I am not here today to make a political analysis of the grand jury that refused to indict Darren Wilson. I am not here to make a social commentary on the treatment of Michael Brown. And I am most definitely not here to make sweeping moral judgments on the ensuing events that unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri.
Because it is not mine, or anyone else’s places to do so.
Instead, I am here to tell you a story.
My father was born in 1960, and grew up as the middle child of two peasant farmers in Gwangju, a once-rural village tucked away in the southwestern corner of the South Korean peninsula. Working hard throughout his academic career on top of helping the family business, he was eventually accepted to study Industrial Design at the prestigious Hongik University in Seoul.
Within this same time period, South Korea was under heavy influence of the anti-Communist politics of Cold War United States. As such, the nation built itself upon these same principles, enforced by a military dictatorship which continued to exponentially grow in power during the aftermath of the Korean War. Many students, professors, and other educated individuals sought to protest the authoritarian government of South Korea, pleading for democracy and human rights for Korean citizens. This culminated into the Gwangju Democratization Movement of 1980, where thousands of students and professors—including my father—took to the streets to peacefully demand an end to a corrupt dictatorship.
In an unprecedented act of violence, the government ordered its military to fire upon the unarmed protesters, ensuing in utter unrest and chaos. Gwangju citizens and protesters responded by robbing local armories and police stations to defend themselves from a military attack on its own citizens. This event came to be known as the Gwangju Massacre, where my father watched the blood of innocent lives spill on the very streets he used to walk to school on, the very streets he used to catch frogs on.
The government-controlled media at the time painted this massacre as a violent revolution incited by Communist sympathizers. To this very day, the government actively denies the accurate number of casualties (claiming around 250, even when live witnesses such as my father swear to the number being at least in the thousands). To this very day, we live with the ramifications of this historical human rights violation, as Korean citizens have ignorantly chosen to elect the daughter of one of the nation’s most heinous dictators as the current president of our democratic government.
Why am I telling you this story?
I understand that looters and rioters are hurting a lot of innocent people, and that many of them are simply taking personal advantage of a tragic situation. But before you jump on your condescending moral high horse and make sweeping assumptions, I need each and every one of you to first ask yourself WHY these protests are happening in the first place. I need you to understand that the protesters do not actively desire to create violence and chaos; rather grandly, they are literally begging for us to look at the injustice that is happening right in front of our faces.
They are asking us, “Is protest the only way for us to gain justice and equal rights?”
I need each and every one of you to realize that whether you agree with the court ruling or not, there undeniably was a sad lack of racial justice for our nation’s black community. And most of us, sitting in our comfortable chairs, are afforded the very privilege to discuss these issues within the safety of the internet. As such, I need you to understand the deeper ramifications of the actions that are taking place in Ferguson, and keep asking yourself: Why?
Do not remain complacent in your false moral superiority.
Because that is the absolute pinnacle of privilege.
I encourage you all to analyze the court records, and the facts that surround the case. Facts, however are simply not enough to enlighten us of the truth. Because you can make a detailed legal investigation of the factual evidence provided in the case documents all you want, but at the end of the day, that is not where the truth lies.
Ask yourselves: What is the context in which these facts are presented? When did we forget about the massacre of Los Angeles Chinatown? When did we forget about the Zoot Suit Riots? When did we forget that the “Riots” in Ferguson is not a unique moment in American history, but is instead reflective of the racial dynamics that have persistently affected our global worldviews?
At the end of the protests, and at the end of it all, there is but one simple truth hidden deep beneath the surface of this debate: The methods may change, and the medium may change, but the racialized narratives that dominate American society have never changed—not even for a second.