2015-07-29 Black Lives Matter (Korea Times column)

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to an idea or slogan is that it is put into practice. The reality rarely lives up to expectations, dreams, or hopes. At a conference at Harvard University in late May, an advocate of the “Black Lives Matter” movement presented an impressive PowerPoint presentation highlighting ways that negative media images harm black people.

During a Q&A, I accepted the speaker’s main points, then asked: best-case scenario, what realistically would happen if you get what you want?

I asked because back in 1899, W.E.B. Dubois suggested in the bookThe Philadelphia Negro that black Americans were not ready to seize opportunities, even if America became less racist. “Probably a change in public opinion on this point to-morrow would not make very much difference in the positions occupied by Negroes in the city,” Dubois wrote, adding that “the mass would remain as they are.” He argued change was necessary, that it could inspire blacks to work harder and take away the excuse of racism.

Black intellectuals and activists have spoken as bluntly and also become frustrated at missed opportunities. In the wake of riots in Harlem in 1964, civil rights activist Bayard Ruskin said that he had found jobs for 120 black teens, but lamented that a few weeks later only 12 of them were still employed. Civil rights activist James Farmer said in 1964: “We can no longer evade the knowledge that most Negroes will not be helped by equal opportunity.”

In 1989, rappers united to start the “Stop the Violence” movement encouraging blacks to stop killing each other, releasing “Self-Destruction, one of my all-time favorite songs. Civil rights leaders, activists and politicians have led a number of other movements, with the pendulum swinging between both internal and external solutions and analysis.

I’m not opposed to what I have learned about the Black Lives Matter movement, but I do agree with three main criticisms. First, as one presidential candidate noted at an event, “All lives matter.” He got shouted down by activists and, unfortunately, apologized.

Second, “The protest chant that black lives matter appears to mean that black lives matter only if they are taken at the hands of white police officers,” wrote Walter E. Williams.

Third, black people will continue getting shot by police officers as long as they run from, wrestle or challenge cops who might not appreciate a well-crafted PowerPoint at a Harvard conference.

Confessing those criticisms and doubting that Black Lives Matters will make a huge difference, I wish the activists well. All lives matter, true, but there are some times that it is worth focusing on one issue. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.” But he didn’t get involved in every injustice everywhere. Initially, he focused on rolling back laws oppressing blacks, then later expanded to global issues.

The reality is that no one can focus on every issue simultaneously. To make the point differently, some defenders of North Korea criticize activists for not focusing on a host of other issues (police brutality in the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Syria). Halting human rights abuses in North Korea and helping refugees adjust is already enough of a challenge. Critics say we are hypocrites if we don’t speak out against and use our limited resources to address problems that befuddle even well-funded governments and international organizations.

We don’t all have to focus on the same thing, the world can walk and chew gum at the same time. Some people want to save the whales, others want to save the dolphins, tuna, dogs, or cats. And still some others ignore all of them, and go fishing, play video games or wrestle at mud festivals. In addition to choosing your pet cause, freedom includes the right to be apathetic or not to vote, despite cries of activists and talk-show hosts to “wake up!” If you can withstand criticism and threats, you can also do the opposite of what others are doing.

I welcome Black Lives Matter trying, although I’m skeptical. Black illegitimacy in the United States is now 71 percent, as high as 90 percent in some cities. That compares with 29 percent for whites in the U.S. and 1.6 percent for Koreans in South Korea). Crime is rampant in many black neighborhoods and many of the public schools in black areas are little more than day prisons. The average black 12th grader reads and does math at the level of white middle schoolers.

Sometimes the statistics are breath-taking ― both to the reader and to the people suffering the reality of that data. These are not the kinds of things that will improve quickly, regardless of what Black Lives Matters does and even if police officers all become angels tomorrow.

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu.

Korea Times link


2015-07-24 Casey Lartigue featured in KCrush magazine


Casey Lartigue in KCrush (1) Casey Lartigue in KCrush (2)

Casey Lartigue in KCrush (3) Casey Lartigue in KCrush (4)

Casey Lartigue in KCrush (5)


So cool. I’m featured in the Anniversary Edition of KCrush magazine. Thanks to JeeHyo Jeong for interviewing me, and letting me say what I think, in my own words.

