Discrimination Op/Ed

Racism in Korea – there have been enough excuses

By Monisha.pushparaj. Reproduced under CC3.0 license
By Monisha.pushparaj. Reproduced under CC3.0 license
James Hyams
Written by James Hyams

“If a nail sticks out, it gets hammered,” he said to me at a bar in Seoul.

It was my second time in Korea and at that stage I’d been married to a Korean lady for 8 years.

I thought I knew what he meant, but I never really, truly understood what it meant until I joined the Brothas and Sistas in Korea Facebook group.

Minority groups will tell you that they are treated differently to Koreans – they are the nails that stand out.

As a journalist, I get the occasional message that reinforces inaccurate cultural stereotypes – that blacks are scary gangster thugs, Asians are socially backward, Muslims are terrorists, America rules the world, and only white Americans speak proper English.

For some people, these stereotypes have very real meaning in their lives. They rely on these racist notions to shape their realities. These individuals actively avoid exposure to other cultural groups thereby fostering segregation which prevents new cultural exchange. They also pay attention to events that reinforce their inaccurate cultural stereotypes. With enough time, these stereotypes are then passed along to the next generation. This is the intergenerational cycle of racism.

That is, unless the youth of today are given opportunities to challenge these racist stereotypes. This is where South Korea is right now; in the early stages of transitioning from a homogenous cultural group to a multicultural society.

There is resistance in many areas of society, especially at hagwons who hire English teachers. This point is clearly made by a member of the Brothas and Sistas of South Korea group who sent the following submission to us.

The author wants to remain anonymous.

On April 28th 2015, I came across an advertisement for a part-time position teaching at a hagwon in Seoul. The pay, work load and age group were pretty standard, but one thing in particular stood out – “only white person”.

2Anybody that is loosely acquainted with the EFL/ESL industry in Korea, is well aware of the lingering mindset that only white people (or thin, white, blonde, female Americans to be more specific) can be deemed as ideal or quality teachers.

This mindset is just not confined to education either. It permeates through so many levels of society, one has to make huge efforts to find a place where lighter skin is not revered above others, but just seen equally.

Normally, the modus operandi is to come up with some theory, or excuse, as to why some people in this wonderful country still think and behave like this –

“Oh, it’s because having pale skin once meant one was of a higher class. In many parts of Asia, that still holds true”
Or
“Aha, it’s because Koreans haven’t been exposed to non-white people, so darker skinned folks might scare the populace”
Or
“I’ve got it! It’s because Korea has advanced so quickly, but mentally, the people haven’t been able to keep up with all the changes”
Or the infamous:
“There is racism and xenophobia everywhere. If you don’t like it, find another country”

While there is some truth to all of the above, they only act as paper tapes attempting to cover cracks the size of canyons. I used to agree with people that made these statements and gave these excuses, but then I realized how condescending the excuses are both to me and to the people they are defending.

This is an age where Korea has a 103% internet penetration rate, where 73% of the population have the world’s biggest encyclopedia in the palm of their hands via smartphones. An age where Koreans are exposed to and bombarded with positive images of darker skin people of all ethnicities on a daily basis…and yet some are somehow able to retain this ignorant and uneducated mindset that skin tone is somehow an indication of competence?

I contacted the individual that made the job posting and made an effort to explain how the school is not doing the children any favours by only exposing them to one type of teacher. I was already aware of the excuses she would make (which, ironically is almost the same as the people that would try to defend her actions).

I also made sure to explain to this individual, the message her institution is sending to the children about Native English speakers of Korean (and East Asian in general) heritage.

What hope do these children have in learning the global language if the people in charge of educating them, are sending a message that they don’t have faith in, and are willing to discriminate against people that look like them?

I also made sure to send a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea with an image of the offending advert, which was dutifully received and is currently being processed.

I was aware of the possibility that my words to the hagwon would simply fall on deaf ears, and that I would get some half-assed apology and a promise to change or remove the advertisement, but as the saying goes “if you don’t try, you’ll never know”.

The person did as expected, apologizing and promising to remove the advertisement. I ended our conversation by advising the offending individual that changing or removing the discriminatory advertisement simply wouldn’t be enough.

The toxic and destructive mindset would also need to change. It is not only the image of herself and the hagwon she is harming, but potentially the image of millions of Koreans worldwide, which is quite ironic in itself.

Unsurprisingly, two weeks after receiving the apology and a flurry of promises, the offending advertisement is STILL up on Craigslist and has been updated at least twice, with the “Only white person” requirement still intact.

I wonder what the excuse will be this time.

The Korea Observer phoned the person who listed the Craigslist advert for white teachers Thursday. She said she thought she’d removed it already and promised to take it down – again.

Originally, she said that the presumption was the children would be scared of black people.

