Since I failed to get his name, let’s call him Mr. Park. He was a nice young (mid-30s) man who said he worked for a company in the R&D field. We were at adjoining tables in the Paris Baguette I have visited many times during my almost eight years in Gangnam. After the initial pleasantries, we began to discuss the fact that Donald Trump had won the presidential election on November 7.
Mr. Park and I agreed that there seems to be a huge divide in my former homeland about this event and its ramifications. I have friends who hail it as an almost divine blessing and are ready for Trump to repeal many of Barack Obama’s ill-conceived executive orders, implement wise policies and halt a long slide toward socialism. I respect those friends very much, but I have other friends with quite different views. They are almost literally sick that this proven con man—as one of them described Trump—will occupy the White House. He will do a lot of damage in the next four years, they warn. I respect these people no less, and never would I want to offend my friends on the right or left.
I told the Korean guy at the coffee shop that I had misgivings about Trump. He has never held office, he has a history of bad business dealings, he groped those women and bragged about it, he made outrageous statements during the campaign that do not square with reality and more. Mr. Park took note of my comments and then made a fatal mistake. He expressed surprise that a “white” person would not be all gung-ho about this real estate mogul-turned-politician. It seemed that he had a vastly oversimplified view of who supported Trump and who supported Hillary Clinton.
Suddenly our conversation took a 90-degree turn. “What did you say?” I responded. “‘White’? Did you call me ‘white’? I am not ‘white.’ I do not answer to ‘white.’ Do I look ‘white’?”
I pointed to the table I was sitting at, the color of which was pure white. “That’s white. Is my skin really that color?” I placed a palm flat on the table and urged Mr. Park to examine it. The answer was an obvious NO. I went on: “I am European American. My foreparents got on a boat, left their European homeland and traveled to the English colonies of North America about 300 years ago. I acknowledge my ethnic background without being ashamed or unseemly boastful since this is an accident of birth and no more. Here we are in the year 2016, and it seems we would have moved beyond categorizing each other in such crude terms as skin color. Are you a ‘yellow’? Is my friend of African descent a ‘black’? Is my friend of Arab or Filipino or Mexican descent a ‘brown’? If not, why am I a ‘white’? Few things irk me more.”
Mr. Park was really taken aback by all this, and I acknowledge that he meant no harm or insult. He apologized. But I have had it up to here with the prevailing politically correct paradigm whereby some people—basically those not of European descent—are assigned terms that say fairly who they are, with capital letters. Their heritage is acknowledged. But I get a one-syllable word that purports incorrectly to describe my skin color? The hell I do. Somebody is clearly being favored and somebody else is being disfavored.
When I was younger and more naïve—or less cynical, if you prefer—I thought it was destiny that we would rise above such tribalism since in fact we are all one family. None are better or worse, we are all God’s kids, and so on. But I found that trying to hold such a view was impossible in the real world. Snap judgements are made on one's evident ethnicity many times every day. (I leave aside the complicating fact that humanity is mixing like never before. Who, I ask, is 100% pure anything these days? The main reason by far I do not like Obama is that he cleaves to his father’s African ancestry although his mother was European American and basically raised him herself. I suppose he is free to do that, but I think it would be more intellectually honest to acknowledge that he is of mixed race.)
In the days following the election, there was a massive amount of analysis and speculation about Trump's victory. (He won because of the Electoral College—Clinton had 62,646,960 votes, considerably more than Trump’s 61,378,646.) I often read that relatively poor and uneducated “white” men had gone for Trump in a big way, whereas women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other so-called minorities (a.k.a. “people of color”) favored Clinton. This just drove me up the wall. The friends to whom I referred earlier, supporters of Trump, fit two of those criteria. All are European American and male, but they have college degrees. Not stupid by any means. The mainstream media—and let’s be honest, it tilts to the left—was aghast. It portrayed Trump voters as slack-jawed yokels living in trailer parks whereas Clinton’s were quite the opposite. The New York Times, which stubbornly adheres to this neo-racist editorial policy, tossed objectivity out the window long ago. The same can be said for Wikipedia, and not a day goes by without me using both of those sources. I read them, but I am willing to stand on the rooftop and holler loudly when I see my people described as “white.”