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A Tale of Two Stars
When Nicholas Cage arrived in Seoul with his Korean Cinderella bride, he was mobbed by fans and celebrated by the media.  Koreans were proud that this Hollywood star chose to marry one of their own.  Contrast that with the cool reception Wesley Snipes, another Hollywood star, received when he visited Seoul with his Korean wife and son.  Rather then being proud, Koreans were disappointed.
    Both stars are about as big as it gets in Hollywood.  Yet Cage’s visit was a media event, while Snipes’ was a non-event.  This is because the former is a white man and the latter is black, jet-black.
    Mr. Snipes was cognizant of the double standard at his press conference, where he answered straightforward questions with circumspection:
Q:  Mr. Snipes, do you want your son to live in Korea and learn more about its culture.
A:  Well…that depends on how he will be treated here.
    No matter how successful Wesley Snipes is, he’s still a black man; and Koreans have a hang-up when it comes to race.  Of course, Koreans are not the only ones with this hang-up.
    Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize winning African-American author, said that when every immigrant group, be they ever so humble, arrived in America they looked around and determined their status in their new country.  And each and every one of these groups, whether they were Irish, Polish or Italian, said to themselves: we might be new and we might have to do the 3 D’s, but we are better than the blacks; they are at the bottom of the heap in America, not us.  That mindset continues to this very day, for when Korean, Indian and Chinese immigrants arrive they are of the same opinion: we are better than the blacks. 
    The truth is, the Asian immigrant groups that began arriving in America in the 1970’s are indebted to African-Americans for the relative ease of their assimilation into American society.  Had the blacks not fought to desegregate the lunch counters and public schools, organized voter registration drives, and compelled white America to look deeply into its Christian soul, the American promise of equal opportunity for all would ring hollow for the newest immigrants.
    Had the blacks not fought for their civil rights in the 1960’s, today’s American institutions would not be so color blind, there would not be the diversity we see among CNN’s newsreaders, and there would not be such a noticeable Asian presence on the campuses of all the top universities.  And had there not been the Civil Rights Movement, Asian-Americans would have to mount their own movement today.
    The Chinese, the first immigrant wave from Asia, were the forgotten minority of the Civil Rights Movement.  Perhaps because they had become so self-reliant out of necessity that they saw themselves as separate from the affairs of American society, or because they were loath to associate with the African-Americans (“black devils”).
    They certainly experienced racism and exclusion.  A Chinamen’s chance, a locution meaning one has no chance at all, summed up the experience of many of those early Chinese immigrants who eked out a living in California.  Many Chinese to this day are crammed into the same Chinatowns they were restricted to over a century ago, when Yellow Peril (fear of Chinese immigration) led to the Chinese Exclusion Act  (1924), effectively ending their immigration for the next 50 years.
    One tiny minority, the Jews, did not see themselves as separate from the affairs of American society.  Rather, they actively supported the African-American cause in the field -- two young Jewish activists, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, an event that inspired the film “Mississippi Burning” -- in the media, and in the courts.
    They were motivated both by idealism and self-interest.  As historical victims it was incumbent upon the Jews to speak out against social injustice.  It would have been highly hypocritical of them to expect toleration and full membership in American society while ignoring the plight of the blacks.   And given that the Jews were reeling from the horrors of the holocaust and feeling very vulnerable, it was surely in their interest to be active in a struggle that When Nicholas Cage arrived in Seoul with his Korean Cinderella bride, he was mobbed by fans and celebrated in the media.  Koreans were proud that this Hollywood star chose to marry one of their own.  Contrast that with the cool reception Wesley Snipes, another Hollywood star, received when he visited Seoul with his Korean wife and son.  Rather then being proud, Koreans were disappointed.
    Both stars are as big as it gets in Hollywood.  Yet Cage’s visit was a media event, while Snipes’ was a non-event.  This is because the former is a white man, and the latter is black, jet-black.
    Mr. Snipes was cognizant of the double standard during his press conference, when he answered straightforward questions with circumspection:
Q:  Mr. Snipes, do you want your son to live in Korea and learn more about its culture.
A:  Well…that depends on how he will be treated here.
    No matter how successful Wesley Snipes is, he’s still a black man; and Koreans have a hang-up when it comes to race.  Of course, Koreans are not the only ones with this hang-up.
    Toni Morrison said that when every immigrant group, be they ever so humble, arrived in America they looked around and determined their status in their new country.  And each and every one of these groups, whether they were Irish, Polish or Italian, said to themselves: we might be new and we might have to do the 3 D’s, but we are better than the blacks; they are at the bottom of the heap in America, not us.  That mindset continues to this very day, for when Korean, Indian and Chinese immigrants arrive they are of the same opinion: we are better than the blacks. 
