Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ask a Korean! Wiki: Mixed Koreans?

Dear Korean,

As an 18 year old male of mixed Korean/British race, what is modern Korea's outlook to an "unpure" Korean?

Jonathan L.


Dear Jonathan,

The only answer that the Korean could give is: it wildly depends on the individual. In the 1950s and the following years, there definitely was a strong discrimination against mixed raced Koreans, because they were generally assumed to be the products of an American G.I. and an unchaste Korean mother. (Which, actually, was in general not too far off from the truth.) The decisive turning point happened in 2006, when Hines Ward, a biracial Korean American won the Super Bowl MVP trophy. As Koreans rushed to celebrate Ward, they also engaged in a national soul-searching about the treatment of biracial Koreans. Fast forward to 2011, and there is now a girl group with three out of five members being biracial poised to debut. The number of biracial Korean children is exploding, increasing by 92.8 percent in the last three years. Officially Korean government is encouraging multiculturalism, but individual attitudes are all over the place. If you are of mixed heritage, some Koreans might shun you. But some Koreans might find you interesting and easier to approach than 100 percent foreigners.

The Korean will give a caveat, however: race does not have THAT big of a place in Korean people's mind. A lot of foreigners (loosely defined, since people in Jonathan's situation are both Korean and foreigner) particularly Westerners, tend to overrate Korean racism. Pay close attention to the word choice here -- the opposite of "overrate" is "properly rate". As the Korean stated over and over again on this blog, racism in Koreans is real, and it is a serious issue. But at the same time, it is not as if it is the primary, or even secondary or tertiary concern in the minds of Koreans. Foreigners tend to overrate Korea's racism because they worry about it as if their race will be the sole determinant of how Koreans perceive them. They seriously send questions fearing for their safety in Korea, as if Koreans were the white slave owners of the antebellum South. Relax. There are many things that Koreans value over race. For example, regardless of race, Koreans will respect you if you went to an Ivy League school. Regardless of race, Koreans will respect you if you come from a good family, with parents engaged in respected professions. Again, racism in Korea is real, but its application is subtle -- it is not like anyone is facing a Jim Crow rule in Korea. How a non-Korean is treated in Korea depends a lot more factors than race alone.

Having said all that, the Korean will present this Wiki question for all the hapa Koreans. Do you live in Korea, or have you visited Korea recently? How was your impression of your life/stay in Korea? What kind of experiences did you have? The Korean would like to encourage a good, meaty discussion -- the Korean would love to supplement this post with well-written observations.

-EDIT 8/20/2011- To the idiots who keep claiming that the Korean is somehow trying to defend Korea's racism:

In addition to inviting a dialogue, characterizing racism in Korea as "real" and "serious," and linking to posts in which the reality and gravity of Korea's racism are discussed, the Korean bothered to put up an emailed comment that describes Korea's treatment of Amerasian people as "atrocity" and "ethnic cleansing." Yeah, that's some serious kimcheerleading right there.

Please, give only relevant comments to the post. This post is about biracial Koreans. Say something about how biracial Koreans are treated in Korea -- either your personal experience, or based on outside materials. As long as the comment is relevant, the Korean really does not care how harsh a word Korea's racism is characterized by. For once in Internet's history, let's try to have a focused, intelligent discussion.

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

62 comments:

  1. I don't know about this, TK. I read somewhere that Korea and Japan are countries that are the most difficult to obtain citizenships. Although Korea maybe a foreign friendly country, long term stay for foreigners is going to be very difficult.

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  2. "Korea's racism because they worry about it as if their race will be the sole determinant of how Koreans perceive them, as if Koreans were the white slave owners of the antebellum South.. Relax"

    Who are you telling to relax? The black guy rides the subway to work everyday, "forcing" 8 or 9 Koreans to scatter? The white guy who's been teaching in Korea for 5 years who speaks fluent Korean, and thus gets to hear 'comments' every single day everywhere he goes? He's the one who needs to take a chill pill, right?

    Instead of telling Foreigners in Korea to relax, or go get a freakin' Ivy League degree (worth est. $100,000) to impress random Koreans, why not tell them to 'get used to feeling lonely in Korea'.

    Or you can just give up on the "Korean experience" and just hit Itaewon to get drunk with your white friends. That's the real message, isn't it?

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  3. Who are you telling to relax?

    You sure could relax a little.

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  4. Sorry bro, you're gonna have to try a little harder than that to defend Korea on this one. Good luck w that.

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  5. This has nothing to do with how Koreans view mixed Koreans, but I cant help but vent a bit about Chocolat, since you brought them up, and I have a lot to say!
    1. I cant stand Chocolat. Not at all because theyre bi-racial. They have a new music video and I lost count how many times one of the girls winked at the camera (a little aegyo is fine, but a zillion winks and smiles at the camera, jammed into just a few short minutes, is too much for me). And the giggling at the end made me want to pull my hair out.
    2. AND, I find Melanie to be very irritating (I watched an interview she did. Not feeling it AT ALL).

