The People -v- The Black Guy on the Bus

Courtesy of The Marmots Hole this piece of ‘news’ came into my world. I’m sure much more has been said and much more will be said.I’m sure much more has been said and much more will be said. If you are really interested I will allow you to spend your afternoon taking in the comments section in the post – there are some wonderful, inteligent commentors to marvel at. All of that aside I want to chime in with my own little tome. These are just a few things I was mulling over as I walked home from work (yes, today in that heat…perhaps I’m delirious) – I didn’t take the bus because I was afraid of ajjoshis, but because I need to lose some weight and I like walking at night during the summer.

In the above blog post, I felt much of the blame seemed to be levelled at the black fella who did the shouting at the poor old Korean ajjoshi. And, perhaps that is the right thing to do because I suppose he was morally wrong, right? He shouldn’t have turned around and aggressively responded by shouting choice phrases like “see these nuts?”. He looks like a big enough fella and the poor misfortunate old man was properly terrified – I’d say he didn’t expect a response like he got! Either way, he still shouldn’t have done it, right?

Of course, as an expat/immigrant/smelly waeg and someone who makes a living in the same industry as the gentleman asking the questions on the bus, I should be embarrassed and try to reason with the rest of the Korean community that “we’re not all like that”. We are rational. We assess the situation before flipping off the handle. We consider the whole situation before we lash out when someone addresses us rudely. Bollocks. We are as human as both the perpetrators of this mini-scandal on the bus and I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who read this will take a side, and rightly so. In fact I’d be concerned if they didn’t. I won’t as I prefer the fence to criticise those messing in the mud below my goldenness. I will ask you to consider a few things though in hindsight.

I’m going to run a few scenarios and express some opinions on this situation. Much of this has been built around Robert Koehler’s blog post but are not meant to be an actual attack on his (your) opinion, they are just some observations. I hope you like them.

  1. The black fella was pissed off, it is clear. Why? Because a man on the bus clearly told him to ‘shut up’, right? How busy was that bus? It was fairly packed. So how did he get his attention? I imagine it was far from a polite “excuse me sir, would you be so kind as to shut up”? Hardly. My guess is that he did either one of two things: shouted “hey you, HEY YOU! SHUT UP!”; poked him in the arm and looked him right in the eye and said in a far from friendly tone, “shut up”.  I don’t care what anyone says, when a stranger tells you to shut up on the bus, you will perceive that as a challenge. Shut up is not a polite term, and the ajjoshi who said it knew what he was saying. Remember, he was only 61. He may have looked older but he definitely was not senile and definitely capable of composing his own thoughts. If he knew ‘shut up’ and ‘I don’t know’ then he probably knows ‘be quiet’, although ‘please’ is probably pushing it. There are a lot of men in Korea who think that because they have a penis they are entitled to be right all the time. This kind of arrogance leads to many of the same men to be bullies, plain and simple. This is my own observation after over five years in Korea and of course I know not every man is like this, but there are many who are. Many believe the oceans should part for them if they were to attempt to cross the sea, but unfortunately this is not the case as the sea (I’m talking in metaphors now) also has to exist in the same space. That ajjoshi knew what he was saying and got his just desserts for thinking it was ok to say it. 
  2. Now, why did the ajjoshi say shut up? Because the black lad was talking ‘loudly’ on the bus. Well, this is even more ridiculous. The buses are loud. It’s hard to hear someone addressing you, and especially when you don’t speak the language. Even more so, few people talk on the bus, except when they’re on their phones. Everyone minds their own business, staring blankly out the window or into the screen of their smartphone, myself included. People don’t enjoy the bus – look at the faces of people the next time you see a bus passing. There are no happy faces staring out like the pictures we all drew to accompany “The Wheels on the Bus” song when we were five. This is not only in Korea, it is everywhere. Why? Because people are usually going to or coming home from work. If you hear people talking on the bus they automatically stand out. If they are talking in a foreign language then this is even more so the case. I’m sure this is not the first time that something like this has happened in the world, and I’m fairly sure a lot worse has resulted. To suggest that Americans or foreigners are loud and obnoxious on public transport is probably fair – I mean who talks on the bus? It’s almost as ridiculous as having a quiet beer on your own in a bar while you read a good book. Unheard of.   
  3. Why did he fly off the handle? Well for starters he admitted he was wrong and wanted to apologise. Then he said he was offended when told to “shut up” and he felt that the ajjoshi was disparaging black people. I can understand why. Black people do not have it as easy as the sunshine press in Korea would like to claim. The racism in Korea is very crude and old-fashioned. I’ve heard black people being referred to as monkeys, gorillas, and being clearly talked down to. This is the kind of stuff my grandfather comes out with, and he has dementia. I remember I worked with a black woman from New York who had an awful experience in a hagwon I was working in. The parents, pure and simple, didn’t want a large, black woman – who was also a proud mother and happily married – teaching their children. No reason was given directly, but we were not idiots. In the end she left the job. I’m sure her experience is not unique. That being said I knew a few other black guys who got on fine with their employers, and were very popular. Maybe it’s an attitude thing, which is where my point is here. Maybe the black fella, which is what he is constantly referred to as, was pissed off because he got the same shit everyday from his boss who looked just like the ajjoshi Remember what Eddie Murphy said: . He clearly didn’t understand the ajjoshi, but then again should he have? While we’ve no idea how long he has been in Korea, it is likely that no one has ever tried to address him in Korean because there is an assumption that because he is a foreigner he can’t speak Korean, so why bother learning (don’t say there isn’t – there is). That aside, the guy insulted him in an English that was probably sounding broken up and sylabic, and then proceeded to use the word 니가, or nee-ga, to a black guy. What would you think if you were there? And even if you did speak some Korean, you would have to be quite proficient to understand it as it can’t have been easy to understand what he was saying. I imagine that the well meaning ajjoshi also said it in as aggressive tone as he said ‘shut up’. Not everyone is perfect and to respond like he did to an accusation like that is a little immature, and thick to be honest (whatever happened to being above that kind of idiocy), but he might also have been pushed too far. When people are pushed too far they have been known to go to extremes and to take ownership of the situation. This may have been a situation like that.

