Claire Jean Kim, Bitter Fruit: The Politics of
Black-Korean Conflict in New York City. New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2000, 300 pages, ISBN 0-300-07406-9, $45.00.
Jennifer Lee, Civility in the City: Blacks, Jews, and
Koreans in Urban America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
2002, 270 pages, ISBN 0-674-00897-9, $35.00.
In-Jin Yoon, On My Own: Korean Businesses and Race
Relations in America. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1997, 274
pages, ISBN 0-226-959279-9, $45.00.
During the past decade, scholars of ethno-racial relations have
increasingly grappled with the thorny issue of Black-Korean conflict.
This attention is no doubt the result of a number of high profile,
sometimes violent, and often prolonged clashes between Blacks and
Koreans in large urban settings. On January 18, 1990, an incident
between a Black customer and a Korean storeowner at the Family Red
Apple Inc. grocery store touched off a yearlong boycott of two Korean
businesses in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, NY. The 1992 Los
Angeles Rebellion, which was originally sparked by the acquittal of
four White police officers accused of beating Black motorist, Rodney
King, led to three days of looting, arson, and violence. The event
quickly became framed in terms of a conflict between Blacks and
Koreans, however, as Koreans owned more than half of the stores that
were burned or looted. While the evidence of real and often acute
tensions between these groups is irrefutable, in many instances the
media has tended to distort the nature, scale, and significance of the
clashes by over-dramatizing Black-Korean conflict (Lee 2002),
obfuscating Korean-Latino conflict (Bobo et al.,
1994; Oliver et al., 1993), and
ignoring and therefore silencing Korean voices (Abelmann and Lie, 1995). Thankfully, careful,
scholarly analyses of these incidents and the tensions that precipitate
them are starting to emerge. Civility in the City, Bitter
Fruit, and On My Own are some of the best recent examples
of this new literature and are each valuable attempts to increase
understanding about the nature of merchant-customer relations in
predominantly Black urban neighborhoods.