    I've talked to looooooots of people about this new group, and I find that people are split down the middle. A lot of people don't like them because they're being debuted firstly AS a bi-racial group. Not as good singers/performers. Honestly, that bugs me too. Who cares if they're bi-racial? Their company wants to capitalize on it and I think that's strange/annoying. Unfortunately, all the fuss they're making about being bi-racial is really hurting them from the start. Not a lot of people care, and the fact that Chocolat seems to think their bi-racial-ness should carry them into super stardom, isnt really making them look good to a lot of people. Other people I've talked to think that they're cute and like their song, so they are excited so see what Chocolat can do. Anyway, thats my rant on Chocolat lol.

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  6. I can't speak to treatment in South Korea, but I live in the Metro Detroit area where there is a good sized group of Koreans. I'm stared at for my tattoos but it's fleeting. For the most part I'm stared at when I'm out somewhere with my (white) father. BUT- on the bright side, while this is usually only the middle aged and older. I get along perfectly fine with younger Koreans, "pure" or mixed.

    Come to think of it, it's just the middle aged and older woman who stare at me. They really don't like the cut of my jib, I suppose.

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  7. This is my only experience with racism in Korea. The head foreign teacher of our school being called into the director's office and asked a judgement call on whether a potential teacher was or was not black. Our school only hired white americans and canadians. They wanted the american accent and they thought parents would be upset if their child's teacher was black/ asian/ whatever non-white.

    I don't know whether to call this racism or what. My second job didn't seem to care at all about the race of their teachers at all. As you say, it varies greatly from person to person.

    An Irani classmate of mine sends her children to an all Korean school. She also only speaks Korean with them at home (they speak with their father in Farsi though) and I asked her if they had any problems adjusting at school. She told me, so far (her kids are still young) there have been no problems. I found that very surprising from all the stories I have heard about ex-pats who are scared to send their children to Korean schools in fear of their children being treated unfairly. Is the difference the ability to speak Korean fluently? Or is the difference a sign of a change in Korean culture?

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  8. The black guy rides the subway to work everyday, "forcing" 8 or 9 Koreans to scatter?

    I've been on the subway with black people, and I'm reasonably dark myself. I've been living in Korea for three years. It happens, but it's comparatively rare.

    The white guy who's been teaching in Korea for 5 years who speaks fluent Korean, and thus gets to hear 'comments' every single day everywhere he goes?

    What comments? Generally the people who think everyone's talking about them are the sort of person who learn what 외국인 means and then think they hear it everywhere. Do you seriously think anyone hears "comments" of any sort about themselves every single day?

    Korean society is certainly not with out its problems with respect to race, ethnicity and national origin (how pleasant do you think it is to be an ethnic Korean from China?), but let's not overstate them in the name of hysteria.

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  9. I should add that sometimes people would rather sit next to someone else than sit next to me, but I can only dream of being so significant as to send eight or nine people scattering across a crowded Seoul subway car.

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  10. This reminds me of the time when my uber pride Korean friend found out his family clan is actually from China.

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  11. I agree with KT, 21tiger you most definitely need to relax and lay off the blogs a bit.
    As far as the discussion goes, at least for me as a white American it would seem stigmas have worn off. In the year that I've been married to my (Korean) wife, everyone we've met in that time from my young students to the halmonis who sit on the stoop of our apartment constantly ask when we are going to have a baby. This is out in the provinces too, where one would assume the people to be more conservative and old-fashioned.

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  12. I am a 김해 김 so I consider myself part Indian.

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  13. There's a theory that says 허황옥 may have come from a Chinese family which has its origins in India (so not directly from India):

    http://ko.wikipedia.org/wiki/%ED%97%88%ED%99%A9%EC%98%A5

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  14. @Cory, Actually, I would assume (from experience) living in a place like Seoul would be more hostile towards foreigners, because there are already foreigners there, so the locals are 'sick' of 'wuegukin'.

    When you get out into the country, where they hardly ever see white faces, you get a much more genuine and innocent curiosity, rather than the scowl you would get in Seoul.

    Congrats on your new life in Asia.

    I checked out your blog and think this graph is awesome, comparing S Korea to developed countries:

    http://coryinkorea.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/korea-a-low-trust-society/

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  15. I am half Korean myself (on my mother's side, as most often seems), and I spent the months of June and July in Seoul. I suppose this question is right up my alley, haha.

    It's difficult to evaluate my experience in retrospect somewhat due to the fact that I travelled with my half-Korean half-black friend. So you can obviously tell who got the most attention - whether it was stares, or who talked to more strangers on the street. But I did get some stares. I attribute many of them to the fact that people look at other people regardless of their race. But I also looked much different from "pure" Koreans.

