Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ask a Korean! News: Racism Starts Early

The Korean meant to write about this article, but Korea Beat beat beat beat the Korean to the punch on an essentially same article from a different newspaper. That means the Korean does not have to translate the article! Below is the translation:

A study has found that five in ten elementary and middle school students think they can be friends with the children of multicultural families.

That finding is from a five-month survey of 1,725 elementary and middle school students in 23 schools in Seoul and Gyeonggi-do conducted by a governmental organization for teenagers (청소년희망재단) [TK Note: organization is called Hope Foundation for Youth] at the request of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (보건복지가족부). The students were asked about their feelings on their multicultural peers.

According to the study, 52.9% answered they could be friends with children from multicultural families. 9.3% said they could never be friends with such a child, and 37.7% were uncertain.

Of the reasons given for being unable to be friends, 40.4% answered “because of trouble communicating if they can’t speak Korean,” 33.5% answered “because I would be exhausted by nervous feelings about it,” and 32.3% answered, “because they have different thoughts and lifestyles from me.”

Other reasons included “their appearance and skin color are different,” (24.2%), “I would be embarrassed to be their friend,” (15.5%), and “I would worry about being ostracized,” (16.8%).

41.4% answered “yes” when asked if they consider children from multicultural families to be Koreans, and the remaining 58.6% were uncertain whether they could be seen as Koreans or foreigners.

The study found that girls, middle school students, and those with direct experiences with “multiculturalism” were more likely than boys, elementary students, and those without such experience, to shun children from multicultural families.

Also, the study asked the students to rate their feelings of mental distance from such children on a 5-point scale. The average response was 3.03, indicating a slight aversion.

Asked to use the same scale to rate their aversion to marrying a multicultural child the average response was 3.7, and 2.69 when asked if they would eat together with them. [TK Note: translation error here -- instead of "eat together", it's "sitting next to each other during class".]


In the article, "multicultural child" is the politically correct term in Korea for a racially mixed child. The article itself is interesting, but one must need to read between the lines to see how deeply racism is ingrained in Korea. First, this article, while describing the same study results, has a more positive spin than other articles -- for example, the article in Dong-A Ilbo or Korea Herald. That said, let us discuss each finding.

First of all, only half of the students positively think they can be friends with mixed-raced child. One in ten think they cannot be friends. That's a strong statement of racism, especially considering the reasons given for being unable to become friends with a mixed-race child. Simple difference in looks (“their appearance and skin color are different,” (24.2%)) is enough to stop Korean youngsters from being friends with a mixed-race child. (The Korean trusts the readers to reduce the Korean's statements by the applicable respective percentage points.)

Also notable is the answering students' ignorance on the issue of mixed-race children. The questionnaire was asking specifically for mixed-raced Koreans children living in Korea. Such children certainly speak Korean; for most of them, Korea is the only country and culture they have ever known. Yet these facts are not known to Korean students. Thus, they assume that mixed-race children would not be able to speak Korean (40.4% answered “because of trouble communicating if they can’t speak Korean,”) or that mixed-race children would not share Korean culture with them (32.3% answered, “because they have different thoughts and lifestyles from me.”)

Good old-fashioned peer pressure plays a role as well. Korean students appear to realize that even if they themselves are not racist, the Korean society in general is. Thus, the downgrade in status in becoming friends with a mixed-race child (“I would be embarrassed to be their friend,” (15.5%), and “I would worry about being ostracized,” (16.8%)) is a consideration becoming friends with a mixed-raced child.

The Korean identified this problem very early in the AAK! history. As a racial minority in his country of residence, the Korean is particularly attuned to the plight of other racial minorities. The second post ever on this blog was about the emerging race problem of Korea. (It was so early that it was before the Korean adopted his third person-speak.) And the Korean still stands by his conclusion that he wrote in that post: "Unless Koreans do something to radically change their attitude toward foreignors and interracial people (unlikely), wide-scale race riots a la Los Angeles or Paris in about 20 years is a virtual certainty."

The Korean is slightly relieved by the fact that at least some in Korean government see this as a problem. The Dong-A Ilbo article concludes with a quote from an official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare: "This is a survey that shows an urgent plan for multicultural children is necessary," and added "I understand each ministry is forming a plan for multicultural children." While Korean government provides no shortage of inane initiatives, when it does succeed, it succeeds spectacularly. The Korean truly hopes that would be the case for reducing racism in Korea.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@hotmail.com.

