Healing Korean-Black Tensions

May 18, 1992

One outgrowth of the Los Angeles riots has been public awareness of tensions that for years have smoldered just below the surface between blacks and Korean merchants. This lesson should not be lost. Baltimore officials ought to be working hard right now to heal the rifts that exist here before they erupt in violence.

Both Koreans and blacks see themselves as persecuted minorities. But over the years a wall of misunderstanding has built up, owing to differing cultural and historical experiences. Korean immigrants who became shopkeepers in poor neighborhoods often have only a vague notion of America's long legacy of racial discrimination against blacks. To blacks trapped in ghettos, newly arrived Asian businesses often appear as "outsiders" that they fear are there merely to exploit their communities.

These tensions have resulted in ugly incidents in other cities. In New York City and Washington, D.C., black protesters picketed Korean businesses for nearly a year after neighborhood residents claimed they had been verbally and physically assaulted by store owners. In Los Angeles, tensions were already running high before the riots over the case of an Asian shopkeeper who shot and killed a teen-age black girl.

In Baltimore, a chill remains between the two groups in some inner-city neighborhoods. That is why Koreans and African Americans of good will now must find ways to come together to bridge the rift that has developed.

At Mayor Kurt Schmoke's second summit on race relations June 22, black-Korean relations ought to top the agenda. Meanwhile, we urge religious leaders in both communities to take the initiative in reaching out. The Korean Society of Greater Baltimore and the Korean Businessmen's League can make common cause with the local NAACP chapter and the Baltimore Urban League to foster greater understanding and cooperation.

Producing lasting results will require courage, commitment, patience and tolerance. This should be everyone's concern. It is our city. If there are legitimate gripes, let's address them -- now.

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