Lately, people have started to talk about the issue of racism in Korea. However, some apologists of racism try to explain the issue away by saying that Koreans are ethnocentric and so everyone should be more understanding of some of Koreans’ behavior towards those who are different.
Foreigners living in the country may have experienced one form of racism or another. Sometimes racism can be so subtle that it passes unrecognized. Some people may not even know that they are racists because they have been socialized to treat foreigners in a particular manner. Racism exists in Korea just like in many other countries across the globe.
Koreans are generally ethnocentric. They believe in racial superiority and see people who are different from them as others. The media also helps to promote racism because of its discrimination in reporting minor crimes committed by Koreans and foreigners. For example, the media will cover minor crimes by foreigners extensively. The crime becomes a major news item just because it is committed by a foreigner and yet the same type of crime by a Korean would often go unreported.
For example, the media will not specify the foreigner who has committed the crime or even mention their country of origin but refer to them as a foreigner (s). They fail to recognize the foreigners as individuals and just put them under one group as ‘foreigners’. To illustrate this assertion I recently watched a news report that addressed the issue of foreigners with a drinking problem.
The footage showed a white guy who had taken some alcohol. He was obviously moderately drunk and yet they went on and on about how foreigners had a drinking problem for over four minutes. They did not even mind that the white man was moderately drunk and thus within the recommended limits. The issue had been magnified just because it was a foreigner drank and it could be called an issue of national concern.
I also noted that the Korean media is very different from say the western media. Reporters in these countries usually avoid mentioning someone’s race when reporting unless it is relevant to do so but in Korea describing people by their race is the norm.
Korea has opened up its borders and immigrants are coming into the country just like in other countries such as Britain, the United States, France, Spain and Germany among others. The situation in Korea is no different from the one in America in regards to the relationship between whites and blacks.
In addition, Hispanics have migrated to America to look for greener pastures and this has led to problems as Americans raise concern over the influx of foreign workers who take over their jobs and lead to reduction of wages. Similarly, Korea has immigrants who have come to look for employment opportunities.
The immigrants experience racial discrimination because Koreans value ethnic homogeneity and are very protective of their race. For this reason, some the immigrants are seen as inferior people and this leads to their segregation from the mainstream Korean life. This is because Korea is now dealing with the issue of multiculturalism in a society that has been a monoculture society for long. Recently I watched a movie called Bandhobi which features a Bangladesh immigrant worker in Korea.
He works in Korea for a period of one year and his boss refuses to pay him jus because he is working in the country illegally. His friend a Korean girl helps him to track his boss and get his payment (Bandhobi 1). The film depicts the plight of immigrant workers as they suffer from racism in Korea.
Moreover, the Korean society values purity of blood and biracial Koreans also face discrimination. It is very easy to spot biracial because Koreans have distinct features such as black hair and black eyes. They are treated differently by a society that does not accept strangers or outsiders readily. My friend Kim is no stranger to discriminations that biracial people face in Korea. He has had insults hurled at him just because he looks different.
The discrimination prompted him to join the Pearl S. Buck international an agency that caters for biracial children suffering from racism because he wants to protect his young children from the harsh reality of discrimination. Biracials face discrimination and exclusion in the society such as lack education opportunities (Rahn 1) Another biracial person who comes to mind is Hine Wards who became a media sensation in Korea in 2006 after he was named “the most valuable player of the Super Bowl” (“Korean Racism” par. 3).
The people in Korea took notice and some even talked about honoring him with bashes. The fascination with Hines was interesting because Koreans look at biracial with contempt yet for him they were willing to make an exception but only because he had done exceptionally well in the sport.
His mother a Korean married to an African American spoke of the discrimination her son faced in American from Koreans living there that she had to stop her son from hanging out with the Korean children. She added that someone spat on her when she had returned to Korea for her mother’s burial because she had married a foreigner (“Korean racism” 1). Many Korean women face discrimination for marrying foreigners both at home and abroad (Reimers 179).
Korean nationalists asserted the notion of ethnic homogeneity in Korea. They racialized Korean nation by urging that it was founded on the ideals of shared blood and ancestry” (Shin 54). It therefore meant that Koreans took pride in their purity and uniqueness.
This assertion brought Koreans together but it also acts as a hindrance for the society to accept people who are different yet in the present world due to globalization people have become interconnected.
Finally, the issue of racism in Korea is real. The society looks at foreigners with contempt. It is not uncommon to see a bunch of young Koreans shouting at foreigners on the streets which shows a lack of respect because they do not do that to other Koreans. The discrimination against biracial is problematic especially in the current world as more people choose to marry from outside their race. Subjecting the spouses and children to discrimination is not only unfair but also insensitive because just because one contains DNA from another race does not make one inferior.
The misguided stereotypes against foreigners in Korea is wrong because it perpetuates the feelings of superiority among the Koreans and those who are not open minded operate in racial cocoons. The problem of racism in Korea needs to be looked into and people educated about the need of embracing people from other races because people come from diverse backgrounds.
The media which has in the past helped to reinforce the notion of racism even in subtle ways should portray the foreigners in a positive light and such an action will help to educate the society the negatives of racism and help them to embrace diversity. Racism is evil and must be kicked out of the society.
Bandhobi. Dir. Sin Dong-il.2009. Film. Korean racism is something else. 13. Feb. 2006. 17 Dec. 2010.
Rahn, Kim. Biracial People Face Discrimination in Korea. 20 May. 2005. 17 Dec. 2010.
Reimers, David. Other immigrants: the global origins of the American people. New York: NYU Press, 2005.
Shin, Gi-Wook. Ethnic nationalism in Korea: genealogy, politics, and legacy. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.