PERSPECTIVE ON BLACK / KOREAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS : Body Language Stokes the Anger : Hiring a few blacks is one way to improve communications--the vibes--between the two communities.

<i> The Rev. Cecil L. (Chip) Murray is pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. This was excerpted from an interview with The Times</i>

In America, ideally, people are free to rise to the top and meet their goals. However, racism negates that ideal of upward mobility. Instead of allowing you to act positively to rise to the top, racism forces you to react negatively and focus on staying away from the bottom. So black Americans have an intense struggle with other ethnic groups for the crumbs that fall off tables of the privileged.

African-Americans and Korean-Americans share Los Angeles, the world’s greatest city. However, we see insensitivity and lapses into inhumanity.

The primary cause is perception. The hostility of some Korean-American shop owners isborn of generalizations based on a stereotype that Hollywood and radio exported--a black, watermelon-eating doll, a caricature, can still be found in Japan. It’s also the result of the absence of blacks in foreign embassies and economic delegations that go abroad.

To a large measure, the interface involves the Korean-American merchant who operates in the black community. These merchants tend to hire relatives, which is understandable. After all, a small business cannot afford a large payroll. However, many of these merchants could benefit if they learned more about their customers. If they learned more, they would conclude that African-Americans, like other people, deserve and demand respect.


There are no precise studies, but if you gathered 1,000 black customers who have patronized Korean-owned shops, they will invariably say that the shop owner’s hardness of tone and body language is the contempt they have seen for two centuries in this country. These customers are not being paranoid. Any customer knows when he or she is being generously received, as compared to being received with contempt. The climate, then, becomes more than ripe for the manifestation of resentment and anger, a response to yet another ethnic group putting down blacks.

After helping to build the foundation of this country--railroads and buildings that they were not allowed to inhabit--blacks find it extremely insulting to have first-generation or third-generation residents treat them with utter disdain. In some cases, it’s a disdain for anything but the (money coming in)--money that is then taken out of the community. These frustrations mount up into a pyramid of justifiable anger.

If you were to ask: “What is remedial?” I would say we must go back to basics--dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Again, African-Americans have to persuade yet another ethnic minority of our common humanity. The message: “We bleed just like you. Do not take our 3% criminal class and generalize 97% of us.”

Here’s another answer to our problem. Korean businesses could try to find a way to employ blacks not only for visibility but for the trade it brings. Blacks would then know that it’s OK to patronize that store because the presence of a black employee would be an indication that the shop owner wants to be a part of the community.


A third remedy might involve simple image-raising action. Why not award scholarships for black youths? Why not set up some basic workshops for emerging black entrepreneurs? Why not place some ads in the black media? Why not join the neighborhood association in which the business is located? Why not conduct business in the African-American community the same way as in the Korean-American community? These are steps that could improve the situation. As for the role of blacks in improving the relationship, blacks should again arrange a form of group therapy--this time with Korean-Americans. Let’s have group interaction; let’s have social exchanges; let’s exchange church visits; let’s discover each other; let’s visit each other’s homes. Yes, let’s do all of that to prove that all of us bleed--if cut. We must take action because currently we are cutting each other.