Category Archives: Media

‘How black is he?’ (2015-06-17, The Korea Times)

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

In late 2012, I wrote a Thoughts of the Times column reflecting upon some racial slights that I received in South Korea during the 1990s. Unfortunately, I have experienced a few cases recently that topped all of those.

A Korean professor who is a fan of mine has been recruiting me to join her university. She secretly let me know her colleagues pushed back. One concern: I might be too independent. She says that Korean professors typically seek colleagues who won’t challenge them, so I will need to show humility.

Two, citing my career, they worried that I might not be satisfied with their lesser known university (Harvard graduate, previously taught at Yonsei University as a young man, and have worked at high profile organizations in both the USA and South Korea). In previous job searches, I have responded to the “overqualified” point by saying: “If you think I am overqualified then you should watch me work for a week.”

She listed a few other things, but the grand finale: They needed to be sure that I am not “completely black.”

It sounded like a joke, but she was sincere, as always. She said her colleagues were worried because they “know” that black people fight with white people. That university certainly wouldn’t want to hire a one-man riot who would burn, baby burn the university. She said they concluded that I might be mixed race, and debated what percentage black I am, and wondered about the racial makeup of my parents and grandparents.

My fan apologized. She said she deeply admires and respects me, that’s why she recruited me for the job. I had the sense that if they wanted me to run across hot coals or stick my hand in fire as part of the interview that she would have given me tips, without condemning the process.

She advised me that if they invite me for an interview that I should stress that I am a team player, have white people in my family and have many white friends. Amazed, I suggested that I might be able to get racial letters of recommendation from white family members, friends and former colleagues.

I thought to add that I could include photos of myself frolicking about with white friends, but stopped myself. After all, if I went through with the interview, I wouldn’t want them to reject my application because I had failed to include such photos to bolster my case. (“He said that he had photos with white friends, but he didn’t include them as proof he won’t cause trouble, so how can we risk hiring him?”)

I imagined a faculty meeting with those respected professors with their Ph.Ds, using their expertise and experience to determine my level of blackness as part of my job qualifications. “Is he completely black? If yes, how violently black?”

As often happens in life, your enemies slander you, and your friends deliver the news. She is an inadvertent whistle blower, demonstrating evidence of what many black people in Korea complained about when I was here in the 1990s _ blacks aren’t seriously considered for many university jobs and are hired reluctantly.

I thought about my own role: Should I reveal the university? After all, black people should not waste their time applying there. But I don’t want my fan who secretly delivered the news to get into trouble for trying to help me.

Two Korean friends I discussed this with cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, saying those Korean academics need to learn his message. I assured them that it wasn’t just Koreans.

During one of my recent trips back to the USA, I gave a speech about my project connecting North Korean refugees with volunteer language tutors and speech coaches. Everything went well during my presentation, but that night at dinner, one of the Ivy League professors who had been singing my praises all day informed me that a few of the people at the conference were asking: “Why is a black man doing so much to help North Koreans?”

I didn’t try to catch the source, I wanted to keep focus on my activities rather than race. Those respected people had revealed their small minds, so I doubted they could understand or would believe that I am focused on individual liberty and creating learner-centered opportunities.

It was good that I didn’t debate or argue with them, it could have been disastrous. Based on what the Korean university professors said about me in their meeting, such respected white professionals are the type to write racial letters of recommendation for me.

Perhaps I should tell my Korean professor fan that I didn’t argue with them. Plus I got some great photos of white people smiling with me.

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at:

Original Korea Times link

2015-06-17 how black is he upload


linked by [Advanced English] Culture & Society – Black in Korea

2015-06-15 Casey Lartigue quoted by Sky News

Sky News:

Casey Lartigue is the co-founder of the volunteer organisation Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), an NGO that connects North Korean refugees with people who can help them.

Mr Lartigue told Sky News many defectors struggle to adjust to South Korean society.

They have made it to South Korea – a challenging process, not everyone survives – and they often suffer hardship along the way,” he said.

“From what I hear, South Korea certainly welcomes them, but after getting out of North Korea, they don’t consider themselves to be limited to South Korea.

“While saying they are thankful to have escaped North Korea and to have been accepted by South Korea, they will still say that South Korea is more of a struggle than they imagined.”


2015-05-06 What to do about Baltimore? (The Korea Times)


What to do about Baltimore?




By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

During the summer of 2002, I was a frequent attendee of a month-long boycott of a Chinese food takeout by black residents in Washington, D.C. No kidding, the protest began after a local activist accused a cook at Kenny’s Carryout of attempting to cook a piece of chicken he had dropped on the floor and kicked around like a soccer ball. By my unofficial count, there were about 100 protesters marching and chanting some days, but one key person was missing: Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

The protest leaders contacted Jackson, but joy turned to rage when he told them he was heading to Los Angeles instead, to protest the beating of a black man by police. One of the protestors told me: “See! Jesse ain’t out for nobody but Jesse. They already got cameras there.”

