Racism, Prejudice or a Misinformed Public


Before any real issues are raised, it is important that the readers are warned to distance themselves from unfounded slander that wrongfully accuses our South Korean hosts. 

It is essential that only legitimate concerns that affect foreigners residing on the Korean Peninsula are brought to the attention of the readers. 

It has been attested that racism in South Korea is non-violent. However, this may well be far from the truth as is made evident below. Take the international marriages for instance, wherein Korean men are married to non-Korean women, often times form South-East Asia. Unfortunately a significant proportion of these brides are subject to varying degrees of beatings by their Korean husbands. One Vietnamese wife was beaten to death by her Korean husband (Reference). Nonetheless, the beatings are not limited to foreign wives as 42% of Korean wives have admitted to being beaten by their Korean husbands according to a New York Times Article. Nevertheless, since foreign women are sponsored by their Korean husbands, it is next to impossible for them to get out of the marriages should they decide to stay in Korea. Especially in the case of those women who have children from these international marriages, they are understandably quite reluctant to leave the country being that their children are Korean citizens. In terms of a support system, battered women from international marriages have no families in Korea to turn to for help and shelter. 

Children from mixed-marriages receive prejudicial treatment from their Korean classmates (Reference), being bullied and beaten up by Korean kids. At times they even receive biased treatment form their Korean teachers (Reference) and the school system has not provided a suitable enough response in order to make the lives of "mixed-race children" (a term used by Koreans) free of racial prejudice while in school. 

The Korean government has implemented a reversed discrimination campaign (Reference) to help children from international marriages overcome racial discrimination. Such attempts by the government to stop racism have often been met with great opposition by the Korean public, with 94% of respondents to a lawmaker's survey opposing an anti-racism bill, (Reference). Nearly 25% of them specifically stated that discrimination toward foreigners is necessary to protect Korean citizens' status and rights. The fear of discrimination toward Koreans themselves and the fear of having foreign crime rates and drug use soar out of control are often cited as legitimate reasons. This of course is a completely false reasoning since the average crime rate for foreigners is below the average crime rate of Koreans (Reference).  

If one takes into consideration Newton's law: "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction", reversed discrimination would not nave been warranted should the racial prejudice toward non-Koreans have not existed in the first place. This is one instance where racial bias is actually backfiring in the faces of Koreans. All the more reason to eliminate racial bias and discrimination toward non-Koreans and to hold the perpetrators accountable as their actions are actually harming even those Koreans who hold little or no bias toward non-Koreans.

What is more, migrant workers are alleged to have been beaten, and even sexually exploited by their Korean bosses (Amnesty International Reference). Immigration Korea is under investigation for violating the rights of detained migrant workers in South Korea according to the 2009 Amnesty International Report on South Korea.

It is unknown just how many cases of prejudice goes unreported since the Korean National Police is often hesitant to investigate foreigners' complaints of crimes committed against them as well as instances of hate crimes.

In a particular instance, in which a foreign English teacher is chased and run down by a vehicle driven by a Korean off-duty taxi driver, police refused to take the foreigner's complaints seriously and even told him that he should pay for the damages to the driver's vehicle as it was sustained during the chase (Letter to ATEK).

Essentially, cars can be used as weapons, especially by Koreans toward non-Koreans, since the police have very little power to attrubute fault as it is the task of the vehicle insurance companies to do so. That is, fault is determined by the driver's insurance company based on the insurance agent's/company's negotiating tactics and skills, and make no mistake, the foreigner in Korea has little influence over these matters and most of all, because the foreigner is ranked at the very bottom of the vertical hierarchy, so prevalent in South Korea, the foreigner simply has no rank or clout wahtsoever in Korean society. For this reason, Koreans who intentionally or unintentionally run over non-Koreans using their vehicles, and this has happened on a number of occasions to a good many foreigners according to personal accounts, will often get away with it without any lasting consequences since neither is the police willing to charge the offending drivers nor is it likely that their insurance companies would be willing to pay out significant sums in the form of damages to the injured foreigner without the loss of a successful lawsuit that could take years and thousands of dollars in lawyer's fees. At the very most, the injured foreigner's hospital bills will be covered, if s/he is lucky enough for the driver and the insurance company to assume full responsibility, all within the period of at the most a few weeks from the time the indicent had occurred. This is the reason why foreigners are more or less sitting ducks on the Korean roadways and this is one of the reason why S. Korea can be a dangerous place for the average foreigner when getting from point A to point B