There is a rich irony in all of this as outlined by another member of the BSSK group, who gave permission to be quoted.

“The reason for the students being afraid of Black teachers is absurd given that Korea’s Hallyu wave, in particular K-Pop music, is based on appropriating Black American culture. In other words, how can they be afraid of Black people, yet ‘Swagger Jack’ our culture?”

This point is often overlooked in Korean circles.

More to the point, there is younger generation of Korean children eager to learn English and hear about the world. They will be the first generation of Koreans that have the capability to transform Korea into a truly accepting, multicultural society.

Whether the youth choose to hammer those nails that stick out or positively accept other cultures is dependent upon their experiences with minority cultures. A lack of experience can only be met with a perpetuation of racist stereotypes.

I implore older Koreans’ to embrace those that are different and stop trying to force perfect conformity to antiquated notions of a purebred monoculture.

After all, multiculturalism is the future of Korea and the multinational world. Being culturally aware doesn’t signify the end of Korean culture.

It is time to give the youth the exposure to people of all races. There have been enough excuses.

About the author

James Hyams

James Hyams

James Hyams juggles several careers including being a journalist and a social worker. James has an avid interest in 'telling it as it is', exposing matters of public interest, and reviving investigative journalism in the new digital era. Testimony to this is his thesis titled: “U.S. Government secrecy and the withering watchdog: Is WikiLeaks the answer?”

  • Jenny Jackson-Smith

    I agree with all that you posted, I want to make that clear… I’m a member of the facebook group you mentioned and have had my own experiences as a black woman teaching here.

    I just have a thought… or a germ of a thought based on a conversation I had with students today about an article we were reading about Nigeria, and how there are 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria…and I had to explain the phrase “ethnic groups”. The kids all were like “well ,they are all black, so they are the same group, right?” and well, it took a lot to try and explain what that expression means, and in the end, I’m not entirely sure I was able to explain it properly. And it suddenly hit me how incredibly unique Korea is in this regard… in searching my brain I could only come up with one other country who _may_ be as homogeneous as Korea… and that is Japan (and my knowledge of Japan is rather limited so I may be wrong about that). Korea has one ethnic group… Korean. That’s it. That’s all they’ve ever had. It’s… I can’t even imagine growing up with all the baggage that growing up in that context would bring because it is so completely foreign to me. In fact, that may actually be the most foreign thing about Korea, now that I think about it.

    Being a black woman, I have gone to the African district of Itaewon to get my hair done and have met the children of African immigrants who were born here and speak fluent Korean (even to the point of having trouble communicating with their parents because their parents aren’t fluent in Korean) and I have often wondered what life will be like for them, being the among the first non Korean (and non-Asian, non-light skinned) native Koreans… how Korea will have to adjust it’s perspective of what actually makes a person Korean when these children grow up. Will they remain isolated in their little enclave on “Africa Street”? Or will they attempt to integrate into society, and how will other Koreans react to them?

    Anyway, like I said, it’s a barely formulated thought. I don’t disagree with anything you said, I think racism is abhorrent and should be opposed at every turn, but as a student of history, I am curious about the context… I can’t help it. Context matters, Opposing racism in Korea may take different strategies than opposing racism back in the West based on the context…

    • RichP

      It’s interesting because Korea only really started becoming “ethnically homogenous” during the Joseon period, and even then there was a lot more coming and going of different peoples than they currently care to admit. The problem lies in the fact that during the Japanese occupation and its aftermath a LOT of cultural identity construction took place which basically reinforced the idea of the Hermit Kingdom and the ethnically homogenous identity. It is this cultural construct that first needs to be broken down and re-examined BY KOREANS before Korea will be able to move towards anything approaching a multi-cultural society.

      • michaelu

        Thank you, Rich, some nuance coming into the conversation concerning the
        long road ahead for Korea becoming genuinely “multicultural”. The very notion of
        there being “one Korean ethnic identity” is an absurd one.
        What with China and Japan (and other nations) so close by, how could
        there possibly be absolute “purity” (whatever that means)
        of the ethnicity. As you say, the construction of the Korean
        homogenous identity came about as a reaction to domination
        (politically and culturally by China, then militarily by Japan)
        followed by dissection (by the Soviets and Americans). The notion of
        “one Korea” is burned into the psyche of most people here
        as a point of pride (which, in recent memory, how many “points
        of pride” could the country have?)

