The Black Barbie Chronicles: What It’s Like to Be Black Barbie

Not much background to give to this one.  This is during the winter time and I began to realize that I may not be everyone’s cup of tea here in KoreaLand.  Enjoy.

Finally, a question I can answer even if you don’t want the damn answer. When I first arrived to teach in Busan, South Korea, in November of last year, I anticipated life being different. Damn, the beginning sounds so pretentious. Anyhoo, I knew that I was going to be placed in a homogeneous society; what I did not know was how different it would feel. Not only was everyone the same color, (again, who’s the racist in this little story), but they all spoke Korean and in some cases even dressed the same. (Me, I’m the Racist). In my city, I did not see any people of color. With few people around that looked like me, had my skin color, and natural hair, I kind of stuck out whenever I would venture outside my door. I remember one morning heading to the local neighborhood market and a woman stopped in her tracks to gawk at me. Seriously, she’s walking spots me, stops, and stares. Now I am accustomed to the usual stares from people on the street. This was different. When I tell you what was in her eyes was pure, undiluted hatred. I think I would have been better received at a Klan rally than by this woman. Even now, I am not sure why she hated me so. I felt like the sins of Black people past has been visited upon me, and the woman decided that I must pay for the sins. Whatever it was, she wanted me to pay for something.

People may not know all the gestures and signs, and very little if any of the language, but everyone can tell if someone is curious or downright hateful. This woman’s stare was more toward the hateful side. It was at that very moment I experienced my first outward hatred toward my race. As hard as it is to believe, I was fortunate to have never experienced outward racism even in Texas of all places.   That day, I was made painfully aware that not every Korean stare is out of curiosity. Some people did not like what they were seeing. Let’s call this The Blackness, which is Black Barbie.

Even at school, ignorance reared its ugly head. After one of my 8th-grade classes, a couple of students used magnetic letters to write the n-word, along with other derogatory remarks, in a poorly structured sentence. The little bastards faced severe consequences from my co-teachers, but the key takeaway is that the students who did it understood that there was a negative connotation with the n-word and its connection to me as a black person.

In spite of this incident, my positive experiences have outweighed the negative here in Korea. There have been times where I’ve been asked how I get my hair so curly (many Koreans perm their hair for a curly look), and if they could touch my hair. The look I give is enough. DO NOT TOUCH A BLACK WOMAN’S HAIR!!!!! I’ve also had store owners look at me with a funny face, but tell my Korean friends that I am beautiful. While there have been a few highly questionable moments, overall the Korean people I have encountered are intrigued by me because I am different.

I have noticed that there doesn’t seem to be an apparent hatred towards other races in Korea. Well, unless you’re a Russian hooker Again, more on this later. Actually, Korea is considered an open door for foreigners. Westerners are encouraged to teach here and are given lavish perks. When people stop me on the street ask me what I do for work, they smile in delight when I tell them I’m an English teacher. What the hell did they expect me to say; that I am a Russian hooker. Remind me to tell you guys more on Korea, Busan, and Russian hookers.

In Korea, most college-educated people speak English very well, and it’s taken a sign of social status. Now I understand, due to Korea being a homogeneous society, I must realize that their understanding of race is limited. Most of the curiosity comes from lack of exposure, which explains why there is a significant push to hire foreign teachers. Although Koreans see me as different, my differences are what makes me shine.

Hey check out next week for The Short Bus Chronicles.

F.M. Laster

“I never loved another person the way I loved myself”. – Mae West



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