Koreans know that there aren't likely to be any significant consequences in running over a foreigner who is crossing a crosswalk on a green light in the absence of viable legalities that would stand in their way in doing so, when all things are taken into full consideration. While it is true that Koreans will often cause harm to other Koreans using their vehicles, the foreigner has the most to lose in an incident where s/he is run over by a Korean driver. Most especially, be extremely aware of taxi drivers in S. Korea as they can be incredibly dangerous while sitting behind the steeringwheel.

In yet another kind of incident, a brutal assault on a female foreign English teacher was for the most part poorly handled by police and hospital staff apparently refused to move her to the intensive care unit she could prove that she wasn't a Russian prostitute (Reference). She sustained a "cerebral hemorrhage, a fractured skull and a broken nose" during the assault.

South Korean police officers are highly reluctant to fill out official reports when it comes to the abuse of foreigners by the hands of South Koreans, since as long as such incidents are not officially documented, they don't actually exist, at least in the eyes of the majority of Koreans. Essentially, bringing official light and thus public attention to such acts would cause a huge black eye to South Korea and turning a blind eye is just the way to keep racial hatred against foreigners out of the public spotlight. In reality, as far as most Koreans are concerned and will boldly state, racism does not exist in Korea and there aren't many officially reported incidents brought to light by the Korean media to verify that it is not so. What is more, since many Koreans are well aware of this, they often fail to keep their manners and actions in check when confronting a foreigner as they are well aware that they can easily get away with whatever they do to them. 

On the flip-side, Korean police will come down disproportionately hard on foreigners who commit any kind of wrong-doing against Koreans and are often brought to justice under the full force and weight of the Korean legal system. What is more, such incidents are vociferously publicized by the Korean media on a fairly regular basis, often making the headline news. In essence, its a one-sided war waged on foreigners by the Korean media.

What is more, when foreigners commit even minor offences against Koreans, the foreigners are from time to time told by police to pay the victims large sums of blood-money to avoid prosecution even though their crimes may be as trivial as knocking a Korean's baseball cap off his head by tapping the rim upward (an actual case that happened a number of years ago). Demanding blood money by victims to drop pending cases appears to be a widespread practice and some Koreans are more than willing to capitalize on this method of collecting blood money. The argument here by no means condones foreigner crimes against Koreans, but the widespread disproportionality of the punishment between Koreans and non-Koreans needs to be examined more closely and should be vigorously avoided in future cases.

Perhaps this kind of outcome and rationality give grounds to why foreign English teachers receive only a fraction of the respect afforded by Korean students to their Korean teachers. Simply put, students are often confident that they can easily get away with it. And make no mistake, in the vast majority of cases they really can. As many foreigners would likely attest, they aren't considered to possess the same status in Korean society as their Korean counterparts, since "Korean society has ... deep roots in Confucianism which has no devised conduct for the treatment of foreigners" (Yum, 1987:84 in Jambor, 2009). This of course is not the case when it comes to the way Koreans treat other Koreans since strict rules of Confucian conduct govern the way Koreans are obliged to treat other Koreans.

One might very well ask what the reason is for the racial prejudice toward non-Koreans. As ironic as it may seem, since Koreans often bring up their ill-treatment by Japanese soldiers under the Japanese Colonial rule - during which time the Japanese tried to supress the Korean nation into submission by attempting to take away their national identity; culture; language, as a knee-jerk reaction, Koreans developed a form of nationalism based on a "homogeneous pure-blooded race" (Reference). This kind of mentality is sill alive today and is widely regarged as the root of all prejudice in Korea.

