They call me foreigner. They call me native English teacher. They call me American. They call me pretty. They call me ugly. They call me strange. That's not my name!!
Even before I moved to South Korea, people have either butchered my name or gave me a name they preferred to call me based on who they percieved me to be. And sometimes, in my desire to have a nickname, I accepted these things. But gone are those days and the days of bitting my tongue. Call me by my name or don't call me at all.
The most common word used to describe me and other Non-Korean nationals is 외국인 (way-gook-in). It literally translates to foreigner. This word makes my stomach turn. This word gives me a knot at the back of my throat. This word makes my muscles tense. If you say this word in my presence I will unconsciously roll my eyes and mentally punch you in the throat. It's that deep.
But Miya, you are a foreigner! What's the problem!?
When Koreans say the word 외국인 I hear: You are different.
Korea does not do different well; this is not a positive thing. If you stand out, you're either admired or shunned. But the admiration feels superficial. And cancelation based on nationality or ethnicity is unwarrented. In Korea, different usually equates to bad, which is flat out ingnorance.
When Koreans say the word 외국인 I hear: You you don't belong here.
Because I am different in a country where everyone is the same. What am I doing here? I should just go back home. I should be with people who look like me and think like me. But this line of thinking enforces sterotypes. I am not only my skin color and the way I present myself in the world. Incased in this brown body is a brain with thoughts and ideas that might surprise you if you take a chance to open your mind.
When Koreans say the word 외국인 it points out the fact that I am physically different. What you are describing is my body, hair, and skin but you don't know me. You see me but, you don't see me!
What is hypervisibilty?
This is a difficult word to google without coming across dense academic journals with limited access, without a subscription. So I'll give my own understanding of it. Hypervisibility is having an extremely visible body due to percieved difference. For example, as a Black woman, specifically in Korea, I experience an overwheling amount of hypervisibility. Because of the color of my skin I cannot go unseen in this country. Although this also happens to Black people across the world, I am especially aware of it in a homogenous society.
To give context, I was born and rasied in a predominately Black city/neighboorhood. The only time I can recall experiening hypervisibility at home, is in college classes when I was occasionally the only Black student in the room. Therfore I cannot get used to being called out, stared at, damn near praised, at times avoided, for what I look like on the outside.
Hypervisibility breeds self-consciousness and anxiety. How do I know? I'm living it. The ten minute walk to and from school is the most anxiety inducing part of my day. I am painfully aware of the people in the cars and the eyes of the people that are most definitely looking at me. If I focus on this too much it's bound to put me in a bad mood. Because there's not a day that goes by that I don't stop traffic and is not a good thing. So how about this: STOP STARING AT ME AND GO PICK UP MIN-JAE FROM SOCCER PRACTICE. *deep-exhale*
A few other issues that I could write entire posts on include: "Look at me! I'm friends with a foreigner!" and "I'm such a good person! I helped my foreign friend (insert whatever here)!" Dear Koreans, foreigners are not accessories or tasks on a to-do list. Do better.
The sister to hypervisibility is, you guessed it...hypersexualization.
The hypersexualization of Black women is the result of objectification in the media. In general women are more likely to be depicted in a sexual manner then men. And I cannot talk about Black women and hypersexualization without talking about Hip-Hop. Black women are viewed as mere objects and props in music videos and lyrics alike. You'll just have to take my word for it on this one, cause I'm not wasting energy looking for an example. There are plenty; google is your friend.
But why does this matter here? It matters because the men (and women) staring at me on the bus, or the train, or anywhere for that matter, are not wondering where I bought my jeans. Or maybe they are! But the point is that I'm aware of how my body looks. And I'm aware of the things that are assumed about me because of it.
In one of my favorite poetry performances Alysia Harris says, "..Truth is, nobody believes me when I say I'm a virgin..." And I think about this a lot living in my tall shapely body. It bothers me that I am assumed to be sexually librated, when I am quite the opposite. I have had a very strange relationship with my body my entire life. It has never felt like my own. It was always Grandma's, or Aunt so-and-so's. Or any and every man who has ever looked at me with desire in his eyes.
"Consequences of hypersexualization for girls and women include anxiety about appearance, feelings of shame, eating disorders, lower self-esteem and depression." -Jaimee Swift & Hannah Gould, "Not An Object: On Sexualization and Exploitation of Women and Girls (UNICEF 2020).
The little bit of pride I had for my body has turned to shame as a result of the male gaze. Being fashionable is a battle of wanting to look good but not wanting to get the wrong type of attention. But the truth is, the way I dress should not dictate how someone treats me. In fact how someone treats me has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them and their beliefs.
I am on a constant journey of loving myself and caring less what people think about me. In the meantime, don't use the word 외국인 around me unless you ready to square up. In other words...Do not knuck, if in fact you are not ready to buck.
Yesterday on the way to the cafeteria, there was a 2nd grade class standing in the hallway. The students were eager to greet me. I greeted them back. But one excited boy fixed his tiny mouth to say, "Wow! It's a foreigner!"
The above was my actually face. But I wouldn't hurt a child. However, if you're over the age of twelve you can catch these hands! Periodt.
The last reason why I hate the word 외국인 is because is sounds uncomfortably close to the word 외계인 (way-gye-in) which means alien. Coincidence? I think not. I am not an alien.
Here's a nostalgic song in the name high school teen angst! Fun!!!
And remember...call me by my name, or don't call me at all. *drops mic*