    One thing in particular I recall during my stay was going out with a few Korean friends and pointing out 백인's (white people) in a crowd... only to have them say to me, "But you're white." In America, I had this idea of myself as of Asian descent, despite my obvious mixed-bloodedness. To white people I look Korean, but to Korean people I look white.

    Most Koreans seemed to think I was white, that is, of no Korean descent at all, and were thus surprised when I told them my mother was Korean. I didn't receive any negative reaction; it was usually a simple "Huh, really?"

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    1. I had the same exact experience in Korea. No one believed I was half Korean and I did get a lot of stares when I was walking around with my Mom actually. I think it was because we were in the country and people weren't used to see foreigners. I was really shocked because I've grown up thinking I look obviously Korean. In America I get asked on a weekly basis "what are you?"

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    2. I totally understand that, it's like in the U.S. I'm considered Asian and in South Korea I'm considered white. Why is that?

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  16. I don't want to be so pessimistic, but here's a post by the blogger Metropolitan entitled "Guilty! Of Being a 깜둥이(Ggamdungi/Nigger) in Korea!": http://metropolitician.blogs.com/scribblings_of_the_metrop/2011/07/guilty-of-being-a-%EA%B9%9C%EB%91%A5%EC%9D%B4ggamdunginigger-in-korea-.html

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  17. @AJ While I do read Metro's blog fairly consistently and believe him to be a decent writer, a very good photographer and engages readers well, I do have to wonder how much of his posts about racism are overblown, creatively exaggerated to make his point or made worse by his own actions. I can't claim to be in the same situation as him, but incidents he's involved with seem to happen so much more consistently and to a much stronger degree around him than with anyone I know personally (including multiple races and lifestyle choices). As to the incident described in that post, great research skeptical of the story over at ROKdrop found that the guy resisted arrest, damaged a police car and might have had military charges pending for a separate incident. Always more to the story.

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  18. @21tiger Thanks for the read, can't take credit for the chart though as it's from the Herald article which spurred the post.

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  19. To get back to the original question, let's make a difference between "unpure Koreans" and foreigners. One could be in Korea for 30 years, speak fluent Korean, never forget a custom, know every bit of Korean history, and still get the foreigner treatment whilst living in Korea (old person going out of their way to 'accidentally' bump you, etc.)

    By comparison, an 'unpure Korean' can (usually) blend in more easily. They're not usually in a position to call out racism as the BS it is, but depending on how well they blend it may not be that big a deal.

    I've yet to hear too many native Koreans raise a serious, loud voice on the issue, though. Attitudes are changing slowly, but there hasn't yet been a landmark legal case or a Rosa Parks moment where the light bulbs of the mainstream population are lit up. Until that happens, I don't see many minds changing quickly.

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  20. Really enjoyed reading through these insightful comments. My concern is not with anyone whose race mixture has been decided by their parents. But I can't get used to all those white guy and korean girls couples at Coex Mall.

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  21. I've yet to hear too many native Koreans raise a serious, loud voice on the issue, though.

    This is going to sound rude, but I think it's hard to make statements like that if you mostly read about Korea from what gets translated into English.

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  22. The Korean hit the nail on the head. It's not racism, it's that Koreans operate at a shallow level, but you can't blame them for behaving this way. Korea is a rags to riches global celebrity who's materialism, plastic surgery and strange elitist behavior is simply a means to compensate for daddy issues, abandonment and molestation trauma. Essentially Korea would be a member of the Jackson family or Mike Tyson since it has the "Fighting!" spirit.

    Just because it looks like someone has got it all together on the surface doesn't mean they are a fully developed balanced person and the same goes for countries.

    Imagine if you are a country boy who had a history of abuse, exploitation and then you just became a multimillionaire over night. You never really grew up, but you get tossed into New York City and expect to adjust. You would probably behave like a bizarre individual.

    Korea was basically raped by other powers. It was left with nothing like an abused child. But under its foster parent's care it rose up very quickly, but never fully healed from its psychological wounds and processed what happened. It now has a love hate relationship with its foster parent and is trying to operate in a rapidly changing global environment.


    Korean's give respect to achievements they have not earned themselves. It's because they are bizarre individuals with a low self esteem. If you are special or worthy in their eyes, then you make them feel special and worthy by proxy. "My daughter has an American boyfriend who is a Harvard professor and his parent's are oil executives" = I am special and worthy.

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  23. Please focus on the OP. The topic is about mixed heritage Koreans in Korea. Only a few people gave even a tangentially relevant comment so far.

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  24. One of the reasons I don't intend to marry a non-Korean is this issue actually. Any offspring I would have would be discriminated or at least looked differently by (if not my parents) relatives.

    The only non-Korean ethnicity I may be open to is Taiwanese-Chinese, as their culture is the most similar to Korean culture -- in my view.