12 comments:

  1. Koreans are going through narratives about race that were unimaginable ten or fifteen years ago. If you come to Korea and only look at the last few years, it may be hard to see that there has been a sea change, but it's there. I'm optimistic, although I wholeheartedly agree with you that the public sector, the private sector, and individuals must keep working at improvement.

    As for race riots, we've already witnessed some. The Chinese uprising of spring 2008 was the type of thing we might see in the future.

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  2. I think that the children answering are ignorant of how similar the multi-cultural Korean would be (except for skin color). I'd expect if the children had similar personalities they'd strike friendships.

    In general I think Koreans think they are very different from non-Koreans and the more they learn they realize the similarities.

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  3. Hi there. Your blog was nominated for an award for the best Korea blogs of 2008, at The Hub Of Sparkle. Go check it out if you like.

    http://www.koreasparkle.com/2009/01/the-golden-klog-awards-survey-is-up-go-vote/#content

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  4. Chinese uprising of spring 2008? Do you mean Chinese students waving flags, chanting patriotic slogans, and occasionally attacking peaceful Korean and foreign demonstrators? Some of the ethnic Chinese participants were Korean permanent residents and citizens, but I believe that most were overseas students from the PRC. In any case, the clashes were political, not racial although reactions to the conflict were tainted with racial remarks by both Koreans and Chinese. Describing Chinese students surrounding and beating a pro-Tibetan Western protestor or kicking a Korean man for speaking out in defense of North Korean refugees as an "uprising" is a gross mischaracterization of the conflict.

    Welcome back to the K-blogosphere, Kushibo.

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  5. The Chinese uprising in Seoul was completely unacceptable. Supposedly Korean did that in Tianmen Square, there would be an outrage by Chinese govt!!!

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  6. Sonagi wrote:
    Chinese uprising of spring 2008? Do you mean Chinese students waving flags, chanting patriotic slogans, and occasionally attacking peaceful Korean and foreign demonstrators? Some of the ethnic Chinese participants were Korean permanent residents and citizens, but I believe that most were overseas students from the PRC.

    I must admit I was being glib, but you make an interesting point. In the absence of easily obtainable permanent residency status, people living in Korea long term on statuses like student visas may be the people who end up rioting.

    But your point is understood: the type of people rioting, the nature of the riots, and the degree of violence and destruction were different from Paris and Los Angeles. I'm just wondering if Seoul's "race riots" will end up being different from those.

    In any case, the clashes were political, not racial although reactions to the conflict were tainted with racial remarks by both Koreans and Chinese.

    I don't know if I agree. Taking "racial" as the broad meaning that includes "ethnic," I think some of the pro-Chinese attitudes toward the Tibetans, which was one aspect of the rioting, might count as such.

    Describing Chinese students surrounding and beating a pro-Tibetan Western protestor or kicking a Korean man for speaking out in defense of North Korean refugees as an "uprising" is a gross mischaracterization of the conflict.

    Well, I didn't quite mean to do that.

    Welcome back to the K-blogosphere, Kushibo.

    Welcome back? I resumed regular blogging last summer and put up 167 posts last year, 77% and 68% of what I did in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

    Oh, and speaking of immigration issues, if you email me, there's something I'd like to discuss with you (contact info on my profile).

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  7. "In the absence of easily obtainable permanent residency status, people living in Korea long term on statuses like student visas may be the people who end up rioting. "

    A student visa is a temporary visa, and besides none of the Chinese students I knew aspired to make Korea their permanent home. My Chinese friends acknowledge Korea's higher standard of living but believe that China will pass Korea in about twenty years. The government is less optimistic and gives the nation about 40 years to catch up. Moreover, Chinese are tremendously proud of their culture and history. They regard Korea as a once vassal state that is being eclipsed again by its larger neighbor. Koreans are the favorite target of Chinese internet trolls, and the tone is scornful. Chinese tour guides herding their groups through Seoul's palaces are fond of pointing out how everything was 'borrowed' from China. Disenfranchised minority? Hardly.

    "Taking "racial" as the broad meaning that includes "ethnic," I think some of the pro-Chinese attitudes toward the Tibetans, which was one aspect of the rioting, might count as such."

