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Picture of me at the Seoul Botanic Park

This post is inspired by a video made by Skycedi on YouTube. Him and his girlfriend Becky are both half Korean and live in Seoul making content about Korean culture and race related issues. They also have a podcast called The Halfie Project. To see the video that inspired this post, click here. If you enjoy their content and would like to support their work, please subscribe to their channels and consider become a patreon as well.

No matter who you are or where you live, everyone wants to be safe. And the truth is everyone has the right to feel safe. Over the past few months, safety has been a very big issue for many. While many have asked how safe it is in the United States for Black people, others are asking the same question about Asia. When this question gets asked about Asia, Japan and South Korea are usually the top two countries that are referenced. So I will talk about how in feel as far as my safety in both places. My experience is not going to be like everyone else’s experience. I do not pretend to that my experience will speak for everyone else who may be in a similar position to me. But since this is my story and journey, here is my personal take on how safe I feel in the United States versus how safe I feel in South Korea.

One on One Safety

One on one safety can largely depend on the situation and location. One may feel safer in a place like New York City where people aren’t legally allowed to carry guns, compared to how they would feel in a city or state where people are allowed to carry their guns openly in public. So for the U.S. to Korea comparison, I will talk about my feelings of safety in general in the U.S. and not in a specific location. To be honest, I don’t fear being attacked walking down the street in many places. Then again, I’m 6’4″ (193 cm) tall which can play a role in that.

In the United States, I have often been reminded that I don’t make others feel safe just by my presence in an area. Even when wearing a suit and tie in broad daylight, I get followed around stores, hear people lock their doors when I walk on the sidewalk, see women move their purse to their other shoulder or seen people cross the street to avoid me. While this may seem like it’s not a big deal to some, people saying that they are “uncomfortable” , “nervous”, or “scared” has been used as a justification to call the police or to even kill men who look like me in the U.S. Because of this, I sometimes have to spend part of my day making sure people don’t have any of those feelings for my one personal safety.

What about while in South Korea? I did have people who didn’t want to sit next to me on the subway or on a bus, but otherwise I did not have the same negative feelings that I have in the U.S. You may hear that in Korea, most people mind their own business and get to where they are going. In my experience, that is true. The only people who would approach me on the street were people handing leaflets or who were from a church. I was treated just like a Korean would be in that regard. When it comes to one on one safety, I feel a lot safer in Korea than I do in the U.S.

Nighttime Safety

Nighttime safety is an issue in many places. Not every area is well lit and not every area has a lot of pedestrian or car traffic. So how safe would I feel walking around at night in both places? To be honest, having a car in the U.S. means one doesn’t have to walk around much at night. But when out at night, one may worry about confrontations with groups that can be negative. In some areas, hate groups come out at night at times they feel that the people they hate won’t be around or where they feel they have a better chance of isolating a person that they hate. While Korea does have highly prejudice people, they are not known for having as many organized hate groups or criminal gangs like there are in the U.S. While I would hesitate to walk around at night by myself in the U.S., I had no issues doing so in Korea, even after midnight. Overall, I feel much safer at night in Korea than I do in the U.S.

Law Enforcement Safety

This is probably the biggest topic that people want to talk about today. Images of negative police dealings with Black men in the U.S. are topics that the news media likes to keep front and center. It is an issue that has divided many. Some saying there are too many instances of innocent Black people being killed by the police, and others looking at what they feel is the bigger picture and saying that they feel it is okay for the police to have done what they did. This section of this post will not be on the topic of police brutality and how I feel about it. But what has my interactions with the police been like in both the U.S. and Korea?

In the U.S., I have rarely had encounters with the police. To many, I am lucky to be a Black man that can say that. I’ve been pulled over 4 times in my life, with 2 of those times being because I had a taillight out and didn’t know it. I’ve never had a ticket and have never been behind the wheel of a traffic accident. So does this mean that all of my police interactions have been positive and I feel safe around them? Sadly, the answer is no.

I’ve seen a police office almost cause a multi-car accident because he was about to cut over a few lanes to of traffic to try and pull me over. I once got out of a taxi in a suit and a bow tie in New York City when about 20 law enforcement agents became visible to me and started talking on walkie-talkies. I’ve had a number of times while driving that I was being followed by a law enforcement officer for miles, including changing lanes to follow me, while driving. Women that I know have been pulled over and had police officers flirt with them on the side of the road. And recently during this pandemic, I’ve been followed and starred at by the police while shopping for food. On one occasion, I passed 3 officers and one moved his hand like he was about to draw his gun while staring at me. The fact that I’ve gone through this and I’m considered to be “lucky” that things never went worse lets you know how bad things are in the U.S. For years, some felt that these stories are made up and demanded to see evidence of this being true. And even after multiple videotapes and audio recordings being shown, they still don’t see anything wrong with this. That is my reality in the U.S.

What about Korea? Oddly enough, I stayed less than a mile (or kilometre) from a police station and courthouse in Korea. I had to walk past the police station when going to one grocery market, and then walked pass the courthouse on my way back. I had to walk past the police several times while they were directing both auto and pedestrian traffic, and even was had multiple officers standing behind me and following me onto the subway. Due to the frequency that this happened, it could be said that I’ve had more overall interactions with the police in Korea than I have in the U.S. So how did I feel with those interactions, and how did I feel living so close to a police station that I had to pass very often?

Honestly, I felt fine. I never felt like I was being targeted by the police or treated unfairly. While I would be cautious going by a police station in the U.S., I had no issues walking by one in Korea. I wasn’t stared down by the police, I did not have to deal with any rudeness at customs when arriving or leaving the country, there were no security guards at the courthouse giving me dirty looks, simply put, there was nothing I had to fear. When it comes to being around the police and other forms of law enforcement, I feel more comfortable and at ease in Korea.

Can A Black Man Feel Safe In Korea?

As a Black man, do I feel a Black man can feel safe in Korea? Yes. Does that mean that all Black men will feel safe in Korea? No. While Korea is safer in general, despite what many Black people have been told about Korea, there is still plenty of areas where one can get in trouble and face issues in Korea. For this to be an honest discussion, one must admit that there are times where one can put themselves in an unsafe situation. Korea has spots that have illegal gambling, people who try to do drugs, prostitution, crime families and other things that can make a person feel unsafe if they are involved with these activities and the people who do them. The simple truth is that no place is 100% safe from everything. And it is true that there are racist people in Korea who feel that only Koreans should be in Korea. One is living in a fantasy world to believe this isn’t the case. But in the end, a Black man who has faced issues through no fault of his own in other parts of the world, can feel safe while being in Korea.