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He is a White Westerner? He Can't Say That!

Posted on the 02 June 2013 by Smudger @ChristopherSm73
He is a White Westerner? He Can't Say That!I grant two things about White Westerners: 1) Their ancestors did a lot of bad things in the past and oppressed people from countries all over the world, and: 2) They are usually still in a position of privilege compared to other races and nations.  It is perhaps easiest for them to criticize given their their exalted position and that their ancestors have had it easier than others.  For these reasons how can they possibly understand other cultures, races, and countries?  Who are they to comment?  What right do they have, given their track record, to advise others on how to behave?
Well, this depends.  Do white westerners have a right to dictate to others?  No.  Do they have a right to be proud of themselves and belittle others?  No.  Do they have a right to suggest that things in other cultures or countries aren't right and that they could do things better?  Absolutely, yes.  Should they just sit idly by and watch as people suffer (and as they suffer themselves) under injustices?  Absolutely, no.
I am a White Western man, guilty as charged.  On this blog I criticize aspects of Korean culture, guilty as charged.  But hang on a minute, I live in Korea and I am married to a Korean, does this not entitle me to have an opinion on the culture?  Is that how it works; you go to live in another country and you just accept how they treat you and each other without questioning it?  I think not.  What difference does it make where I'm from or what color my skin is?  If something is being done badly or wrong, those doing it should be ready for some criticism.  If they can't take this, then it is their problem; it is not like arguing a point is threatening violence, they are words and words alone.
Now words can be harmful and incite violence sometimes.  Ideologies are some of the most deadly aspects involving human nature.  Bad ideas can end up killing millions of people, so I am not saying words don't matter, of course they do, in fact very much so.  The only way to feel safe in a world of conflicting ideas and ways of life is to encourage ideas and opinions to be heard and for all sides to be dispassionate and reasonable in dealing with disagreements.
He is a White Westerner? He Can't Say That!What I do find slightly ironic when I get accused of prejudice or am criticised about making arguments from a 'White man's' perspective is that most of these criticisms come from people who live in Western countries.  These are the people that are meant to be standing-up for freedom of speech and expression in the world, yet it is they who are the biggest callers for my silence on this blog and on other sites.  When I talk about this to my wife or some of my Korean friends, they give me a quizzical look and say things along the lines of, 'why is saying something bad about part of Korean culture so wrong?'  In fact what often gives me confidence in making my arguments on this blog is that I have run them by Korean people first and they often agree.  What I dislike about Korean culture is exactly what many Koreans themselves dislike about Korean culture, and especially those Koreans lower down the hierarchical tree of status, i.e. women and young people.
I can't also help but see some hypocrisy in the way Western liberal-minded people deal with some of my posts.  If I write something positive about Korea, I receive kind comments (gratefully received of course) saying how I have really hit the nail on the head and how it is obvious how I understand and love Korean culture.  If I write something negative, however, I haven't gone into the culture in enough depth, need to read up on the subject, or obviously hold a deep grudge or prejudice towards Korean people.  I have even been accused of suffering with depression after writing a negative blog post about Korea.  So in summary, if you live in another culture and are immersed in it like me, you are only talking with knowledge and authority when you say something nice.  If you are not saying something nice you are either ignorant or some kind of bigot.  I must, however, acknowledge the many kind messages of agreement with my less positive posts that I receive on my blog, and encouragingly these kind words are regularly posted by Korean people themselves.
It is, of course, quite possible that I do write some unjustified codswallop about Korea sometimes, after-all I am a simple blogger and no Einstein.  It is quite probable that during the course of writing a great many blogs now that I have been wrong about a number of things.  If so, however, the best course of action is to counter those specific arguments with better arguments, not play the 'White Westerner, who is he to comment on anyone else but his own race' card.  This move is basically to accuse the person of a degree of racism, it is a soft way of warning the person against being a bigot or at least be careful not to turn into one.  I find this troubling, and although I hate throwing around the word 'racist' as it occurs all too commonly these days in all manner of arguments, it seems to me that criticising people of all different races and cultures as objectively as possible is very anti-racist and those who say I can't comment (or at least should be careful commenting) because I'm white are the one's with the explaining to do.  Most of my problems with Korean culture are born out of the suffering of Korean people within it, not of me personally.  I criticize because I care about these people.  If I don't like something, I go for the culture not the people, there is a big difference here.
He is a White Westerner? He Can't Say That!
Anyone who knows me, and especially my friends from back home in England would also know that I am often equally scathing (if not more so) of my own culture, it is not only one-way traffic on Korea.  This is not to say that I hate my country, I don't, I have a certain love for my homeland and I also have genuine fondness for Korea.  Korea is a place that is not especially well-known in the UK and my friends often have a slightly negative view of the place and think it is a little more backward than it actually is.  In their company I will often tell them the good things about Korea, of which there are many and this blog deals with those too.
As I have said before, there is a negative bias in reporting stories generally and this bias probably extends to this blog also.  Just think if you were an alien and got all your information about the human race from the news; what a sad reflection on human nature it would show, but there is more to us all than that.  However, this doesn't mean that valuable lessons can't be learned from regularly watching the news, as long as it is with an open mind and and a critical eye.
Perhaps it is difficult to trust a white man and what he says about another culture, but maybe you could give me the benefit of the doubt.  I criticize because I care about people (and non-human animals), especially the vulnerable, no matter what color they are, where they are from or what culture they subscribe to.  However, I don't give a damn about offending them if they are wrong, and especially if they are using cultural traditions for their own advantage over other people or infringing on their rights because of cultural philosophies best left in the past, which have no reasonable basis to back them up.  I am a white man, an ancestor of the those that were part of the British Empire.  This doesn't mean I am who they were, but I am guilty of criticising a culture that I wasn't born into and I am proud of that fact.

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