Friday, September 17, 2010

"No Africans and Asians allowed"

Saturday, August 14 2010

We spent Saturday organizing and packing things in my apartment. Darmesh and I got ready to go out clubbing in the evening. We first stopped over in Itaewon, which I'll say not my favourite place to hang out at. We just had a bite to eat and walked around. There's a Taco Bell which opened a couple of months ago in Itaewon, to the delight of my American friends.

Taco Bell in Itaewon
When we arrived in Hongdae, it started raining. There were two particular clubs (in the same complex) I wanted us to go to. The first, which is in a basement is called M2 and they play House music, while upstairs there is Q-Vo where they play Hip Hop. I've been to both these clubs a few times and had great fun in both of them. As we approached the club to join the queue, one of the bouncers dressed in a suit approached us and asked me, "Where are you from?" to which I obviously replied, "South Africa". He went inside and spoke to an older looking man. He came out again and said, "I'm sorry, but Africans and Asians cannot come into this club." He was kidding, right? Hell no. I asked him what he meant by that and he said it had nothing to do with him. "It's order from management," he told me.

I was infuriated. He asked to see my ID. I told him that I work and live in Korea and that my brother was visiting me (he had his South African ID as well).  The older man then came out and told me the same thing. I demanded to know why, but of course, he wouldn't give me a reason. Meanwhile, looking over his shoulder there was a group of foreign girls walking in with no problem.  I pointed to them and asked, "So those Caucasian girls are allowed in, but WE are not?" I wanted him to say it again. Africans and Asians are not allowed in this club. I told him I'd been there many times before (In my mind I realized that I'd been there with either Korean or white friends - which is why I probably didn't have a problem).

The two men told me to wait a moment while they went inside, and when they came back out, they gestured towards the queue which we could now suddenly join. I was pissed off, to say the least. Did I really want to spend money at this club? A club that discriminated against Africans and Asians?

We left, and thought we'd try the club upstairs. Besides, it was raining and I was not prepared to walk around getting wet looking for a club. Q-Vo used to be my favourite club because of its music. The area of Hongdae is populated with students, so clubs are jam-packed with 19-year olds who dress like 50 Cent. I kid you not!

Standing on the stairs to get into Q-Vo, my eyes met with the bouncer standing on the staircase. We exchanged half a smile and I noticed he lifted the collar of his suit blazer to speak into a little microphone. Immediately I knew that he was alerting people inside about us. I kept my cool. By the time we reached the top of the stairs to get in, there was a guy who suddenly appeared and asked where we were from and wanted to see our ID's. He said something to another guy and we were let in.

Our mood was already spoiled and I just wasn't feeling the vibe of the club. As I anticipated, it was full of young university students. The DJ was just mediocre dropping pretty old tunes. One thing I have to give the club props for is their cleanliness. There are people hovering around the bar area constantly wiping the counter and removing empty glasses.

Darmesh and I hung around at the bar for a while, before we were separated. I went outside to look for him and the bouncer told me he'd gone across the road. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we eventually found each other and went for a waffle at 2:30am.  By this time, it was pouring with rain.

When I'd been in Hongdae before (with Korean friends), I had absolutely no problem getting a cab to go home. The street was lined with cabs, yet it took me over 30 minutes to find one to take us home. Now when you're a foreigner in Korea, believe me when I say you stick out like a sore thumb. So I couldn't help but notice an African guy who was also trying to hail a cab. He wanted to go to Itaewon (maybe 10-15 minutes from where we were) whereas my destination was about an hour away. This guy called out "ajjosshi" (meaning "uncle" in Korea) and with my own eyes I saw every cab driver ignore him or roll up their window and drive away...stopping just a few meters away for Korean people who got in with no hassle.

This pissed me off even more. A conversation with a friend, Grace kept replaying in my mind. "Some Korean people don't like African people," she told me. She even went as far as telling me that she once had a co-teacher who was African-American and apparently, the people in his apartment building wouldn't get into the elevator if he was in it. 

This bothered me for quite some time. Koreans don't like black people? So why are people like Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks so popular amongst Koreans? Grace told me, "...because they have status. They are rich.

I wrote a guest blog for Grubstreet on this very topic. Because of that blog, titled Racism and Stereotypes in South Korea, I received dozens of emails from around the world. While it's not surprising that it ruffled a few feathers, many people thanked me for bringing such a topic to the surface. If you have a chance, do take a look and let me hear your opinion.

After my brother shared our incident with some of his DJ friends back in South Africa, we both agreed to just brush it off and take it as a proverbial "life lesson" or simply say, "shit happens". I could have kicked up a bigger fuss. At the time, I was fuming and they could see it, but what else could I say or do? One thing to remember in a situation like this is that the language barrier is very strong, so in a country like a Korea where I am a guest, I felt pretty helpless.

I could very well say things like, "How can things like this happen in 2010?" but the reality of it is that it does happen.

What would you have done if this happened to you? Let me know!

1 comment:

Nicki said...

Wow, that's all I can really say.

IMO, I love Korean music and movies...but in reality, I do feel a sense of prejudice from them myself. I'm a dark skin Asian, so they don't care about me. I am not stick skinny like them. So when I go to a mostly Korean area, I feel discriminated too.

The dark skinned Asians are known to be lower class than the light skinned Asians. I feel more discrimination from Koreans and Japanese because many of them feel that they are above Asians.

However, I cannot believe that in Korea, itself, they would discriminate against Asians, in general...maybe dark skinned Asians.

I agree about the hip hop industry sweeping across Korea. Many of them, wanna look and sound hip hop...but because of status, it's looked beyond differently...