Doing the Right Thing for Whom?

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The 1992 LA riots was a time of empowerment for black Americans fighting for the acquittals of police officers who excessively beat motorist Rodney King. At the same time, this event was also an act of silencing, violence, and victimization for another group: Korean Americans. Spike Lee represented the conflicts of the 1992 Rodney King riots in his film Do the Right Thing by representing the destruction of property and portraying the inter-racial conflicts that arose as a result of the riots.

The LA riots were called the most deadly and costly race riot in the United States. The Korean-Black relationship in LA has been problematic for economic and political reasons. During the riots, there was widespread targeting and destruction of Asian-owned property across South Central LA due to sentiments about Korean Americans “taking over black communities” and exhibiting discrimination against blacks.

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In Do the Right Thing, The moment when people of the neighborhood turned against the Korean couple across the street, when their eyes were raging with fury and hatred, when I watch the husband literally swinging the pipe all around him as if he was fighting for his life, and finally, when the husband claimed “I am black, we are black”, I felt my heart shatter. I was fearing for the lives of those who were just spectators during the riot, and I felt hurt hearing that the only way for survival for Asians is to throw away their own identity while outright assimilating into another group of which they don’t belong (classic Asian American problem).

But after reading the history of the Korean-black conflict within LA, I began to question how justified the fear I experienced was. If the Koreans helped perpetuate the deep-rooted racial discrimination within our society, why should I continue empathizing for those who practice injustice? If they are “innocent” in this occasion, should they be punished because they contribute to the systemic racism in America? Is the treatment of the Koreans justified? Should the Koreans also be asked the same question, “are you doing the right thing?”

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