        • michaelu

          Now in saying this, please bear in mind that I am not condemning Korea, or any other country, for having its foundational myths. We’ve got our myths in the US as well. “Making the world safe for democracy” sounds a whole lot better than “blindly protecting the worldwide interests of our rich, parasitic overlords,” now, doesn’t it? My point is that expecting Korea to follow the “social development trajectory” that we desire for it is not just unlikely to work, but also repugnantly arrogant. We still have racial tensions in the US (please, James Hyams, tell me there aren’t any racial problems in Australia–please tell me that, PLEASE!!), and to expect a cleaner path to multiculturalism from another country, simply because they hire recent college graduates to be English teachers, is stupendously, almost comically, naive.
          Except for the fact that there is little to laugh about in racism; in perpetuating the idea that one group of people, based simply on some (really, really hard to define, to be honest) fact about their birth, is empirically superior to another group of people. But we in the US have spent over 200 years in not learning that lesson. At least not learning it very well. It’s so easy to point out the flaws in another person’s society, just like it’s easy to point out the flaws in another individual. Instead of pitching fits and making demands, and claiming “there have been enough excuses,” maybe we can teach, by example, with humility, that all of us–as individuals and societies–have a long way to go, and a lot of room to grow. I’m an arrogant bastard who thinks that his perspectives are clearer than those of others. I have no patience whatsoever for oversimplified arguments and empty platitudes. I’m amazingly hypocritical when it comes to driving. Room to grow. Just like Korea. Just like you, James. Just like all of us.

          • Korea

            Yes. When all these ignorant complainers get off their soapbox they should be the target of their own style of one sided out of context description of the narrow minded fools that they are. Who gets to decide how a country should be like. What if Koreans do not agree Korea should be some kind of BS multicultural society that western societies like to pretend foolishly they are, not admitting the gross hypocrisy all over the fabric of their arrogant societies.

          • Matthew

            If they don’t agree then they shouldnt have joined the UN….

          • Korea

            You think countries join UN so they can be just like the US? LMAO

          • Masked Man

            Yes, they do. No one will be better tHan USA and you should pray to USA flag before you go to bed for not being under fat Buddha. You weak pathetic country can’t fight for yourselves… Need white man hahahahha

          • Orchid

            Then Koreans should never expect that treatment from other Countries when their people emigrate. If Korea plays an international game they have to deal with international issues like multiculturalism.

      • Jenny Jackson-Smith

        This is all true, but even if it is only since the Joseon Dynasty…that’s still about 400 years of believing in an idea of what Korean Identity is that is completely different that what believing in say… British Identity is, or Canadian or Nigerian or any other country I can think of. Even in China, where there is literally thousands of years of Chinese identity to draw on, there is an understanding that people can be of different groups and still be Chinese.. there’s the Han Chinese, the Manchu Chinese, the Yi… so many groups all under the one umbrella of Chinese. There is no equivalent in Korea. It is just Korean… that is it. And I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has any sort of cultural memory of a time when it was different. That is what I mean.

    • Baby Shoes

      Your black ass is always a VICTIM. BUT YOUR SILENCE FOR MURDERED WHITE AFRICANS IS DEAFENING! What a CUNT you are!

  • http://www.orionsramblings.net/ Orion

    I think racism is a huge problem and in no way should educated adults be given any slack for it. However, as someone who has made that third point, I would like to say that it is not an excuse nor a defense, but rather an effort to understand what is clearly a conflicting element in order to get to the root of the problem. As the author said, when educated people in a country with such fast internet and resources are still so behind in terms of ethics, human rights etc, you have to consider the why, because it can help fix things. I cannot feel the anger this person must feel (I am a white female after all), but I do know the best way for more people to avoid such hurt is to find more long-term solutions.

    The internet and exposure to positive representations is not a miracle worker. If the child has been raised with a racist mindset and conditioned to not think about the input they get by themselves, no amount of said input will change things. They will simply use the tool, the internet, the movies, the news to reinforce the things they are taught they should believe and not question. Sadly, many homophobes, racists, misogynists etc are very highly educated, well networked people and even from cultures which are generally more progressive.

    The problem is not simple and it is not the same in every country. So while condemning these behaviors is important, finding their root and addressing it is even more so. No matter how much we chastise such horrible individuals, the problem will not go away when more like them will be raised into the same backwards way of thinking. At best, it offers some short-term relief, when our efforts pay off. People are not born monsters or cruel. Acknowledging that and wishing there will be measures taken to prevent it is simple being realistic.

    • Baby Shoes

      Another useful idiot.