Nonetheless, this does not fully explain the full picture behind prejudice in Korea. For instance, government officials and the mass media all have had their involvement in carrying out a falsely based smear campaign regarding especially foreign English teachers in South Korea (Reference 1) (Reference 2). In point and fact, foreign English teachers are time and time again made out to be "drug addicts" with criminal tendencies on the rise, via the mass media (Reference 1), (Reference 2). 
Contrary to popular Korean belief, and in the face of widespread public condemnation of alleged 'out of control foreign drug use', Koreans are widely known to use drugs themselves (Reference 1), (Reference 2). Essentially, the witch-hunt has led to mandatory blood-testing for foreign English teachers (Reference), that which Korean teachers are not subjected to (Reference). Many English teachers find this highly biased and offensive, seeing that only 0.3% of foreigners have ever been arrested for drug related offences in Korea with the average for drug offences committed by Korean nationals being not too far off (Reference). Regardless, foreigners are still labeled as drug using criminals due to the ongoing media frenzy built on prejudicial statements and unfounded official reports. What is more, Korean bloggers are quick to feed off the madness, further generating widespread 'anti-foreigner sentiment' among the Korean youth.
What is more, The Korea Herald published a front page article entitled 'S. Korea to crack down on crimes by foreign gangs', on April 5th, 2011. This article, in particular, is extremely disconcerting for a number of reasons. For one, the article claims that crimes committed by foreigners are on the rise without a single mention that the number of foreigners residing in Korea is on the rise as well, hence leading to the proportionate increase in the number of crimes committed by them. Secondly, the article mentions 'foreigner gangs' in a highly generalized sense, leading readers to believe that foreigners are the problem in the first place. Thus, wide spread 'anti-foreigner' sentiment is on the rise in S. Korea. Thirdly, while it is true that crimes committed by foreigners is on the increase (due to the trend that there are constantly more foreigners residing in Korea) there is no mention of the fact that, proportionately, foreigners commit fewer crimes than "full-blooded" Koreans (Reference). Essentially, there is a mass-hysteria setting in as a result of misleading information being disseminated by the Korean mass media. Generally speaking, the Korean people get riled up, then in turn the media picks up on it and blows another incident out of proportion to set in even more deeply rooted 'anti-foreign sentiment' in the hearts and minds of the 'Korean people'. And so the cycle continues on and on until it is kept in check, but that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. At least not in the foreseeable future. Perhaps not until anti-racism/discrimination laws are put in place and become fully enforced.

The bias held toward non-white foreigners is said to have caused problems for especially black and other Asian minorities residing in South Korea, and even the educated Korean youth aren't immune to this national phenomenon (Reference). Not even is the South Korean public school system free to this problem (Reference). With racial prejudice showing prominence at Korean universities (Reference 1) (Reference 2) (Reference 3) (Reference 4), it's no wonder that all sectors of Korean society harbor feelings of prejudice toward non-Koreans. 

Essentially, Korean prejudice toward non-Koreans damages Korea as a nation, not only because the government is under national and international pressures to implement reversed discrimination policies but also because the prejudice evident at Korean universities has the tendency to cause their collective international rankings to slide (Reference 1) (Reference 2). In point and fact, Seoul National University dropped in the rankings from 47th place to 109th place in the Times Higher Education Rankings during the same transitional period (2009-2010) it received substantial negative press on its biased treatment of foreign students and faculty (Reference 1) (Reference 2). 

South Koreans must realize that every negative action will be met with an equally negative reaction. The time for half measures is over. All things considered, globalization is unsustainable with nationalism holding the country in its tight ugly grip and if South Korea is to reach its full potential, full measures need to be implemented to eliminate racial bias in all sectors of Korean Society.

A mix of a nationalistic and an ethnocentric point of view on life is the norm with South Koreans and an extreme form of racially/nationally motivated exclusivism is prevalent throughout Korean society. All things considered, exclusivism is a tough reality to swallow for non-Koreans living in Korea and this extreme form of exclusivism based on the Korean concept of being one-blooded formally and informally excludes the average foreigner from any hope of being accepted into Korean society on any level even after having lived in Korea for 20 years or more. 

While Koreans will loudly applaud themselves for being a dynamically changing people, in the view of foreigners, changes aren't happening near the speed that would be required of an advanced nation with ambitions of becoming truly Globalized.