Two score and ten years ago, the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr, addressed a crowd on the steps of the Lincoln memorial about a dream he had. It went on for a bit, but the gist of it was that America would one day be purged of the unholy injustice of racial bigotry. At the time, this was a project of such magnitude that no one would gainsay the scope or highmindedness of his aspirations. Were he to make that same speech today, however, he might find his audience slightly less sympathetic. ‘That’s all well and good for the American Negro,’ they might say, ‘but what about the plight of Korean journalists travelling business class with Lufthansa?’
Dr King would have to concede that the question was a fair one. He might have been willing to put his rhetoric to work for his own people, but his record on speaking up for Korean journalists was patchy at best. Fortunately, there is one lone voice in the wilderness who is willing to speak whereof Dr King dared not. The name of this great liberator? Kim Ji-hyun. That handle might not ring out, but it soon will. And history will remember this great firebrand’s ‘I Have a Dream’ moment as the day on which Kim declared that enough was enough, rolled up her sleeves and penned a meandering, contradictory, self-serving and ignorant newspaper column. The column in question was entitled ‘Dear Lufthansa, are you racist?‘, but for all its passion and righteous fury, it might better have been called, ‘I.. Dream-euh… Have…. Also. Same.’.
If you haven’t yet read Kim’s groundbreaking column, click the link above and do so now. The rest of us will wait for you here. There’s no hurry – savour every phrase, luxuriate in every caesura, let it linger in your consciousness like the rare white truffle that it is. It is a masterpiece of the leader writer’s art. Kim wrongfoots the audience from the second she leaves the gate. Those of us more used to the typical rhetorical tricks of seasoned orators might take the title question to be posed in apostrophe and would not expect it to be answered. Kim, however, pulls the rug from under us with her first line: Are Lufthansa racist? “Probably not.” BOOM. As we stagger backwards punchdrunk, our assumptions left in tatters, she introduces her topic, knowing full well that we now dare not take its ostensible idiocy at face value. What is it that has introduced sand into her pudendum? She’ll tell you: The shoddy treatment received by a group of journalists when they flew with the German national airline.
She deftly unpacks their tale: A crack team of reporters are returning from an assignment in Germany. Despite being in a profession that is defined by the ability to interpret complex data and make sense of it for others, none of these journalists are able to accurately discern the boarding time from the departure time on their boarding pass and they fail to make it to the gate in a timely manner. Even though they were business class passengers, the plane leaves without them, and they had to take another flight on the following day. Readers, rend your garments and gnash your teeth!
The less sympathetic among you might, however, think that these journalists are nothing short of fucktards who deserved everything they got, and would probably hope that they were forced to spend the night sleeping fitfully (or, better, not at all) on a cold airport floor. However, let the scales fall from your eyes and you will perceive not the self-imposed misfortune of a group of drunken peasants who should by rights be stripped of their passports and sent back to the cabbage fields lest they continue to disgrace the rest of the Korean people, but unbridled racial antipathy in its purest and most malevolent form.
How so? As Kim explains, the Lufthansa staff seeing to the comforts of their passengers in the businesss lounge likely let their judgement be clouded by the fact that this group of Koreans were “boisterous” and “less-than-attractive”. True, anyone not raised by wolves tends to find the airport behaviour of Koreans-of-a-certain-age-and-class pretty disgraceful – the shouting, the snorting, the tendency to treat the entire departure lounge like their own personal dive bar – and Lufthansa reps used to dealing with a better class of traveller might well have felt the warmth of their hospitality pale closer to professional obligation. But Kim makes it clear for us that it went further than that: They deliberately kept the group from making their flight by failing to inform them of its impending departure, and what’s more, scolded them for not observing the schedule. Kim doesn’t go into detail, but they probably also failed to wipe their arses for them when they went for a shit. It would hardly surprise.
And so what would at first blush appear to be an open and shut case of ajeossis behaving like louts is transformed by Kim’s retelling into a tale of humble Korean businessmen pitted against the steely ruthlessness of Aryan Übermenschen. Such is the skill of a powerful writer: they do not seek to alter the facts, but the position from which one views the facts. Anyone used to flying in the company of Koreans would be all too ready to credit these journalists’ troubles to their own propensity for generating bad will. Whether it’s from turning the departure gate into a pigpen, speaking down to airline staff, drinking themselves into a coma, or generally behaving as if the purchasing of a flight ticket instantly renders one some sort of fucking celebrity, it’s never too difficult to connect Korean travellers and a generalized and well justified sense of ill will. But hear Kim’s vague and specious leader and you will see the world anew: It was not the journalists that were wrong, but circumstance itself – the vile mix of malice, disgust and jealousy that once again yoked a Korean to the role of victim. Now it all seems so clear: It is never the Korean that is out of step with the world, but the world that is out of step with the Korean.
Few would have the mettle to stand against this injustice. Indeed, such men come but once in a generation. The Reverend Dr King’s torch has been passed, and the world has no choice but to stop and listen. The voice that they hear is rough with righteous indignation. It is speaks with the passion of a million angry souls. It burns with the fury of the too-long-downtrodden. True, it may lack the rhetorical flourish of other leaders – in fact, it might not make very much sense at all – but nevertheless, its message is clear – “PLEASE UNDERSTAND OUR SPECIAL SITUATION.”
Take note, world: Kim Ji-hyun also has a dream. It is a nonsensical, whiney, rambling sort of dream, but it is dream nonetheless. Kim has a dream that one day, groups of Korean journalists will be able to make as much noise and drink as much free scotch as they like in airport business lounges and be untroubled by the need to follow very basic instructions or behave in anything like a professional manner. She has a dream that one day Koreans will be judged not by the colour of their skin, or by the content of their character, but by the fact that they are older than you are. Further, she has a dream that whenever Korean travellers are inconvenienved entirely as a result of their own stupdity, they get to blame everyone but themselves, and display such a lack of self-awareness that they see no shame in writing a peevish, petty and inept column about it in a national newspaper.
Kim Ji-hyun cannot be ignored. She is the coarse, stupid, arrogant voice of a generation.