When I came to the U.S. as a student in the early 1960s, racism was still rampant in the country. It was not just African-Americans, but also Asians, who were severely discriminated against. Koreans were even more looked down on because Korea was thought to be a poor, dirty country full of thieves.
At the time, many female students from Korea told others that they were from Japan. Japan was envied most by other Asian countries for its rapid economic development. Since Japan’s economic development was always praised in the U.S., people from Japan were naturally treated with relatively high regard. Korean students, with the lowest status among Asians, had to endure discrimination that they blamed on the extreme poverty of their country.
Though it does not feel so long ago that this kind of discrimination happened in the U.S., the U.S. of today has improved greatly on the issue of racial discrimination, and it is regarded as a country that is racially more tolerant than any other country in the world and a country where many races and ethnicities consider each other and live together in harmony. Even this level of racial harmony was made possible only by the success of steady efforts that only the U.S. could make, such as anti-discrimination movements and anti-discrimination laws against racism.
It is something for Americans to be proud of all kinds of people that live within America abiding by the law, while preserving the uniqueness of their culture. However, the continuous illegal immigration of Hispanics and the deeply-rooted discrimination against black people are painful issues that still hurt American society.
A major problem is the prejudiced perception that others have of African-Americans in America. After reading news articles that state African-Americans have the highest crime rate and make up more than half of prisoners in the U.S., crime is the first thing that comes to one’s mind when one encounters an African-American. Though legal discrimination has almost disappeared, social discrimination is still there.
While successful African-Americans do not experience racial discrimination at all, living in white neighborhoods, those who fall behind cannot get out of black neighborhoods, which have insufficient educational facilities and poor living conditions, and people have lived there for several generations in isolation from mainstream society.
However, since small convenience stores or liquor stores in black neighborhoods are said to be rather profitable, many Korean-Americans run such stores in those areas, which everybody avoids, despite the risks. So, whenever there is a riot by black people, it damages Korean-American stores.
For example, a series of riots, the largest and worst race riots in American history, started in Los Angeles on April 29, 1992. The Los Angeles riots were started by African-Americans who were angry at the acquittal of four white policemen who beat up an African-American man with their batons. The riots began in black neighborhoods in the southern part of Los Angeles, and moved toward the northern part where white neighborhoods are. The riots, the worst in terms of the damage they caused, destroyed everything in their way. On their way north was located Koreatown, and rioters tried to go through Koreatown to get to the white neighborhoods.
But the rioters failed to reach the white neighborhoods, stopped in Koreatown by tenacious, well-organized resistance from Korean-Americans. With the deployment of 10,000 California National Guard troops, the riots were suppressed completely. During these riots, 58 people died, and 2,100 people were arrested. There were countless incidents of arson and looting. The economic damage to Koreatown, which was at the center of the riots in their final stage, was also enormous.
The recent riots in Ferguson, Mo., were much smaller in scale. Due to quick responses from the Missouri governor, such as declaring a state of emergency, implementing a curfew, and finally mobilizing the Missouri National Guard into Ferguson, the riots did not spread, and only one Korean-American store was damaged. Furthermore, President Obama sent the attorney general to Ferguson and had the FBI investigate the incident. These nimble responses calmed down the unrest. As a result, the National Guard was withdrawn and peace has returned to the town.
Unlike the time of the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the social status and economic power of African-Americans have improved rapidly, and now a black president has even been re-elected predominantly with support from Asian Americans and Hispanic. Crying out racism does not work anymore. According to the demographic data from the Census Bureau, white Americans will become a racial minority, making up less than 50 percent of the U.S. population, by 2042.
I still think that the U.S. is the country that is more racially tolerant than any other country in the world. And, I think, that is why I, someone who was despised as a poor Korean, could be elected to Congress, one of the highest institutions of the U.S., three times.
In my opinion, there’s no place better than America.