  • Jonathan Paul

    I’m inclined to agree with the kindergarten boss – black faces probably would scare the kids. I remember once showing up to my first day subbing at a kindergarten with a bright red, sunburned face and i also scared the kids, one even cried! But after a bit of time, once they could see that despite my unfamiliar appearance, i also was a human who smiles and laughs and is in every other way much like people they know – they got over it. I’d like to think the next red faced person who went in would have a much easier time!

    i’ve also tried to pinpoint the racism in these situations and i think in some cases it might not actually exist – it’s just people perceive others to be racist. I’ll explain. The boss doesn’t want to hire a black person because they feel the parents won’t like it. The parents may be very liberal, multicultural people – but if they think that their parents, relatives, neighbours or colleagues will think less of them because their child is taught by a non young, white, blond American lady – then perhaps they will pull their kid from the school. Perhaps actually every one of their friends and relatives is also totally cool with it – it won’t matter. Personally i couldn’t give 2 shits what people think – but there’s a lot of people who do. Unfortunately Korea might be the most image obsessed country in the world. Even my Taiwanese exgf, an extremely image obsessed person herself – was very impressed with the attention to detail of shops and highstreets and the fashion and makeup. The way I see it, we foreigners are paving the way for future generations – pioneers in our own way!

    • Bwapiwo

      I’ll have to disagree with you. There is racism whenever people are given advantages or are denied the right to things such as a job or an education solely because of their ethnic origins. What you are doing right now is the reason why the author had to write this article. I feel that you’re trying to find a cultural excuse to the blatant racism that is visible to any non-white person living in Korea. There are many other countries and cultures in the world where image is important, but they do not necessarily put it in terms of black and white. The “image” excuse is doing nothing but providing a reason for the discrimination to continue.

      • Jonathan Paul

        Well I’ll have to agree with you, because you’re entirely right about it being wrong and bad. I don’t remember saying otherwise. The first part of my message was about how it’s normal for kids to be scared of something unusual at first but it takes minutes to get over because kids can recognise our universal humanness.

        The second part wasn’t an excuse – it was an attempt to illustrate how even after we’ve completely beaten explicit racism and changed people’s perceptions – because of Koreans image obsessed culture, there is can still be situations where no one person in the chain needs to express any personal racism for them all to become complicit in it. And to be fair – America does it too – when Hollywood overwhelmingly casts white actors instead of black, each director is likely not racist – yet the outcome is the same. Plus winning in Hollywood would go a long way towards beating it around the world too. In every case, it’s wrong and a first good step would be to get rid of discrimination in employment practises here. No more of this ‘I want a Canadian woman, 5″3 called Doris with freckles” they should have to judge solely on the resume. Hopefully someday they will.

    • Jenny Jackson-Smith

      I think this pawning it off on the next person or, at the worst, the children is…well, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s pathetic. Of course the kids will be scared by black faces, they have likely never seen a black person before. Who cares? The express purpose of education is to introduce new things to kids. Things that might make them uncomfortable for a short time… if we only present children with things that don’t challenge them, then they won’t learn.
      That’s actually what education is.

      I was a preschool teacher back in Canada and I once showed up at work with my hair a little different from the usual style, and little girl burst into tears. Should my boss have ordered me to wear my hair in the usual way so as not to frighten the children? Of course not, we took it as an opportunity to show this girl that change is not always a frightening thing. She got over it.

      I’m rambling a bit, I think… but I just think that the excuse of blaming the children is awful.

    • Sweet Cuppin’ Cakes

      You’ve hit the racism with a sledgehammer in your attempt to ‘pinpoint’ it and show that it ‘might not actually exist’ – it’s just a matter of a shift of where (and how widespread) the racism is. Fine, the hagwon recruiter/owner may not be a full-on, card-toting racist, but is rather just acting in the interest of retaining clients. Whatever is done to keep the parents of the kids happy, in the name of good business, can’t be seen as racist, right? It’s the parents that are racist. Ahh, but no, ‘the parents may be very liberal, multicultural people’ – but as soon as they think about what OTHERS think, that OTHERS may have deep-seated racist views about the fact that their child is being taught by an inferior teacher, then their decision to pull out their kids isn’t racist either, right? … Guys? Right?

      So the reasoning is like this: recruiter posts ad for white-only teacher in interest of keeping as many students with ‘full knowledge’ (viz. institutionalized supposition of accepted norms) that, given non-white teacher was hired, parents would withdraw students from hagwon not because of what they personally believe about the merit of non-white teacher, but because of HOW IT IS PERCEIVED, what OTHERS THINK. Social norms drive individual choice in Korea more strongly than in Western (or perhaps any other) societies (because Confucianism, but not really: throw in some conspicuous consumption and heightened image consciousness, blend it, et voila: Korea). But all this buck-passing and blame-shifting just emphasizes how widespread racism is – racism, which at the very bottom, is a preference for one race over another. There doesn’t have to be any uncouth (at best) or violent (at worst) behavior involved (my previous mention of ‘card-toting racist’ fitting that bill). There just has to be a ‘simple’ preference of one race over another. And there it is. Not just by the hagwon owner/recruiter. Not just by the parents. But in the very thought of what others and what society thinks is acceptable to think about preferences of race. (Reread that.) And that’s the most deep-seated, sinister, and really-difficult-to-extirpate variety. Korea is far from alone in that regard.

