Defining racism in S. Korea

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, Social Science on 2014-09-29 00:49Z by Steven

Defining racism in S. Korea


The Korea Herald/Asia News Network

“We apologise, but due to Ebola virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment.”

This is what a bar in Itaewon, a popular area for expats and tourists in Seoul, publicly posted in front of its property last month.

The statement triggered thousands of angry comments online, both from expats and locals ― especially after the public learned of reports that the bar admitted a white person from South Africa, while banning almost all dark-skinned individuals, regardless of their nationalities.

The incident is likely to get attention from Mutuma Ruteere, the UN special rapporteur on racism. Ruteere is scheduled to visit Seoul later this month to monitor the situation of racial discrimination and xenophobia in Korea and will file a report to the UN Human Rights Council next year.

The incident is one of the growing number of racism cases in the country ― Asia’s fourth-biggest economy, a key manufacturing powerhouse in the region, as well as the producer of hallyu.

While the nation’s immigrant population continues to rise, Korean racism ― both structural and internalized ― is becoming a growing concern to the international community.

Complex nature of racism in Korea

Korean racism, however, must be understood differently from its Western cousin, experts say.

It is a complex product of the country’s colonial history, postwar American influence and military presence, rapid economic development as well as patriotism that takes a special pride in its “ethnic homogeneity,” according to professor Kim Hyun-mee from Yonsei University…

Korean racism also contains internalized white supremacy, Kim added. “After the Korean War, Korea became a country with US military presence. At the same time, it was exposed to American popular culture, including Hollywood films, and was influenced by their representation of visible minorities,” Kim said.

“We need to note that interracial marriage was legally banned in (parts of) the US until 1967. The very first children who were sent overseas for foreign adoption in 1954 from Korea were mixed-race children born to African-American soldiers and Korean women.”

Internalized white supremacy can be seen even in today’s TV shows in Korea, according to a local NGO Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea.

When a Korean person is married to a (white) citizen of Western country, his or her family is referred as a “global family” with a positive connotation by hosts on TV programs, while families consisting of a Korean man married to a woman from a Southeast Asian country is called a “multicultural family,” a term that is rather stigmatizing and discriminatory among Koreans, the NGO wrote in a report to be submitted to UN Rapporteur Ruteere.

Racially insensitive programming on Korea’s national broadcasting networks have also emerged as a problem. In February, national broadcaster KBS aired three Korean comedians, dressed as “Africans” by wearing a curly wig and painting their faces black, in a segment in its comedy show “Gag Concert.” The programme received a criticism from expats here, saying that it was racist and extremely inappropriate…

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