Thursday, August 11, 2011

Article about racism in South Korea

I discovered The Diplomat after Roboseyo linked to an article there titled "Korea’s Multicultural Future?" by Faustino John Lim, who I've met through the Canadian Embassy. The article is well worth reading. At the same site is an article titled "South Korea’s Racism Debate":
An estimated 25,000 university graduates from the Anglosphere – the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Ireland – currently call the country home. And they are also frequently among the most vocal critics of the racial discrimination that they say permeates South Korean society.
The article goes on to make clear that its foreign workers who experience racial discrimination the most, but doesn't notice that it's acceptable to portray westerners (especially G.I.s and English teachers) in negative, racialized ways in the media.

I thought this was interesting:

Dongseo University Prof. Brian Myers, whose book The Cleanest Race characterized North Korea as a state founded on racial supremacy, says the issue in the South needs to be viewed through two separate prisms: century-old nationalism and much older xenophobia.

‘Foreign traders were being restricted to certain parts of the peninsula well before the Korean people learned from the Japanese how to look at the world in racial categories,’ he says. ‘This makes it harder to figure out whether discrimination against foreigners in South Korea has more to do with xenophobia or nationalism.

I would lean more towards these attitudes coming from the education system and media (and it's been made clear the Ministry of Education wants to keep the danil minjok (pure race) mythology in place in schools to encourage a desire for reunification), but the point about restrictions against foreigners going back so far and the question of nationalism versus xenophobia as the cause of discrimination are both worth noting. To be sure, explorers in the nineteenth century found that, though the government did not want foreigners around and would punish those who would interact with foreigners, Koreans were often eager to talk to them (as long as no one was watching). Worth noting is that one exception was that the common people, for all their curiosity, would forcefully try to keep the foreign visitors (who were all men) from seeing or interacting with the women in the village. One might be tempted to see a connection between such actions then and the attitudes Korean men showed toward Korean women who interacted with US soldiers after liberation in 1945 and 1946, as well as media and government treatment of foreign teachers today (it's likely worth noting that a push to test all foreigners for AIDS came from anti-USFK activists in the late 1980s, who blamed US soldiers for spreading the disease to Korean women, the specter of which was used against foreign teachers in 2006).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you have the time, please take a look at my blog posting on multiculturalism in Korea spurred by the same article. I would appreciate any input. Thanks.