So what happens next? The black fella has offered to apologise and will probably get a slap on the wrist – although remember if you listen carefully you can hear the black fella say something about the ajjoshi slapping him on the face, which means the ajjoshi should also receive an official telling off. I think he knows he has done wrong. Perhaps there’ll be some form of penance.  

Assholes aside, I truly believe most people here who teach English are decent, relatively lazy but well meaning middle(ish) class, who have a minimum standard of higher education (which counts as little these days in the circus of life, but it’s a start I suppose). I’ve also found that most American people here are quite open minded and accepting of the foreignness of Korea. I don’t know if this guy is an asshole. I would assume that he does fulfil some of the above criteria, which is something.

There are a few problems that I now see growing. Thanks to the internet, which of course informed of this unfortunate event, this event will probably be blown totally out of proportion. The police should handle it, and it should be forgotten, but with the combined opinionative forces  of youtube, facebook, twitter, and fire-stokers like my wonderful self, it will probably snowball to a ridiculous proportion. That being said, the vast majority of people will probably forget in a week when the next public transport battery scandal arises.

As for the black fella? Maybe he won’t get his contract renewed, maybe he’ll move on. He shouldn’t get deported otherwise there’s no hope for any of us if it ever all goes south. In the end, I reckon he’ll listen a bit more carefully in future. As for the ajjoshi? He has probably learned to watch his mouth too

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13 thoughts on “The People -v- The Black Guy on the Bus

  1. >In the end, I reckon he’ll listen a bit more carefully in future. As for the ajjoshi? He has probably learned to watch his mouth too

    You, sir, are a racist.
    Yep.
    Why do I say this?
    Because you’re treating the criminal differently because of his race. You, as a black, feel you have to stand up for blacks everywhere. You say that you are ‘on the fence’ when anyone with a cubic centimeter of morals would be able to see how fucking disgusting this attack is, no matter what provocation was given. You minimize the disgustingness of the assault, forget about the age, and everything. All you do is call this guy a ‘black fella’ and say that he’s ‘learnt his lesson’ or that he’ll receive a ‘slap on the wrist’.

    In fact, that motherfucker needs to be put in a jail for years for that shit.

    You defend him because he’s one of ‘your people’. If it were a white man that attacked an elderly black, how would you respond?

    And perhaps most disgustingly to me, you insinuate that the Korean grandfather somehow ‘deserved it’. That he ‘deserved’ to be beaten, assaulted, and humiliated in public at the age of 61 by some foreign cunt who comes to his country without even speaking the language.

    You imply that he’s ‘learned to watch his mouth’ in regards to his imaginary behavior towards the black man that you seem to have artfully conjured up. Well you sir, you’re just a dick. The fact that you refuse to take a moral stand on this (obviously because of the color of the man’s skin) and condemn it shows you for what you are – a racist and a fool, no better than that black on the bus. You and your kind have got to learn some damn manners.
    As intellectual and unbiased as you may deem yourself to be, you still show what you really are. I hope you get deported, bitch.