You can order copies at http://www.kcrush.com/ . And you can submit your own feature ideas to JeeHyo Jeong and like the page at https://www.facebook.com/kcrushmagazine.

Also, Teach North Korean Refugees tutor and coach Peter Daley is also interviewed in the magazine. Good job, Peter, shining the spotlight on those cults.


2015-07-22 TNKR is “very special”

One of the refugees studying in Teach North Korean Refugees dropped by our office today to chat. She has studied in a number of programs, she wanted to let us know that this has been the most effective of all for her. The main reason is the individualized attention she receives from tutors.

In particular, she appreciates that she can choose her tutors and is so thankful that so many volunteers want to help North Korean refugees. When she first joined TNKR, she was surprised that she could choose. It took some time for her to realize that the tutors were really focused on her, that it was up to her to determine what she wanted to study, that she feels “respected” that she is allowed to choose. It was one of those “pick me up” moments that anyone who has created something can really appreciate.

Future North Korean migration–Planning or freedom?

In the paper “Internal Migration in North Korea: Preparation for Governmental Disruption,” Sandra Fahy makes many great points, she got me thinking about what will happen later in terms of NK migration.

But my random thoughts…
1) On page 118, the author even speculates about the “near emptying of North Korea.” I’m old enough that I remember when the Berlin Wall fell,and people were worried that East Germany would be abandoned. Although many East Germans did leave after reunification, many more stayed, and many have now returned.
My guess is that many if not most NKs will stay where they are. That’s the world, most people stay where they are, even when they have the freedom to move.
2) There was the Great Migration of Blacks after the Civil War, then during the 20th century. That has also reversed somewhat. It could be that North Koreans are more like former slaves in America rather than East Germans. Either way, there were also debates in the 19th century about whether or not former slaves should remain where they are, with Booker T. Washington advising blacks to “Cast down your bucket where you are” and Frederick Douglass was also opposed to blacks migrating to the North.
3) When South Korea lifted martial law in the late 1980s, with passports later becoming widespread among South Koreans for the first time, there was also an outward migration, along with a bump in tourism that troubled many politicians and academics at the time.
4) It seems to be too much of an emphasis in the paper on keeping North Koreans in North Korea, on page 120 the author states that  NK “out-migration must invariably be managed and regulated.” I’m not sure who is supposed to manage and regulate NK out-migration. The gang currently stopping North Korean refugees from leaving the country may have some ideas…
5) On page 128, the author states that the “2004 Human Rights Act, which enables them to attain refugee status in the United States after first settling in South Korea.” It may be a distinction without a difference, but I guess that should mention that they can also gain refugee status by going directly to the USA, not necessarily after first settling in South Korea.
6) The author states that this “contemporary trend of the onward migration of  North Koreans suggests that we begin to critically examine whether  South Korea is the ideal destination for North Korean migrants.” I have agreed with this for years, it shouldn’t be assumed that South Korea is the ideal destination, and it shouldn’t be seen as unusual that NK refugees look to other countries. That’s even true of South Koreans, many of them would also like to move to other countries. There is nothing necessarily political or strange about an American moving to another country, but North Koreans choosing to live in a different country than South Korea supposedly are in need of critical analysis.
7) The author’s final statement: 1) Reduce the number of North Koreans leaving North Korea to reduce additional crisis 2) by providing for the critical needs of internal migrants in NK, prepare into order to “incentivize” individuals to “shelter in place.”
As I said, there is too much about regulating and controlling the future migration choices of North Koreans.
8) Alas, the author never mentions the freedom of North Koreans to be able to travel, to choose when and where they can live. It is an academic paper with ideas about government policy that addresses migration barriers imposed by China and South Korea, but still, shouldn’t North Korean right of locomotion be part of the conversation at some point? Instead, the emphasis is on regulating, managing, controlling and preparing for the time that NKs may finally be able to venture out into the world.
Hat tip: Hyun Song
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2015-07-01 Korea is doomed (in 2750)–Korea Times

“Koreans to Become Extinct by 2750” was the eye-popping headline about a simulation commissioned by the National Assembly of South Korea. The National Assembly Research Service forecast that, based on current trends, South Korea’s population of 50 million would shrink to 10 million by 2136 and become extinct by 2750.

