(Buy it HERE(e-book only))
Yerong is a South Korean kindergarten teacher– sweet, intelligent, creative and reasonably aware of social issues. One day she meets Ghanaian scientist Manni and her eyes are opened to the realities of being an immigrant and a black person in a society that values conformity and often puts white Europeans on a pedestal above other non-Koreans.
A Black Guy…is thoughtfully composed of real life anecdotes about racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination from a Korean point of view. The simple line drawings keep it from feeling too heavy and the cute foundational romance adds sweetness to some moments that would otherwise be pretty sour. Personally I really appreciated the chapters that deal with the intersectionality of being Black and a woman in Korea, because I am both of those things–though it’s mostly alright, there are days when it’s on a whole other level, y’all. It’s nice to have that seen by someone with a different lived experience. I’m also surprised at how deeply Yerong is able to dive into some pretty controversial subjects and shocking incidents without leaving the reader depressed. She writes about racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in Korean society with light humor and deep sincerity. Ultimately, her message is one of hope–hope that we can all learn to respect and understand each other, regardless of origin, physicality or circumstance.
I feel like I had a relationship with this bilingually written graphic novel long before I ever opened it–I’ve been a fan of the simple line comics posted at @yerongss since the beginning. Back in January I was even part of a news panel discussion on racism that included the author. (The original comics have been revamped and expanded for print.) If I have one quibble with this book it’s that as a Black American woman, some of the topics in this book are approached from angles that I wouldn’t necessarily come from, and reach conclusions that I might not. However, this is where I have take a step back and realize that I am not the target audience or culture for every part of this book. As I said, it’s primarily written from and to a Korean point of view, and succeeds at that, IMO.
In case you were wondering, this book is fully bilingual–English translations of Korean text are present in every panel.
5 stars and a rush hour subway seat to Yerong’s A Black Guy Was Sitting Next To Me On The Subway.
(Thanks for reading! There are no affiliate links in this review, but as always, please visit my Bookshop to browse other titles like this–for example, check out this booklist of graphic novels for adults.)