Are we learning from our past?
Last April marked the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, a one-week period of civil unrest fueled by racial tensions and high unemployment, infamously known by the Korean community as ``Saigu.”
On April 29, 1992, Los Angles, known for its ethnically diverse population and culture, became a battle zone fractured by race when a jury acquitted a group of mostly white Los Angeles Police Department officers ― who were taped beating Rodney King, an African American, after a high speed pursuit. The violence on the streets escalated following other racially-related incidents, such as the shooting of Latasha Harlins by storekeeper Du Soon-ja.
Two decades after the riots, America has become more ethnically and culturally diverse. According to the U.S. Census Bureau report on July 1, 2008, the country’s minority population reached an estimated 104.5 million ― a 3 percent increase from a year 2000 Census report.
Although more people of different backgrounds and culture are moving to and living in the United States, the number does not necessarily mean that there has been a significant improvement in race relations.
The election of Barrack Obama, the spread of “Linsanity”, and the shooting of Trayvon Martin have all demonstrated that race is still a critical issue in America. There is a need for civil discourse and productive interaction within people of different cultures if we want to address existing racial problems ranging from racial stereotypes to institutionalized racial profiling.
Currently, the developments following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old African American, by George Zimmerman, a multicultural Hispanic from a highly privileged household, are being observed closely by American viewers.
Although two months have passed since the actual incident, news commentators have continued to scrutinize the circumstances surrounding the shooting to determine whether the act was motivated by racial profiling or by self-defense. The case demonstrates the difficulties stemming from long-standing racial tensions and guilt through which multiracial nations must navigate.
These racial tensions are not just limited to America. Korea has its own issues regarding race and culture, especially in the current global economy, where trans-national migrations are becoming more common. Through Korea is slowly moving away from its xenophobic past, its people still discriminate against foreigners.
According to a 2011 article in The Diplomat, there are an estimated 25,000 non-Korean university graduates from the Anglosphere ― the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Ireland. This group of people currently makes up the most vocal critics of the racial discrimination and xenophobic attitudes that are frequently expressed in Korea.
As Korea becomes home to a growing number of immigrants, its ethnic citizens need to remember that as a member of the ever-advancing global economy, the nation must be willing to let go of its baseless racial prejudices.
The circumstances of our birth, including our race and our heritage, are not for us to decide. But under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, ``All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
As countries like Korea and United States want to be seen as a positive role model, it is important that before they spread this message of tolerance and acceptance. Their citizens regardless of their background should be seen and treated with respect.
The writer is a student at Smith College, Wash. Her email address is email@example.com.