
I’ve had a few more “incidents” like those, but I think what helps me when I encounter those situations is remembering that I’m a foreigner in a largely homogeneous country. Does that excuse racism if it happens? No, but it helps me to be more understanding when I encounter people who may be curious and truly don’t know sensitive aspects concerning race.
Being understanding about the smallest things is necessary, I think. Koreans may be shy but they are blunt. If they like something about you, they’ll tell you and if they don’t, they’ll tell you as well. It’s uncomfortable at first because, as Americans, we tend to spare the other person’s feelings, but this is a different country. You gotta abide by their rules or at least try and understand them.
Trust me, it helps as a coping mechanism.
Until next time,
See ya around, friend~~