  • Gen Eral Dokdo

    Irony is misused the first two times and commas seem to be randomly placed throughout the article. Claiming you are married to a Korean doesn’t just make you seem like you are searching for authenticity but actually takes away from your message. And, in your case, it not only takes away from the message but is a red flag that your thesis and supporting facts aren’t strong enough to stand on their own. Also, the white savior knows best angle has been wayyyyy too played out in the blogesphere, or however it’s spelled. Other than these criticisms from an obvisouly fake facebook account, I would say the article bordered on decent.

    • Jenny Jackson-Smith

      Just pointing out that the “obviously fake facebook account” is real. I’m a member of the group he mentions in the article and discussions like that are what that group is for.

    • ‘white savior’!!! pah ha ha

      ‘the article bordered on decent’… how nice of you to say so. There are some great articles on this site, it’s a shame they are pedantic twat magnets. I detest how people miss the point and instead focus on some smaller issues that articles such as this only briefly allude to.

  • Johann Gambolputty

    Unfortunately

  • Johann Gambolputty

    Unfortunately ‘antiquated notions of a purebred monoculture’, such as the concept of ‘blood purity’, form the foundations of modern Korean ethno~nationalism as constructed under Park Chung~hee and other post~war regimes. The reason many S. Koreans see no problem with racist statements is, in part, because they make essentialist statments about their own racial identity quite frequently. These kind of statements have become very politically incorrect in the west (and rightly so, imho). However it is equally politicaly incorrect in Korea to question the mainstream narrative of regarding their unique and distinct 5,000~year~old racial identity. Thus the problem trying to engage S Koreans is how to challage racial generalizations when Korean national identity has been constructed around these kinds of concepts.

    • Jim Manske

      This seems closer to journalism than some quips from Facebook and Craigslist.

    • Korea

      Who gets to decide that all countries of all countries must be like the arrogant fools of the west claiming racial equality and yet display inequality in so many ways. Why cant a nation decide they dont think a fake multicultural society is desirable. Who gets to decide who is right. What is the definition of arrogance?

      • Masked Man

        America does not discriminate, we have priorities to uphold across the globe. You fuckers discriminate and alienate other races when you are the most mixed race on planet. You are a chink and jap mix. Possibly more ethnicities in there. America saved you from sucking fat Buddhas dick, praise America you cunt. You act all hard and shit by you guys aren’t shit, just frail. You better keep your eyes up north because fat Buddha running shit up there right now bitch. Gel me where you live so I can come over and slap you. I punk Korean kids here in USA all the time, I’m king to your kind here in California.

  • Jim Manske

    This is garbage, no offense. This is also
    not journalism, no offense. This is just a couple anecdotes here and there.
    And, this is very cliché and old…coming from another “foreign journalist.”

    Before my brief rant, I want to be clear
    about one thing – racism and ignorance is a terrible thing. It’s comes from a
    million different tiny factors and variables which may be different for each individual
    person. In no way though can it ever be justified.

    But, this article is garbage. It doesn’t
    add anything new to the conversation. It oversimplifies everything. “..older
    Koreans please holds hand and embrace multiculturalism. Kumbaya.” Blah blah.

    1. Racism exists everywhere on this planet
    in every single country. Who does this author thing he is? Where does this
    author come from that racism is not a problem? Does he look at this own country
    in the same scope? If he’s from one of the big five that majority of English
    teachers come from, then he’s got nothing to stand on. Nothing at all. Racism
    is a problem here in Korea, but it’s nothing compared to racism in USA, Canada,
    UK, Australia, or South Africa. That’s on a different scale. That’s more than
    just rude stares, ignorant comments, and naïve fear.

    2. Foreigners of Korea, myself included,
    need to give Korea a fair chance to figure this shit out. I believe they’ll do
    it quicker than most other countries (i.e. my home country – USA). Multiculturalism
    is still relatively new here (relative to the globe). Why do we expect them,
    especially “older Koreans,” to so quickly figure it out and stop making excuses
    when that happens nowhere else on this planet. It’s never happened. There’s
    always this problem when new cultures start emigrating to a country that was
    once very monocultural. It’s always happened. Look that up if you don’t believe
    me. From what I’ve observed in Korea over the last few years is that they’re
    quickly becoming more aware of the problem and they seem to be trying to change
    it. They’re going to make mistakes. There’s going to be bumps in the road. But,
    unless you come from this magical country that doesn’t have racism as a
    problem, then deal with it for a little as Korea attempts to figure it out.
    Give them a fair chance.