Methodological questions aside, my first thought when I read the story: 2749 is going to be one helluva year on the Korean peninsula.

If you enjoy clips of Korean politicians fighting over parliamentary procedures, then imagine the glorious fisticuffs and flying kicks over who allowed Koreans to go extinct. The handful of Koreans remaining will protest against the other half of Koreans remaining. The “chattering class” (today’s Netizens) of conspiracy theorists will connect-the-dots to the USA or Japan.

I’d have my popcorn ready, singing an updated version of Prince’s “1999” song: “2-7-4-9, Party Over, Oops, Out of Time!” We will miss the 2749 show, but we have had front row seats to yet another sneak preview.

In case you hadn’t heard, the MERS virus hit South Korea. Numerous schools, businesses, events, and celebrations got shut down, canceled or toned down. It changed Korea, at least for a few weeks. I even had to wait in line at public restrooms for the chance to wash my hands. It seemed that the Doomsday Clock had hit midnight in Korea. Forget 2750 ― it seemed that Koreans wouldn’t make it out of 2015.

In Korea, you first fix the blame, then the problem. The first question: Who was to blame for MERS threatening to annihilate Koreans 735 years ahead of the simulation’s schedule? The second, after it became clear that MERS was not going to annihilate Koreans prematurely: Who was responsible for scaring everyone into thinking Korean life was coming to an end in 2015?

Of course, the president got blamed for allowing the virus in. The rulers here always get blamed. I’ve heard that, historically, Koreans even blamed kings for droughts. Former president Kim Young-sam was said to be “bad luck” because of tragedies that struck during his administration (primarily, collapses of the Sampoong Department Store and Seongsu Grand Bridge).

A Korea Times staff editorial suggested that the president “needs to stay around the anti-MERS headquarters.” To do what? In the movie version, the president would dramatically walk in, issue stern commands while brow-beating workers caught napping or smoking, and look really presidential as the proper solemn soundtrack music played in the background.

Some Korean politicians, used to taking credit for the sun coming up, may be tempted to explain that they lack control over the weather or viruses. It must be easier to bow for the cameras and ask for forgiveness.

In the “if it bleeds, it leads” world of news, we must be frightened into following the latest updates, our “social homework” so we can be part of scuttlebutt at school, the office and Social Media. In the book “The News,” Alain de Botton notes that people can feel relevant by following the news. We may struggle to get people we know to take us seriously, but we can Tweet how the world ought to be.

Climate change experts, doomsday cults, and others make predictions about when the world will come to an end. Centuries ago, the Mayans supposedly chose December 21, 2012, which was turned into a popular movie. (Parenthetically, if the world had ended four days before Christmas, it would have been a relief for those of us who hate last-minute holiday shopping).

Reporters and politicians can’t operate at room temperature, there is always catastrophe around a corner humanity avoids turning at the last moment. De Botton writes: “A bad avian flu may disrupt international travel and defeat known drugs for a while, but research laboratories will eventually understand and contain it.”

Then came beautiful headlines backing de Botton’s stoicism: “No MERS deaths for two days,” then “No new MERS cases reported.” How often do we get such “no dogs bit men today” stories?

About three dozen people in Korea have succumbed to MERS. It would seem that Koreans were going extinct if the media reported with as much gusto about a typical day in Korea as it has about MERS: almost 200 die of cancer, almost 20 die in automobile accidents, about 40 commit suicide, about four are victims of homicide, and about 60 rapes are reported. I was wrong when I predicted that there would be suicide notes citing MERS.

But de Botton was and is right, the media can’t help but try to scare us. We should take precautions, yes, but also avoid being “easily seduced into panic.” To encourage 28th century Koreans, I will print this column along with articles about MERS to include in a time capsule to be opened in Korea in the year 2749.

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul. He can be reached at:  CJL@post.harvard.edu

Korea Times link

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