I asked protestors why they were targeting a small Chinese takeout rather than lousy public schools nearby. At that time, about 37 percent of D.C. adults read at about the third grade elementary school level.

A conservative friend of mine who declined my invitation to observe the protest told me it was another example of black spokesmen and their constituents ignoring serious problems. Not exactly, I told him.

They have led demonstrations, delivered speeches, and rhymed many a time in denouncing black-on-black crime and encouraging black youth to study harder. As far back as 1984, the Associated Press (“Jackson calls for end to black-on-black crime”) quoted Jackson as saying: “I want blacks who kill and maim other blacks to go to jail. The blood keeps flowing.” He was alluding to another spate of gang-related killings, one of which ended in the death of Chicago high school basketball star Ben Wilson (Jackson delivered the eulogy at Wilson’s funeral).

Much of it may be street theater. While people have many hobbies, number one in history has probably been blaming others for problems. The problem in inner-cities runs deeper than black spokesmen ignoring problems.

In short: They don’t know what to do. Fifty years after rioters torched many inner-cities, a new generation of politicians, activists, intellectuals, journalists, black spokesmen, and the current U.S. President don’t know what to do about black-on-black crime, illegitimacy, joblessness, Baltimore, Ferguson, or Chicago’s South Side.

Sure, the leaders and talkers talk, even after their policies clearly are harmful, unless or ineffective. They talk about afterschool programs, fully funding No Child Left Behind, black role models, diversity, multiculturalism, black history taught year around, community policing, affirmative action, ending police brutality and racial profiling, increasing the minimum wage, etc.

In his 1980 book Knowledge and Decisions, economist Thomas Sowell wrote (paraphrased with my added spin): If you are a farmer who can milk a cow, that means you can go to a barn with a bucket and come back with some milk from a cow. On the other hand, if you are an expert on crime, you can go to Philadelphia, but we can’t expect you to come back with less crime.

Several years ago, fast-talking black intellectual Michael Eric Dyson led a march against violence in Philadelphia. Before the weekend was over, four more people had been killed, including a five-year-old black girl sitting in her mother’s car. Dyson can talk and march against black-on-black crime, but he can’t come back with less crime in Philadelphia.

There’s a difference between expertise in doing something and expertise in talking eloquently. I’m not surprised politicians go for Daily Show type chuckles. The person who would get booed at an important speech would be the person interrupting to say, “Enough with the jokes, Mr. President. What can you do about it, and when?” I would boo you, too. How dare you interrupt the President’s punchline?

In the late 1980s, Obama was a community organizer in Chicago’s troubled South Side and he later represented the area as state senator. Jackson has been based in Chicago for more than four decades. They have national plans, but I’ve heard that Chicago’s South Side is still a dangerous place to be. Now it is Baltimore’s turn in the headlines. The President did suggest that if his policies were implemented that things would be better. If he could clean up (pick one) Baltimore, Ferguson or Chicago’s South Side, he’d deserve his Nobel Peace Prize.

I recently read that the Obama Presidential Library will be housed at the University of Chicago. If there is ever a dispute with a Chinese takeout or riots on the South Side, assuming he isn’t globe-trotting, at cocktail parties in D.C., or hanging out at his library in Chicago, Obama may be able to join after he becomes a civilian again. He and Jackson may not be able to return with less crime, but I hope at least they can come back with more chicken.

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at:

2015-05-06 Baltimore final scan

Defecting from North Korea’s middle class (Groove Magazine, 4-17-2015)

Groove Magazine has a nice feature on two of the participants in the Teach North Korean Refugees project.

When Kim Chol-soo and his wife, Kim Young-ok (not their real names), first arrived in South Korea they had doubts about their new life. It was not what they had expected. Worries over finances arose soon after their arrival, and the government-provided apartment failed to offer them the same comforts as their home back in North Korea. Their first few months living in the South were difficult — a far cry from the life they had just left behind.






Project helps defectors adjust to a new society (Joongang Daily, 2015-03-30)


Project helps defectors adjust to a new society

Expat Networking Clubs in Korea 3. Teach North Korean Refugees

Mar 30,2015

Staff members from Teach North Korean Refugees take part in a matching session on March 21, in Seocho District, southern Seoul. The project partners North Korean defectors with volunteer English tutors. By Park Sang-moon

A North Korean defector who asked to go only by his English name, Ken, recalled graduating from college and later volunteering to join the military.

Unlike most of his fellow countrymen, whose service is mandatory, he explained he was exempt, for a reason he wished not to specify.

“Sometimes I think I’m crazy. For 10 years!” he said in broken English, explaining that he couldn’t understand how he convinced himself to sign up in the first place.

Having spent a decade – his entire 20s – in the North Korean army, he was quick to add that he had been resolute when making the choice.

“North Korean broadcasting had been brainwashing me from the time I was 1 years old until I was an adult. I had to be loyal to the Kim family,” Ken added, referring to the reclusive state’s ruling dynasty.