    The truth be known, the Asian immigrant groups that began arriving in America in the 1970’s are indebted to African-Americans for the relative ease of their assimilation into American society.  Had the blacks not fought to desegregate the lunch counters and public schools, organized voter registration drives, and compelled white America to look deeply into its Christian soul, the American promise of equal opportunity for all would ring hollow for the newest immigrants.
    Had the blacks not fought for their civil rights in the 1960’s, today’s American institutions would not be so color blind, there would not be the diversity we see among CNN’s newsreaders, and there would not be such a noticeable Asian presence on the campuses of all the top universities.  And had there not been the Civil Rights Movement, Asian-Americans would have to mount their own movement today.
    The Chinese, the first immigrant wave from Asia, were the forgotten minority of the Civil Rights Movement.  Perhaps because they had become so self-reliant out of necessity that they saw themselves as separate from the affairs of American society, or because they were loath to associate with the African-Americans (“black devils”).
    The Chinese certainly experienced racism and exclusion.  A Chinaman’s chance, a locution meaning one has no chance at all, sums up the experience of many of those early Chinese immigrants who eked out a living in California.  Many Chinese to this day are crammed into the same Chinatowns they were restricted to over a century ago, when Yellow Peril (fear of Chinese immigration) led to the Chinese Exclusion Act  (1924), effectively ending their immigration for the next 50 years.
    One tiny minority, the Jews, did not see themselves as separate from the affairs of American society.  Rather, they actively supported the African-American cause in the field -- two young Jewish activists, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, an event that inspired the film “Mississippi Burning” -- in the media, and in the courts.
    The Jews were motivated both by idealism and self-preservation.  As historical victims of persecution, it was incumbent upon them to speak out against social injustice.  It would have been highly hypocritical of them to expect toleration and full membership in American society while ignoring the plight of the blacks.   And given that the Jews were reeling from the horrors of the holocaust and feeling very vulnerable, it was surely in their interest to be active in a struggle that could improve their lot in America.  They knew the rising tide of civil rights would raise black and Jewish boats alike.
    The Jews became the parenthetical minority of the Civil Rights Movement.  Thus, “(and the Jews)” was added to the vocabulary of a movement that was first and foremost an African-American struggle.
    What riles African-Americans is that Asian-Americans do not appreciate the doors their civil rights struggle opened for Asians.  The success of Asian immigrants has even been a source of embarrassment to the blacks, for they can no longer point at white racism as the sole cause of their underachievement in America. Especially when many of these immigrants barely speak English.  Nor have the mores and popular culture of blacks endeared them to the immigrants, whose “Asian values” propel them to achieve.
    What goodwill Korean-Americans may have had for the blacks went up in smoke after the destructive anti-Korean riots in Los Angeles, leaving a permanent chasm between the two.  Korean immigrants like immigrants before them are trying to put as much distance as they can between blacks and themselves.  
    The old civil rights alliance between the African-Americans and Jews is over as well, the latter having moved on from civil rights to its cause in perpetuity…The State of Israel.   
There is a sentiment among African-Americans that the Jews got a lot more out of the civil rights struggle than they put into it, that their very improved status in American society is a result of the Jews hitching a ride on the coattails of a black struggle.  Gone are the days of “quotas” on Jewish admission to the Ivy League, begun by Harvard in the 1920’s.  In the year 2000, moreover, every president of an Ivy League university was Jewish.  This is certainly a legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.
    Not only has the old alliance ended, there is growing concern in the Jewish community over anti-Semitism among blacks.  Louis Farrakhan, the charismatic leader of America’s Black Muslims, and organizer of the impressive Million-Man March on Washington D.C., has been vociferously anti-Semitic, even calling Judaism “a gutter religion.”  And the Rev. Jesse Jackson himself created an uproar when he called New York City, “Hymie Town,” i.e. Jew Town.
    When Koreans arrived in America, they looked around and saw opportunity in the abandoned shops of once-thriving business districts that were declining steadily since the old Jewish shopkeepers retired to Florida.  Every city in America has benefited from the entrepreneurial spirit of the Koreans, including my old Philadelphia neighborhood.  The Koreans will run their shops and educate their children for success in America, just like the Jews.  And when the Koreans retire, other Asian immigrants will step in.            

Sherbo  leesj117@dongguk.edu

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