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    • I’m Irish. It’s in my nature to be a racist.

      As I said, the black guy will be, or should be, punished. The reaction was ridiculous! What the punishment is is up to whoever decides these things in Korea. I hope it’s not you.

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    • Ryotaro mate, you really are an unhappy man. The language you’ve used to make your point is disgusting and the level of spite you’ve brought to the discussion shows a deep sense of worthlessness in yourself. For you to write in such a manner hiding behind your monitor also shows you to be a coward and a boor. I suspect you wouldn’t have the courage to say it to this blogwriter’s face. You’re probably pretty wimpy and weak but that’s not the point. You talk about manners? Ha!

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  2. My goodness. Conor, even if I don’t agree with your final statement that he shouldn’t get deported, I appreciate that you attempted to more or less present the situation in a balanced manner. I guess Ryotaro is familiar with you or your blog because your own ethnicity never occurred to me as I was reading it. Ryotaro was about as nasty to you just now as the black “fella” on the bus was to the old man. Oh, what nutz men grow in cyberspace!

    But yeah, his reaction was ridiculous. I’m not so much saying he should get deported, but more like it just wouldn’t bother me at all if he did. No doubt they were both in the wrong, but the black guy’s thug act was just over the top and so out of line. He’s a guest in this country, plain and simple. If he said something nasty back to what may have been a rude old man, who really cares. But his attempt to freak out and intimidate everyone on the bus–what an idiot.

    I’ve tried to get a taxi with a black man in Seoul. What an eye opener that was. Usually the fourth or fifth empty one stopped and offered us a ride, probably because by that time, it was my blonde self actually waving one down. That hasn’t been the case in Busan, thankfully, but the black guy on the bus just gave a lot of Koreans–unjustly to be sure, but you know it’s true–an excuse to carry on with their racism and discrimination. He behaved like a low-class thug. I hope he gets fired.

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  3. And the black guy didn’t touch him.

    Yes, he did. Tried to throttle him, in fact. Caused injuries that will take two weeks to heal.

    If I may, I’d like to make some observations about your observations:

    1. I’m going to leave aside your criticism of a 61 year old man’s English to address the more serious issue. Namely, the entire second half of your point amounts to profiling based on ethnicity and age. Now, that’s fine — they say without generalizations, there is no wisdom. But profiling cuts both ways, especially in this case. If we can profile “ajeossi” and say he “knew what he was saying and got his just desserts for thinking it was ok to say it,” what profile might we make about Mr. H, a young African-American male? Especially given his language, dress and mannerisms? In fact, given what we saw in the video, and what we’ve read in the papers, it seems we have much more evidence to conclude the Mr. H is a young, violence-prone thug than we do with the victim being an “ajeossi who go this just desserts”… a disturbing enough conclusion to draw, as I believe even in Ireland, it’s considered bad form for big, young guys to beat up older folk, regardless of how cantankerous they may or may not be.

    2. I still don’t get why you think it’s ridiculous that “Ajeossi” told him to shut up because the black guy was talking “loudly.” Why not? Americans are loud, and Koreans aren’t the only ones to think so:

    http://traveltips.usatoday.com/ireland-travel-etiquette-3374.html
    http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/Top-ten-tips-on-your-first-visit-to-Ireland-121696824.html

    This, I must say, took me back — my mom’s side of the family (the Morrisons) always said I whispered like an Irishman…

    Anyway, I’ve seen it — and more to the point, heard it — a lot. On buses, subways, trains. Foreigners, and Americans in particular, talking way too loudly. And yeah, some people still subscribe to the quaint notion that it’s rude to speak loudly in a foreign language in a public place. Heck, there have been times where I’ve come close to telling the overly boisterous foreigner to keep it down on the bus.

    What’s amazing, actually, is that “Ajeossi” actually had the balls to tell the kid to keep it down. Especially when you contrast that with how nobody said anything to these louts on the subway:

    http://www.rjkoehler.com/2011/05/10/foreign-louts-drink-play-cards-on-subway-ohmynews/

    4. Far be it for me to say that black folk don’t have it rough, but like I said, this goes both ways. If this had been a video of an “ajeossi” going off on a foreigner on a bus, would we be so “understanding” of “ajeossi”‘s hard life story? Because I’ll tell you this — no matter how bad Mr. H thinks he’s had it, it’s nowhere even close to how tough your average “ajeossi” has had it. Look at the two individuals in this situation. At 61, the victim here had to live through Korea’s post-war rebuilding, 2.5 military dictators, forced-march industrialization, etc., etc, etc. It is highly likely — given the unequal relationship between Korea and the United States during that time — that his interactions with foreigners would have been few and unpleasant. Now, you could have observed this, but instead, you went direct to “There are a lot of men in Korea who think that because they have a penis they are entitled to be right all the time…”

    As for the language issue, “feeling” like he was insulting black people is not a good enough reason to commit assault and battery against a 61 year old man. You’d better be damned sure that’s what he’s doing before you try to throttle Point being, it was more than “a little immature” to react as he did — it was criminal. And to most people who watched that video, repugnant.