    3. What is your constructive solution? You make
    oversimplifications and sweeping generalizations in the article, but what is
    your realistic constructive solution to the problem? Please, if you’re going to
    write about racism in Korea, please bring something new to the table.

    I personally don’t have an answer. All I
    can do is pounce on it when I see it. When my students or my friends here have
    said something racist, I attack. Sometimes I’m over-emotional about it, but I
    try to never let it slide uncontested.

    4. Honestly, from the people I’ve met in
    Korea (both Koreans and foreigners), majority of the racism I’ve dealt with
    comes from my friends in the foreign community. But, I am not black and won’t
    pretend to know what that’s like here. From talking to my black friends here in
    Korea, it sounds like it can be awful at times. I remember that bus incident
    from a few years back. My initial reaction was, “damn, what was that guy
    thinking.” But, then after thinking about it some more, I’m sure he’d been
    through some shit here in Korea. He probably just snapped for a moment. Sucks,
    too.

    I appreciate the author writing about this
    topic. I don’t appreciate the content though. It is overdone, oversimplified,
    probably more self-gratifying than anything, cliché, and unconstructive. No
    offense.

    • Vera Beale

      Totally agree with you. Thanks for the comment.

    • Korea

      Racists are the ignorant foreigners that paint Koreans in broad strokes. Pathetic losers. And yes this is not journalism. Cherry picked anecdotes to try and fan the flame to get eye balls. Pathetic.

  • Yeahokay

    Just as you are tired of the portrayal as a ‘thug gangster’, you left out the stereotype that not all non-black people are racist…which seems to be a prevalent theme in today’s social society

  • Vera Beale

    “This is an age where … Koreans are exposed to and bombarded with
    positive images of darker skin people of all ethnicities on a daily
    basis.”

    But this statement is so far from the truth. By no stretch of the
    imagination do most Koreans consume Western media on a daily basis,
    and when they do encounter portrayals of black people in Western
    movies or TV shows they are by and large negative images, not
    positive ones. When black people are disproportionately depicted as
    drug dealers, rapists, and thugs, what influence do you think that
    has on public perception of blacks, especially in a society like
    Korea where people don’t have the opportunity to form relationships
    with black people that could counteract those depictions?

    In a similar vein, Asians and Asian-Americans, in the limited roles they
    are given in Western media, are often portrayed as not being able to
    speak English, and furthermore as being cultural outsiders as opposed
    to integrated members of the white American mainstream.

    I’m not saying that racist media portrayals are directly and/or wholly
    responsible for racial discrimination in job hiring practices, but
    the correlation is incontestable.

    I am not disagreeing with you about racism being prevalent in South
    Korea.

    But black people living long-term in South Korea are still a statistical
    anomaly. On the other hand, the USA, which seems to embody the
    heterogenous, multicultural, multinational paradise that you envision
    as being Korea’s future, incarcerates black men at six times the rate
    of their white counterparts. So clearly a multicultural society
    doesn’t make everything perfect.

    Yes, the job ad referenced in this article would never fly in the States
    and would in fact be actionable in a court of law. But that’s because
    blacks constitute a significant enough percentage of the U.S.
    populace to necessitate anti-discrimination laws. Even with said laws
    in place, we are seeing riots and violence erupting across the
    nation. Yes, the kind of active and open racism that we see here in
    Korea is much rarer in the U.S., but that isn’t because Americans are
    enlightened when it comes to race. It’s because of political
    correctness and white guilt. But institutional racism does exist in
    the USA, and at staggering proportions. Look at how our schools, law
    enforcement, penitentiaries, and social welfare and healthcare
    systems are failing black Americans.

    To compare the USA and Korea is to compare apples and oranges, but to
    say that the “antiquated, purebred monoculture” of Korea
    should evolve to become more like the United States is downright
    misguided, untenable, and unrealistic.

    I urge you to consider the fact that the vast majority of nations and
    the societies that inhabit them could be condescendingly
    characterized in your terms as, “purebred monocultures,” as
    if not being multiracial is somehow a fault.

    Multiracialism and exposure to diversity does not by necessity produce a more
    healthy society, nor does it eradicate racism.

  • Jamal

    I think there is a lot of institutional racism in Korea due to the lack of anti-discrimination laws. I’m not going to blame western influence or the western media. The western media probably under reports crimes committed by certain minorities in an effort to be PC. White people are often stereotyped as big, bad racists who prey on people of color. Remember how the Zimmerman 911 call tape was edited by the western media to make it appear that Zimmerman volunteered the information that Trayvon was black? Will things in Korea change? I don’t think so until minorities in Korea gain enough political power.

  • bumfromkorea

    Racism is a huge problem in Korea that will become even worse in the near future. However, that almost completely pertains to the Southeast Asians and the Korean-Chinese, as well as the SE Asian-Korean children for whom I’m so afraid for. I just can’t shed much tears from an article that almost completely focuses on the people who represent a fraction of the fraction of the fraction of the population – especially considering that most of them are here to teach English.

