The Black Lives Matter movement has hit a global scale. South Koreans took to the streets in June to protest the injustice of George Floyd‘s death in the face of police brutality.
On June 12, Asian Boss released a video where they interviewed the most recognized black man in Korea, Sam Okyere, on racism in the country and how this has changed throughout the years.
Sam is a TV personality from Ghana who recently acquired a permanent residency in South Korea. He has lived there since 2009.
As a black man himself, he described how emotional George Floyd’s death made him. The implications of the tragedy were clear as day.
I couldn’t bring myself to watch the whole video because I got very emotional. I’m thinking, that could’ve been my brother. That could’ve been a cousin. That could’ve been a family member, and that person is not there anymore. That person has become a subject of police brutality. For me, it really hit home.
In fact, he also had a frightening encounter with American police in the past due to a speeding charge.
Just the fact that I had police on my trail, that really sparked a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety. I knew that I had to keep calm. I had to keep my hands on the steering wheel. I [should not] reach for anything or do anything.
With this experience in mind, he could not imagine what more the late George Floyd was feeling in his final moments.
While one part of him was almost resigned to the fact that “there goes another black victim”, a bigger part of Sam was thankful that social media amplified the incident.
It’s different this time because we have social media. We have people filming these events and I’m asking myself, if this thing wasn’t filmed, what would’ve been the outcome? But now we have video evidence, so if you say this didn’t happen, this video circulating around the web shows that it did.
Years of systematic oppression has resulted in a skewed system, the TV personality noted. When comparing the difference between being a black man in South Korea as opposed to being one in America, he saw that there was a large gap. Sam recounted the time he and his friend moved furniture from one house to the other.
In Korea, it’s safe to do that. He can take the TV and carry it, whereas in America we would not have been able to do that. Somebody would probably call the police and say, ‘Hey, I see two black men with a TV.’
Unfortunately, there are still notable instances of racism in the country. He detailed an incident in 2013-2014 when he was not given a job position despite qualifying for it as the manager was afraid he would “scare students away” from the hagwon (cram school).
I was in total shock. I could not believe it…I was disgusted. I know personally teachers, they have Master’s degrees in education and whatnot. They teach in Korean hagwons and the parents would tell the operators, ‘Hey, I’m sorry but I don’t want a black teacher teaching my kid’.
While Sam has never heard of physical attacks against black people due to racism, he has known about numerous types of prejudiced thinking from Koreans.
When the kids go to school, they don’t really care, they just want to play around. But parents put it in their heads, ‘Don’t play with the black kid.’ Or when they see a black kid, they try to see if his skin color is going to rub off. I have kids tell me, ‘When I go to school, the kids try to touch my skin. They try to lick my skin. They ask me if I’m starving.’
Fortunately, the situation has greatly improved for black people in South Korea as time has passed.
Over the racism that [fellow black men and women] face, I actually hear, ‘Thank you bro. Because of you, my boss is not racist to me at work’. The story is slowly changing. It’s going from, ‘I hate my boss, they’re always discriminating against me’ to ‘Thank you so much for what you’ve done’.
Even the media is slowly beginning to televise important social issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
Asian Boss: I was surprised that this whole Black Lives Matter movement as well as George Floyd was trending on Korean social media.
Sam: Back in the day there were so many incidents that some Koreans have not known about…Slowly some radio stations and some TV stations are talking about it. Back in the day it would be banned: “We don’t want our viewers listening to that because it’s uncomfortable.” But these are social issues that need to be addressed. So in terms of platforms like television, radio, I feel like they’re slowly being that change where people are a bit more aware and interested in these.
As seen in the demonstrations of the Black Lives Matter movement where Koreans continue to protest, people are slowly beginning to take an active role in social issues.
They’re not just looking at issues from afar, but in a way that they want to contribute and also want to be a part of the solution.
Moreover, by learning about South Korea’s culture, Sam has found ways to connect with Koreans as he never could have before, and thus he could effectively teach others about his own culture.
I see that in [other’s] ignorance there is an opportunity to teach. But before I do that, I have to understand where you guys are coming from. And I took the time and effort to do that.
Dialogue, he emphasized, will always play a vital role in effective communication.
This is why dialogue is so important. Because we need to talk. What is it about me that makes you feel uncomfortable? What is it about me that makes you feel some type of way? Then we talk about it and you realize that at the end of the day, fundamentally and essentially we are all just humans.
Check out the full interview below!