A considerable number of foreign visitors to Korea experience discrimination from Koreans, but the Koreans are not even fully aware of this. This calls for changes in the Korean peoples awareness.
With the World Cup just around the corner, the Korean government is busy preparing to accommodate tourists from around the world, upgrading the pavements, cleaning up the public restrooms, increasing the number of clean buses that run on natural gas in the host cities, and so on. It has also launched nationwide campaigns to get Korean people to wear the Korean national teams uniform, stop littering, obey traffic regulations, and the list goes on.
However, many foreigners still point out that public places are not clean enough, restaurants do not pay enough attention to sanitation, and Koreans are not friendly enough. At first glance, the complaint about friendliness may seem like a hospitality issue, but the fact that the majority of the complaints come from visitors from Southeast Asia, Middle East and Africa proves that many Koreans discriminate against foreigners based on skin color and national wealth.
Thais and Malaysians are ignored by taxi drivers or humiliated in department stores, and Africans are called all sorts of names by uncouth Koreans who see black people for the first time in their lives. Africans actually say that they have never faced such severe discrimination in any other country. In contrast, Caucasians from so-called advanced nations such as the US or European countries are given royal treatment that borders on the absurd even in the eyes of the Caucasians themselves. It is ironic and also disgraceful that Koreans, so sensitive to the discrimination they suffer as the ethnic minority in the West, are so used to discriminating against foreigners at home.
The other face of racism is cowardice Right after the Korean War, the boys in my village used to run after the American soldiers begging for tidbits. When they see a white man theyd wave and say thank you, but when they see a black man theyd shake their fists and say fuck you. (a housewife in her late fifties living in Seoul)
Korean peoples racism is not only based on skin color but is also closely related to disdain of poor countries. Foreign visitors to Korea point out that the Koreans prejudice and discrimination against different cultures and ethnic groups borders on the irrational.
Caroline (aged 31), who came to study in Korea in the mid-nineties, says, The Koreans I met were really kind to me and so I thought that they were considerate towards all foreigners. But before long, I realized I was wrong, because of the way they (Koreans) treated Chinese or Thai people. Caroline dryly points out, From the way Koreans treat whites, as if the whites know more or have superior qualities, it seems that the Koreans all suffer from some strange sort of inferiority complex.
Korean peoples racism is not only based on skin color but is also closely related to disdain of poor countries. Afro-Americans and African nationals receive completely different treatment in Korea despite having the same skin color, and people from Japan and the Philippines face very different attitudes even though they are the same Asians.
Japanese tourist Mi Young (aged 25, her Korean name) says, I was quite worried before coming to Korea because I had heard that Koreans dislike
Japan, but now Im confused because they all treat me so well. In contrast, people from Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines and
Bangladesh often become cowering sinners for no reason once they set foot on Korean territory.
Park (aged 33), who is married to a Nepalese man, says, I married my husband out of love and we even have a child now, but everyone around us, from my relatives to my friends, still look down on him because he comes from a poor country. Park is sick and tired of being regarded as a poor thing for having a Southeast Asian husband. Park complains that when she brings her child to the hospital, they snub her when she writes down her husbands name as the childs guardian. She adds, I wouldnt have married him if I had known that the discrimination would be this bad. Recently, a high-ranking officer of a Thai television network traveled to Korea with his family, only to be mistaken for illegal immigrants and denied entry into Korea. This sparked off vehement articles in the Thai press appealing to the public to boycott Korea as a tourist destination. The incident is only one example of the Koreans discrimination against Southeast Asians. The attitude of Korean airport officers who snatch away foreigners passports
and shout, Shut your mouth! is not limited to Thai nationals alone.
This discrimination against people from poor countries, coupled with gender discrimination pervasive in Korean society, produce numerous cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence against foreign women. Especially with the recent trend of women from the Philippines and Russia entering Korea on entertainer visas to work as nightclub hostesses, the sexual violence and human rights violations faced by these women have become a serious problem.
Liz (aged 27), a Canadian working as an English teacher in a language school in Korea, points out, I dont face discrimination in Korea, but it is still dangerous for me to go around town at night. She explains that this is because when Korean men come across a blonde woman, they assume that is a Russian hostess and call her a prostitute and try to compromise her.
One wonders how foreigners regard Koreans, who return from their travels to Europe angrily lamenting that Europeans treat Japanese and Koreans differently and report cases of racial discrimination they suffer in advanced countries like the US, New Zealand and Australia where they immigrated to.
Lizs advice to Koreans who harbor intolerable prejudice and discrimination against foreigners based on color and national income is, Koreans need to be educated from young to have a more open-minded understanding of the outside world. Her advice proves that despite the fanfare in Korea over joining the age of globalization, Koreans are still very much like frogs in a well. It is our ignorance that breeds racism.