  • ano nymous

    Korea is not America. And somehow some folks like you confuse it with America because Korea is in an odd spot where it doesn’t want that many foreigners apart from tourists, but it has no choice to keep so many foreigners.
    Most “dark-skinned” workers in Korea are similar to the Hispanics in America. Most of them are smuggled from Southeast Asia and work on labor-intensive fields that require little expertise. They are indeed, treated wrong. And sometimes, people confuse Indian elites as Southeastern workers because oftentimes, they look similar to each other with similar skin color.
    The other workers are the U.S. soldiers. How many people can say that the behavior of the U.S. soldiers in S.Korea well deserve dignity and respect? From what I hear, they were quite like a bunch of thugs while in garrison in Korea. For some odd reason that I don’t quite understand, those patriots of America, by large proportion, consist of African Americans. So there is your answer. Soldiers(a lot of black people) came to Korea and acted like a bunch of thugs, thus even the older population won’t regard the black people in a positive way. A lot of Americans have overcome the racial hostility with an artificial environment from media, school, parents, etc, but with absence of those, what makes you think the Koreans will treat the foreigners well in an already hostile environment among the native Koreans due to population overload? (I have a solution the population density. STOP ADDING BUILDINGS AND PEOPLE TO SEOULl!!!! BUILD CITIES SOMEWHERE ELSE!!!)
    However, maybe under a notion that white-Caucasians are from wealthier society, that they consist a large portion of tourists, racism against them doesn’t seem that much severe.

    The reason why the “only-white person” racism in Hakwon is prevalent is because the Koreans fail to understand that people who come to Korea to teach English in small, private institutions are all equally dumb regardless of the race.
    Everything about Korea’s Hakwon system is corrupt, not just the racism. Hakwon system should be completely eliminated by increasing the school teacher’s payment by many folds and require some after-school instructions as a standard in every public school. This will increase the competitiveness to become teachers, therefore increase the quality of the teachers and quality of the public education.

    Again, Korea is not America. Same goes for Japan, China, most European countries, Israel, etc.

    That’s what makes America so special.

  • Discus Writer

    I still do not understand racism in South Korea, especially those that say racism in to do with skin color.

    1) Asking for “white teachers only” is nothing to do with skin color as it discriminates against Middle Easterners and North Indians, and probably even other North-East Asians.

    2) Racism in South Korea appears to be aimed at ethnic groups who generally come from lower class backgrounds AND have unrespectable stereotypes attached to them. For example, in Europe, the ethnic groups that get racism (Muslims and Blacks) also happen to be lower-class and have unrespectable stereotypes attached to them. (Muslims mostly come from poor countries in North Africa and Northern-South-Asia and cause a nuisance).

    It seems to be a case of South Koreans being wolves… hence the overt love of anything Caucasian and sexy, and the immense hate of anything African and fat.

    BTW, I think anti-racist activists in South Korea focus far too much on white-black. Please remember that Muslims, Indians and Latinos can also receive racism in South Korea, and they need to stop treating blacks as the only ethnicity in western countries who have dark skin.

    • pat

      What exactly are you saying? You seem to be unwilling to speak plainly. You seem to be fishing for an argument in defense of racism while not wanting to seem racist. Calling a entire demographics a ‘nuisance’ gives you away.

      And South Korea regularly tests their white English teachers for AIDS.

  • Baby Shoes

    Why don’t you stick up for Caucasians Mr. Social Justice Warrior? Oh I get it now your a Jew or a Jewish influenced (brainwashed) bleeding heart Marxist who has to appeal to the world to protect the honour of blacks, brownies or whatever non white victim, is that so?

    Tell me how many of them have pleaded and bled for your melanin challenged hide???

    Like I thought…….None.

  • pat

    “America rules the world”… lol, that’s all you have? No, much of the world thinks you are violent, hateful, promiscuous, uncultured, stinking, fat, hairy, barbarians.

  • Max Boyle

    Why should young Koreans wish to transform their country into a ‘multicultural society’? If they look at the tensions and problems in increasingly multicultural Western Europe, they will see little to encourage such a development.

  • ano nymous

    Looks like white people needed an escape route from the stereotype they are having. Trying to hide their own prolific racism by turning to Korea. Coming up with the “would you live with a foreigner” survey to move the spotlight to Asian countries. Clever, very clever, yet pathetic. After all the blatant racism in white countries, a survey, and few actions done by small businesses to keep their business, is all you could come up with to move the spotlight. You’ve gotta try harder than that.