    The demonstrations were political although the Chinese interpreted the anti-government demonstrations as anti-Chinese. They were upset watching foreigners piss on their parade in Paris, London, and even 'little' Seoul next door. I mean, arrogant Westerners trying to steal the torch from a wheelchair-bound athlete was one thing, but KOREANS? How dare those Koreans spoil the party with their annoying little demos. Who do they think they are? Back in the days when they had a king who need our emperor's approval to appoint a crown prince, those Koreans knew their place.

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  8. Interesting read. I grew up for a time period in Korea, but was bouncing back and forth from America and Korea. I even went to school for one day (meaning I got kicked out for drawing a smiley face since I had no idea what to do with a brush and paint). My overall experience from adults was curiosity. You would've thought I was a rock star as I paraded around through the streets. Women rushing to look at me and touch me and take pictures with me. My uncle used to take me out all of the time, but looking back it must have been bait to get women. I lived on what is now a national park overlooking Seoul and it was a small area. I managed to strike up a friendship with a Korean boy. Haha the adventures we would have. Digging crayfish out of the mud and making small fires for a snack. The funny thing is that neither of us ever could say more than a couple words to each other, but we loved playing together and going to the store. Also at an apartment in Gunsan I made friends with the kids at the arcade and would play with a couple of other kids in the building. I learned origami from them. I think I would have been a bit more accepted if I had been able to talk Korean, but then again I'm sure once in the schools you have peer pressure to deal with and some friends might not be so quick to acknowledge the friendship. It's like when a white guy has a black friend and they're good friends and hang out, but when he runs into the rest of his black friends it's like he doesn't know you anymore (story from my dad growing up in Cleveland). Maybe I just happened to be cute enough to be pardoned for being a "multicultural" child...I'm sure I'd have a different outlook if I had remained there for the elementary years, but then again I experienced much the same going to school in America. I guess people like me don't really have a place to be accepted except cultural mixing pots that include Asian ethnicities (ie. Hawaii and maybe parts of California). Now I'm back in Texas and feel the awkwardness at times. Oh well, I'm still me and have to live life day to day.

    Sorry for the unorganized thought process...I just wrote whatever popped in my head and it came out as a ramble.

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. Hi,

    Your Blog's contents will be very interesting to my group of Korean members who like to know more local English speaker in South Korea areas. If possible, please share you blog link on my group.

    please contact me at mickyarba@gmail.com or add me as your friends as follow links:
    http://uhome.heyheyfriends.com/home/space.php?uid=1
    or
    Facebook group at :
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=47290037004

    ReplyDelete
  11. From what i read, I think that Koreans are very closed minded since they can't even accept people who are half Koreans!
    I mean countries today are very open to each other and where ever you live you should know whats happening in the world of today, but you make S.Korea seem like a very closed and conservative country, why is it that other races are very unaccepted in Korea? and one of the reasons students said they wouldn't be friends with those who are half foreigners is because they don't speak Korean, i take it as in english isn't taught early to students in Korea ?

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  12. I recently started looking for a position to teach English in South Korea, however after the common occurance of discrimination I have faced, and the countless reports of these incidents from other foreigners, I am quite discouraged from choosing this country for a teaching position.

    I am Canadian, born and raised. English is my mother tongue and I have two university degrees in english, both a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Arts from the University of Ottawa. I live in the nations capital and work for the federal government. However, my qualifications have been undermined because I do not have white skin. I have been asked by Korean Employers "Where are you from?" despite reporting my country, citzenship, and qualitifications on all of my applications.

    This message is to provide Korean employers who hold this type of prejudice with valuable information: English is the most widely spoken language in the world and in the Western World, a person's english ablities has nothing to do with skin colour. In my country (Canada), people are not discrimated based on skin colour. Human beings are treated equally, and employment opportunities are based on merit rather than race. I understand that providing a picture helps employers to familiarize themselves with potential teachers who are overseas, however using it for any of the above reasons is highly offensive.
    Unfortunately, the future generations of Korean students are the ones most affected by this type of discrimination. If Korean Employers continue to hold these beliefs about skin colour, the students will inevitably miss out on the chance to benefit from a rich diversity of cultures, and most importantly, learn that rascism is ignorant, inappropriate, and a thing of the past.

    **Educating students begins with educating teachers**

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