    Anyway, nice post.

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    • Some of my tamer choices of words were an attempt at sarcasm. If you read any of my other posts you will see that’s how I generally approach serious topics. The whole essay was just an attempt at trying to understand why it happened as cases like this aren’t always black and white, and understanding why would give us a better perspective on how to deal with it in the future.

      Thanks for putting some things in perspective for me also:

      – He was on the phone, alone, and talking. Which can be more annoying especially when the guy is loud!
      – I didn’t know the old man got injured or hurt. If I had I would have mentioned it and taken it from a different perspective. Although, two weeks is far from life threatening.
      – Perhaps you are right, the aj was brave to stand up to him, although a bit of tact would have served him better.
      – Saw the fellas on the subway. Now, that was embarrassing and uncalled for and took the whole ‘I’m-a-foreigner-I-can-do-what-I want-to” attitude that exists among some of us too far.
      – As for the ifs about who was going off (a previous poster suggested if it was a white guy against and old black man) that’s only something we can consider when it happens. Although I’m sure you recall the ajumma on the subway who beat seven shades out of some young girl on the subway a while ago…

      Criminal it was, but Korea has laws and he will be punished according to them. Many think it should be more severe (perhaps because he’s a foreigner) but then haven’t people been complaining that foreigners aren’t treated equally in Korea for so long? This is an justice issue, not an immigration issue.

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  4. Woops, that last paragraph should read:

    You’d better be damned sure that’s what he’s doing before you try to throttle the guy, and even then, you’re still an asshole. Point being, it was more than “a little immature” to react as he did — it was criminal. And to most people who watched the video, repugnant.

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  5. We have a different take on this, I think. It’s never cool to to threaten and physically abuse people who are older and weaker than you, just as it’s never cool to do so to kids. It’s a no-brainer, and I’m astounded that even one or two people have even hinted at taking this guy’s side.

    Maybe he needs to apologize also to all of us as well, all us waygookin. His actions do not affect only him, but will alter and likely shade with anxiety and apprehension, the images Koreans conjure in their minds whenever they see any of us on the street – or on a bus.

    If he hasn’t been escorted to Incheon by authorities already, I can’t imagine how he could stay in this country, let alone work with kids or use public transportation, now that his face has been plastered all over a dozen different websites here. I just don’t see that happening – and yeah, it was never easy for teachers of African heritage to find teaching gigs in this country, and right now it will likely be near-impossible.

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    • Yes, life will be more difficult for him here from now on for certain, and deservedly so. I wasn’t trying to condone his behaviour although I know it may look like he was. Just offering my own obscure perspective on the world.

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  6. First of all I want to say hello to everyone! =) NOW, we all have our perspectives valid or sound, nevertheless these are opinions not directly involved with the physical situation which had occurred on that bus… so let’s all agree we’re not gonna make a direct change to their life! (just ours!) I noticed there are tons of slippery slope as far as “creating” an probable scenario of both parties profile… Let’s all agree we don’t personally know the two characters and that “profiling” them is as good as judging the book by its covers!!!!! The real MAGIC happens when we “high profile” these two men, however, that would be realistically unrealistic, because doing so requires for us to meet, sit, and have talk with them! So… let’s all agree on that also!… Justice is about balancing actions with consequence, we all practice it except we call it “common sense”! When our emotions react, depending on our gained discipline our judgements of how life unfolds varies… Those who are emotional and less rational will be more hypothetical than those more logical who will react more categorical… The difference with both men is discipline, nevertheless both are an acquired imperatives!! (Men never fights because of race, nationality, colors, culture, Pride, etc… Those are just the “excuses” to fight! .. The real reason why Men fight is because of intelligence, and they all varies). There are humans and there are animals… Two terms yet exact same species! … Sorry!! for those who still didn’t graduate that means modern men came from dinosaurs! =) Take care everyone!

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  7. Pingback: The A – Z of Korea | If I had a minute to spare…

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