    Korean parents don’t like black instructors because they are worried about their kids. They are sending their kids to expensive learning place to improve children’s overall character and standard. Korean parents are worried about black instructors because of how they portray themselves. The raps, media, etc, all portray black people with foul languages and low standard of conduct.

    Compare that to racist southern whites. Racist, uneducated, low standard white people of the south. What is their reason for their racism? Do we have an explanation? No. They are simply blatant racists, and teach their kids about how filthy and unintelligent black people are. While living in uneducated, undeveloped areas, they still teach their kids about white supremacy and about how they are inherently more intelligent and more creative than any other race. Korean parents don’t do that. I say this one more time, Korean parent NEVER EVER say anything racist to their children and never teach them to be racists.

    Now this white guy, idk who this guy is working for, KKK, idk, doesn’t spend his energy to solve the problem that is so widespread in whites, but instead tries to dump that problem somewhere else by attacking a different country of another race.

    Again, clever, but pathetic. Go fix the problem in America before you start poking your nose into Korea. Korea will naturally be fixed when America is fixed. I promise you that.

  • Raneir Fohnob

    Koreans are dog eating slit eyed low nosed scum. By those criteria alone they should be the lowest of the low. Problem is they can copy western tech very well….and oh their women love white men.

    • huh

      RACIST

  • Jakes friend

    This is garbage, no offense. This is also
    not journalism, no offense. This is just a couple anecdotes here and there.
    And, this is very cliché and old…coming from another “foreign journalist.”

    Before my brief rant, I want to be clear
    about one thing – racism and ignorance is a terrible thing. It’s comes from a
    million different tiny factors and variables which may be different for each individual
    person. In no way though can it ever be justified.

    But, this article is garbage. It doesn’t
    add anything new to the conversation. It oversimplifies everything. “..older
    Koreans please holds hand and embrace multiculturalism. Kumbaya.” Blah blah.

    1. Racism exists everywhere on this planet
    in every single country. Who does this author think he is? Where does this
    author come from that racism is not a problem? Does he look at this own country
    in the same scope? If he’s from one of the big five that majority of English
    teachers come from, then he’s got nothing to stand on. Nothing at all. Racism
    is a problem here in Korea, but it’s nothing compared to racism in USA, Canada,
    UK, Australia, or South Africa. That’s on a different scale. That’s more than
    just rude stares, ignorant comments, and naïve fear.

    2. Foreigners of Korea, myself included,
    need to give Korea a fair chance to figure this shit out. I believe they’ll do
    it quicker than most other countries (i.e. my home country – USA). Multiculturalism
    is still relatively new here (relative to the globe). Why do we expect them,
    especially “older Koreans,” to so quickly figure it out and stop making excuses
    when that happens nowhere else on this planet. It’s never happened. There’s
    always this problem when new cultures start emigrating to a country that was
    once very monocultural. It’s always happened. Look that up if you don’t believe
    me. From what I’ve observed in Korea over the last few years is that they’re
    quickly becoming more aware of the problem and they seem to be trying to change
    it. They’re going to make mistakes. There’s going to be bumps in the road. But,
    unless you come from this magical country that doesn’t have racism as a
    problem, then deal with it for a little as Korea attempts to figure it out.
    Give them a fair chance.

    3. What is your constructive solution? You make
    oversimplifications and sweeping generalizations in the article, but what is
    your realistic constructive solution to the problem? Please, if you’re going to
    write about racism in Korea, please bring something new to the table.

    I personally don’t have an answer. All I
    can do is pounce on it when I see it. When my students or my friends here have
    said something racist, I attack. Sometimes I’m over-emotional about it, but I
    try to never let it slide uncontested.

    4. Honestly, from the people I’ve met in
    Korea (both Koreans and foreigners), majority of the racism I’ve dealt with
    comes from my friends in the foreign community. But, I am not black and won’t
    pretend to know what that’s like here. From talking to my black friends here in
    Korea, it sounds like it can be awful at times. I remember that bus incident
    from a few years back. My initial reaction was, “damn, what was that guy
    thinking.” But, then after thinking about it some more, I’m sure he’d been
    through some shit here in Korea. He probably just snapped for a moment. Sucks,
    too.

    I appreciate the author writing about this
    topic. I don’t appreciate the content though. It is overdone, oversimplified,
    probably more self-gratifying than anything, cliché, and unconstructive. No offense.

  • Frank Yi

    TBH english teaching is going to start phasing out soon, so this type of racism/discrimination will wont be as apparent. Automation and AI are scaring the transportation industry, but english language industry is in even more trouble. everyone already has a cell phone. watson AI can understand english and respond. in a few years the landscape will change. you should be afraid because of the rate koreans adopt technology.

    You cant make a lateral move to china either, cause that gap will be filled by technology also. just a forewarning.

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