His affiliation with the military was his way of showing he was part of this unconditional personality cult, he said.

As the 35-year-old told his story, Canadian national Amelie Lacroix, who teaches English to kindergarten and elementary school students here, listened with widening eyes and occasional expressions of shock.

“For 10 years? Were you aware you’d be serving that long? How was it?” she asked, leaning toward Ken from across a coffee table at a three-story cafe in Jongno District, central Seoul, as if to coax him into speaking up.

In a blunt tone, Ken answered: “I was extremely hungry. The government provides 700 grams of rice every day, but other organizations and other higher-rank officials take it and take it. Maybe if I’m lucky, I get 400 or 550 grams per day. But only rice. No side dishes.”

The pair, who spoke over a cup of hot americano and imported chocolate-banana cookies, both belong to the Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) project, which matches defectors with volunteer English tutors.

Co-founded in March 2013 by Lee Eun-koo and Casey Lartigue, the group has so far directly matched more than 170 defectors and 240 teachers, the latter mostly foreigners teaching English at local schools or private academies.

The program consists of two tracks: In Track 1, titled “Finding My Own Way,” refugees are matched with tutors who help them to generally improve their English; while Track 2, also “Telling My Own Story,” supports refugees seeking to become public speakers and links them with coaches who help them with self-expression.

Ken and Lacroix’s lesson last week was their first Track 2 session after having been introduced to each other a week earlier through TNKR.

“In university, I studied international relations and modern languages, so it’s really interesting to be close to North Korean issues [through this program] and to see how such people lived under such a [Communist] regime,” said Lacroix, 23.

TNKR typically holds monthly matching sessions for each track, in which a group of defectors and tutors gather to introduce themselves and select their partners.

Seven refugees and 10 tutors are chosen for a session in the order they submit applications and pass screening procedures. A waiting list can hold up prospective participants for a couple months.

Before the matching session, the TNKR staff hosts an advance orientation session with selected tutors to hand out basic instructions. Their resumes are then distributed to the refugees so the students can preview their candidates.

In order to be matched with a defector, participation in both the orientation and matching session is compulsory.

At a matching session, tutors introduce themselves one by one, highlighting a preferred time, location and their teaching skills, followed by the refugees, who do the same. The students then take turns selecting as many teachers as they want and exchange contact information to set up their first lesson.

“Koreans can join as teachers, too,” said Lartigue, who works as the director of international cooperation at Freedom Factory, a local think tank. “Some refugees can’t speak in English and want bilingual teachers.”

The matched pairs are required to meet a minimum of twice a month, 90 minutes each time, for three months at agreed upon locations like coffee shops. To make sure no one slacks, the TNKR staff asks everyone to submit short reports after each lesson.

“When we first started, we weren’t monitoring, and the result was that they never contacted us,” said Lartigue. “There were some problems, such as classes being canceled.”

One way to get around that, he added, was to allow the defectors to choose more than one tutor so that they could bounce between different tutors and choose whoever fit best with their schedule.

In terms of qualifications, the staff “typically lets everyone through,” and then allows the students to do their own screening later into their lessons.

The staff warns foreigners beforehand, however, to never get too involved in the defectors’ stories unless the refugees initially speak up.

Peter Daley, an assistant professor in the General English Program at Sookmyung Women’s University, recalled his first Track 2 meeting with one student last week.

“She was reading her script, and then suddenly stopped to say, ‘Ah, it’s really hard for me to keep thinking about this.’

“I felt guilty because I kind of felt a bit detached. For me, it was like reading a book, to hear her say she hasn’t seen her brothers for a long time, and that she hopes they’re safe and that they can meet each other again.”

The 42-year-old, who said he joined TNKR out of sheer interest about totalitarian regimes and to help North Korean defectors adjust to their new lives, added that he wished to fulfill his humanitarian goals via the program.

“This is just one way of helping out. You can’t always change the world but you can have an impact on an individual,” he said.

One 23-year-old college student, who defected to South Korea in 2011 and declined to give his real name, said TNKR was a shot at a “normal life.”

“In order to get adjusted to the South, refugees must fill their minds with so many things they were restricted from in the North,” he said.

“English is an essential tool to live here, and joining TNKR, you can meet so many people from so many different backgrounds,” he continued in Korean, adding that the cosmopolitan vibe enabled defectors to broaden their prospective toward a world from which they were once completely shut out.

Lacroix, the Canadian, admitted that her parents expressed a little displeasure when she first told them she wanted to join the group.

“They said ‘Oh my God, be careful.’ Because it’s a normal Western reaction to think that North Korea has such an oppressive regime, and that it can affect people.”

Anxiously eyeing Ken – whom upon hearing her comments burst into laughter and joked, “What? I’m innocent!” – she added that her first lesson went much smoother than she had imagined.

“I think people are the same, and he has good intentions. I don’t worry,” she said.

For more information about TNKR, visit