Monday, April 14, 2008

Sa-I-Gu

There were several strands of thought occured in my mind during the film

1. The fact that these events were labeled Sa-I-Gu made me think of 9/11, especially after watching the billows of smoke rise from destroyed Korean-owned stores. I then began thinking about the disillusionment and shock experienced by those affected by both of these crises. The fixity of referring to a tragic event by a certain date is interesting because it immobilizes a collective memory in time, but it can also obscure the social conditions and events that may have led up to that tragedy. It almost seems like by referring to an event by a date, one can maintain a certain degree of distance from emotional suffering it caused.

2. The idea of the Korean community serving as a "sacrificial lamb" struck me as a important one. I think that beyond its religious connotations and indication of the Korean community's innocence, the choice of calling one's community a sacrifice rather than a victim underlines two points which may or may not be contested. The first being that there is a greater purpose to the tragedy and second being that the perpetrator accountability is downplayed in comparison to the greater purpose. However, in this case, the "greater purpose" was to divert black retaliation away from whites

3. I think there is a tendency to attribute the Sa-I-Gu incident to cross-cultural misunderstanding. After one woman spoke in the documentary about her husband telling her to always place the change in the customer's hand, I remembered reading in my AP US History class about tensions that existed before the riots because blacks perceived Korean storeowners as being rude, such as by not looking the customer in the eye. As Mrs. Han quotes hearing black customers say, "Many Koreans don't try to understand black customers...you were brainwashed by white people...you were educated by white people." I wouldn't deny that these types of misinterpretation played a role in the tensions, but sometimes emphasizing the culture over the power politics conceals the structural racism lies behind such incidents.

4. Thinking back to the Prashad chapter entitled the "Merchant is Always a Stranger," I think that historical parallels can be made between Sa-I-Gu and the racial tensions between blacks and Jewish merchants in Harlem. That is, beyond a simple generalization that Asians are the new Jews. I wonder whether if, as Baldwin says, "the Negro is really condemning the Jew for having become an American white man," this same sentiment would have applied to Korean grocers in LA, even if Asians physically appear and act less "white." I wonder if there was a collective remembrance of this type of resentment amongst blacks hat was manipulated by the media and diverted towards the "sacrifical lamb" after the Rodney King incident.

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