Posted by arudou debito on August 18th, 2013
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Hi Blog. I’m about to vacation the blog for a few weeks for the summer, but before I do, here’s some food for thought about the debate on discrimination in this part of the world. Contrast the Korea Times article below about racial discrimination in South Korea with any article about racial discrimination in Japan. I see striking parallels, especially given my experience as a naturalized Caucasian Japanese myself. The debate in South Korea seems to be falling into similar mental traps and policy-level blind spots.
(And in case you’re wondering, no, sorry, I’m not going to engage “Japan Lite” columnist Amy Chavez’s recent ill-considered column on racial discrimination; she essentially makes the argument that we “foreigners” should stop acting like “spoiled children”, and instead essentially be grateful for being discriminated against as minorities in Japan — as it will give us “compassion” for the plight of minorities in our “home countries” (as opposed to insights on how to prevent discrimination happening to our friends and children in Japan). I’m avoiding it for the same reason I didn’t engage columnist Gregory Clark back in 2009 when he claimed that “antiforeigner discrimination is a right for Japanese people” (also because Chavez has a history of writing silly racialized columns like this one in 2009). It just seems that everyone has an opinion about “racism” and “discrimination”, but few have either the training or the insight for how to deal with it in ways that don’t simply reflect their biases arising from their position in society (something CRT calls “structural determinism“). In Chavez’s case, her argument (which she unsophisticatedly tries to apply universally to “we foreigners”), has simply become a self-loathing expression of her White Guilt; I’ll let others such as Black Tokyo or Loco in Yokohama take that issue on with more verve and insight (as Black Tokyo did Clark)).
Anyway, back to the article, for some real insights. Arudou Debito
Are we bigots?
Foreigners say Koreans biased against blacks
By Jonathan Breen. The Korea Times 2013-07-16
Courtesy of TKS
Alex, an Ethiopian by birth, is a naturalized Korean, so he was shocked when a bar in Seoul refused him entry because of the color of his skin.
“I went to a bar in Itaewon and they said, ‘Sorry, we don’t want any blacks,’” said the 31-year-old, who asked to be identified only by his first name. “I showed them my I.D. card to show them I am a Korean, but they said no.
“Koreans don’t think there is a lot of discrimination in Korea, but there is,” he said.
Four years ago Indian professor Bonojit Hussain won a landmark case in a Seoul court for racial abuse. The incident led to the introduction of legislation to ban discrimination based on race or nationality, but the bills have stalled in the National Assembly.
But is xenophobia a widespread problem or is it exaggerated based on a few well-publicized incidents?
Sabine Etienne, a black American exchange student in Korea, is writing a thesis on Korea’s immigration policy. “Xenophobia is definitely an issue in Korea, it is an issue of acceptance,” she said. “The process of becoming a citizen is very long and hard and I think foreigners never feel like they are on the same level as Koreans.”
Despite this, there are several high-profile examples of foreigners who have found acceptance as naturalized Koreans, including the Philippines-born lawmaker Jasmine Lee and German-born Lee Charm, the current head of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO).
Lee, whose birth name was Bernhard Quandt, became a Korean citizen in 1986. On becoming KTO chief in 2009 he said, “I am so deeply moved that I’ve been finally accepted as a Korean. All my regrets about naturalizing have vanished.”
However, Alex, who is married to a Korean, complains about a lack of acceptance from Koreans, including from his wife’s family.
“My wife’s family didn’t accept me at first, now they are saying they are more open, but it is still tough. We see them one maybe two times a year. It is not like family,” he said.
Alex added that he has decided to postpone having children because of the hostility he has experienced in Korea. “Until I see change I don’t want to have kids.”
In a report submitted to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2003, the Korean government explained that the “homogeneity of the Korean people and the relative lack of multiethnic experiences have been conducive to prejudice against foreign cultures and people.”
But Hyung-il Pai, a professor of Korean history at the University of California, argues in her book, “Constructing ‘Korean’ Origins,” that the idea of a pure Korean race is a myth constructed by Japanese colonial scholars and Korean nationalists.
The archaeological record actually shows that Korea’s historical development reflected diverse influences from throughout Northeast Asia.
Nonetheless, “Race as the basic unit of analysis in Korean history was the pedestal on which the nation was built. Race or blood was considered the most critical factor in Korean identity formation,” she explained about modern Korean attitudes on history.
These views have become accepted wisdom among Koreans. “I think there has only been one race in Korea, and we have a long history ― we were very closed off for a long time,” said Jun Dae-un, a student.
“Korea didn’t attack other people, they were always attacked by other countries. That is why Koreans are not very open-minded to foreigners, we think ― ‘they can steal my things, my jobs, my chances,’” he said.
Korea’s isolation from most of the rest of the world during the Joseon Kingdom has contributed to the belief that Korea is a cultural and racial homogenous society.
“We opened to other countries quite late. It was late compared, for example, to Japan or China. So we are not used to seeing foreigners,” said Charyong, a painter, who wants to be identified only by her first name.
“And we kind of believe this concept that says we are Han people, the Han race, like we are all the same blood, we are not mixed race, compared with Japan for example ― Japan is very mixed race. People believe we are all one race, one blood,” she said.
“That is an underlying concept ― people are not thinking about it all the time ― but it is the basis for our culture, so when we see foreigners we think they are different. We notice the difference, we notice that they are not the same,” she continued.
Some believe that discrimination against foreigners is also based on a mixture of racial and class prejudices.
“The extent of xenophobia is heightened among foreign migrant workers who have darker skin colors because they are easily identified,” said Rev. Frank Hernando from the Presbyterian Church in Korea. “And (they) are perceived by Koreans as coming from very poor economic and social backgrounds.”
He said that Filipino migrant workers are often subject to verbal and physical abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace because of these attitudes.
Other foreigners also spoke of their economic background as a cause for Korean discrimination.
“Koreans don’t like people from countries with worse economic situations than their own,” said Shylean Ghosh, an Indian worker at a garment factory in Uijeongbu. “If you are from America they like you, if you are from somewhere like India, like me, even if you have a lot of money they look down on you. If you are from America but have no money, they still don’t look down on you.”
Kim Padernal, a Filipino embassy driver in Seoul, said, “Koreans think they are better than us, because Korea is a progressive, successful economy, and the Philippines is poorer.”
Artist Charyong said Koreans don’t think of migrant workers as equals. “People think their (migrants’) country must be worse than Korea, because they are here working, and they work for what is so little money.” She added that Americans have a more positive image because of their help and support during the Korean War and their long-term presence in the country as a result.
Shin Gi-Wook, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, California, feels Korean attitudes toward foreigners are “hierarchical.”
“Korean racism is hierarchical in the sense that Koreans view white Caucasians more positively than Southeast Asians,” he said. “Koreans are not used to living with different ethnic or racial groups but with the influx of migrant labor and foreign brides, Koreans need to learn (to live) with ethnic non-Koreans.”
Kim Doo-nyeon, a law professor at Jungwon Univeristy, blames the local media for, spreading feelings of xenophobia.
“There is a tendency in the media to assume and exaggerate foreigners or illegal immigrants as future criminals,” he said. “The media is very responsible for xenophobia in Korea. They must stop producing news that is going to make people hate foreigners.”
Charyong added, “When people see something they don’t know it is often their first reaction to defend themselves from it because they don’t know what it is.
“I think the solution is more exposure to foreign culture.”