Alone in a Room

I just submitted my last final for the semester and I immediately poured myself a glass of wine. What a relief to be finished! Now I can focus on getting ready for Korea. To get myself into that frame of mind again, I attended a lecture today at The Brookings Institute, a local think tank here in DC. It was the 4th Annual Seoul-Washington Forum and this year's topic was Korea's global role, Northeast Asia, and, of course, North Korea. Not surprisingly, I was the only Black person in a room of roughly 60-70 people. I felt instantly catapulted back to my first time in Korea. That sense of exclusion, of being foreign, was palpable. To make matters worse (or perhaps it was just my perception), no one sat next to me! I had an entire row to myself while many rows around me were filling up. Someone eventually did sit down....a young, Korean man. But he sat at the very opposite end, as far away from me as possible. No one really even looked at me. In fact, one older gentleman basically stepped on me trying to talk to someone else. Also, a lot of the people in attendance were older...MUCH older. These folks were most likely around when Korea was divided 60 years ago.

But my larger point, and one that was brought home once again, is that there appears to be a mutual disinterest and disconnect among these two cultures beyond the level of music and martial arts. At the policy and governmental level, there is a marked absence of people of color. Korean issues are dominated by Whites and Koreans. From what I can tell, there are no [visible] Latinos or African Americans or Southeast Asians with their hands in Korean issues. Now, to be honest, had I not lived there for a year, I'm quite certain you could have counted me in this demographic as well. But now that I have, it bothers me that there are so few people of color dealing with Asian issues in general. I'm sure that China and Japan have more of a following among blacks, but in general, the attendance is sparse. An older black gentleman arrived late (lol) and I kind of sighed with relief because I was no longer alone representing my race. The atmosphere was the same when I attended another conference at the Korea Economic Institute here last December. I was the only black person. At least a nice, older lady sat next to me and we chatted a bit. But it can be rather intimidating. It's a strange feeling and one to which I've yet to grow accustomed. Overall, I enjoyed the forum and it was a good primer for the breadth of issues I'll be dealing with this summer. However, I would like to see a little more "representation" on Asian issues. :)

I've been pretty busy over the last few weeks. One of my best friends had her bridal shower held in our hometown. It was like a mini-reunion for all the bridesmaids and the mothers. I'm not even going to tell you how much crap I ate, but I had to loosen up my pants later on.

**Bride-to-be and her mama***

**my momma and bride-to-be's mama**

**Bride-to-be and the bridesmaids...well, most of us***

One day, I snuck off to meet up with some friends who I hadn't seen in a long time. We had drinks and let off some steam at the W Hotel's rooftop bar. Then we headed over to a dingy, basement chicken bar with horrific service (our waitress had a lip ring, a deep voice, and a funky attitude). But it was still a lot of fun because I love these people!

Two weeks ago, I went to Pittsburgh for another best friend's graduation from business school! She was awarded a plaque in honor of her outstanding service to the school, which was a nice surprise. Another not-so-welcome surprise was her ex-boyfriend, someone I had purged from my mental Rolodex a long time ago. He claimed to be "supporting" her, but whatever. I was cordial. I rarely give people the cold shoulder, but it was very necessary in this case.

Then last weekend, I was in NYC for about 7 hours. I was only there for Jar and dad's birthday party and still had a lot of ground to cover on my finals. I hopped a train and got there in time to start celebrating around 11. I stayed out til my train came around 630am and guess where I ended up?? Koreatown! Hahaha, go figure.

Anyway, good times all around. Now that finals are over, I have my freedom back! Even if you go to the same place, no two journeys are ever the same. I can't wait for this new one to begin! 9 days and counting....

Until then,


Viajera said...

My sister is a PhD candidate studying immigration issues and she said that when she presented at a conference at Oxford this year, she was in the same situation. Very surprising, given the topic, so Korean issues? Even less surprising. Maybe we need to broader our horizons more and realize that there are more "sexy" topics for research/higher education out there. :) I work in high-tech and I'm usually alone in the room, so much so that I don't even notice anymore.
Glad to hear you're almost through and ready to go.

Anonymous said...

I know the feeling! Over the years I took a lot of flack because I was interested in Asian culture, Asian languages, Asian issues, etc. If I had a dollar for every time I heard, "You're black! Why are you interested in Asia?" I would be rich!

Tiarra said...

Hello! My name is Tiarra and I am a new reader to your blog. :) Sorry for posting on an older entry, but it really hit home! I agree, when it comes to people who study East Asian issues, it is primarily White and Asian people. >_> I remember going to this one talk about supernatural elements in Choson literature, and I promise I was the only Freshman, and it was so obvious that I was the only black one. >_<

I also agree about a larger following of black people with interest in China or Japan. I am a fan of the latter, myself. But as a black female... there's not much of us. I mean, you're more likely to see guys over girls. Out of the past 4 semesters of Japanese language courses I took, only 2 semesters had more than one black person in them (myself included). It can be kinda... obvious, but at the same time, you feel different in a good way. At least that is how I feel; do you know what I mean?

I will continue to visit your journal in the future! :D I am very interested in your travels as well as your experiences at the Dulles airport. xD (I will be studying abroad in Japan starting... oh my gosh, tomorrow. O_O) So I know that I can learn a lot from you!

Thanks and I wish you the best! Sorry for this essay! xD