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  26. I agree with TK that how native Koreans view "unpure" or mixed Koreans really depend on the individual and vary greatly.

    From my own experience, when I was in Korea last year, I saw a lot of foreigners and individuals who appeared mixed and the people around them didn't really react to them in any special or particular way at all.

    Honestly, in the subway and on the streets, everyone went about with their own business, because it wasn't the first time they were seeing a foreigner obviously, and it's not a big deal.

    I'm Korean, but I always get mistaken for being another ethnicity or mixed, and I when I would ask for directions and help in my broken Korean, people were extremely helpful and pleasant. One teen actually went out of her way to walk me to the nearest subway station. I've never had any of the seemingly over dramatic experiences others have shared here. Seriously, and if you don't like being different or standing out in a country full of Koreans for being Caucasian/white/black, why are you trying to live in Korea in first place? I really don't understand your logic. If you think Korea is so racist and horrible and fucked up, don't go there. Get a job back home. Seems like a lot of people who aren't capable of getting a decent job in America make their way to Korea and act like they're the shite. Really annoying.

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  28. Relevant comments only, please.

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  29. Many of my Korean friends have mothers who now say "Marry a good Canadian guy" when they come over here to study ESL.

    I think the allegations of racism on the behalf of Koreans towards mixed or non-koreans is wildly overrated. When I was in Korea, there was never a bus stop where someone didn't offer to help, or a kind person who would give directions.

    Korea is more racist than Canada or most of the USA, but I have a hard time agreeing with anyone who says Koreans are inherently racist.

    Even in Gosan (a little farming village outside Jeonju), everyone was very helpful.

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  31. My brother is half-Korean, and he had no problems getting accepted by relatives and strangers, young and old. We spent nearly a month in Korea, visiting Seoul and the countryside - reactions were the same, with the exception of rural folks showing a bit more friendly curiosity. He didn't speak Korean except a couple dozen phrases, but he tried his best to learn from the Koreans he befriended - again, young and old. As for older gen'rs not being as accepting, that was no problem as he was polite and respectful towards them. This was nearly two decades ago.

    My point is, as said by couple of commenters before me, your experience in Korea will most likely depend on your personality and your open-mindedness. If you go there with the attitude that Koreans in general are racists, has weird hang ups, or only care about looking for "fill in blank" etc, then most likely that's what you'll find. You know, what you look for in other people mirror who YOU are, and all that. Not always but more than not, I think.

    @21tiger.com - I don't think black skin carry as much "stigma" in Korean society as they used to. My grandmother once told me that dark skinned people were thought to have been demons (not in the Christian sense, but like demons in old Asian folktales. ) as they were usually depicted as red or black. This was just a misunderstanding from ignorance because in the old days, they had not seen people that dark before. Of course, in modern times we know better. However, there are unfortunately still some that feel less comfortable around darker foreigners. Perhaps that's due to too much media exposure and stories coming back from America about gangs and crime related to African-Americans, and them generalising all blacks are the same. Kind of like some "foreigners" generalising that all Koreans are shallow racists. ;)

    Btw, racism is everywhere in varying degrees, whether you want to believe it or not. Some just express it more openly than others; some are more honest about it than others; some wrap it in pretty words and politeness to fool others.

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  32. I will write a lot on this later when I have more time, but I just wanted to say there are a few things that factor into how each individual is recieved.

    1. Looks. How Korean does the mixed Korean look?

    2. Language ability - how fluent in Korean is the mixed Korean.

    3. Parentage - is it the mixed Korean's mother or father who is Korean.

    I shall elaborate later.

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  33. @Eugene...I'm curious to see your(or anyone else's) elaboration on point 3...why would it matter which parent of a mixed Korean is Korean?

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    1. In post-war neocolonialism narrative (and colonial history in general) it's a typical pattern where the male is either wiped out/ desexualized while the female is taken. Mixed races in Korea began with the influx of U.S.military after the Korean war, so when the male is white or 'other' while the female is Korean, it gives off that vibe. While we don't like to think society is still patriarchal , it is. The male takes, dominates, the woman the prize. Her taking, a national desecration like the colonization of a nation is described in poems as the 'Mother' country being raped or taken. That's why it comes off less offensive when its the other way around. Double standards based on colonial patterns.

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  34. I'm a parent of mixed Koreans. In 2004, I went to Seoul for a couple of weeks. I understand Korean a lot more than I can speak it; as a result, most native Koreans assumed that I didn't know any Korean.

    My DD, who was 2 at the time, was the focus of a lot of attention. Most of it was good; a lot of strangers came up to her and would pet her, while telling me how pretty she is. However, there would be a couple in the crowd who would mutter really negative statements about her. Obviously, they didn't know that I understood, otherwise they wouldn't have said those things ("she shouldn't have been born", "she's ugly"). The negative comments came from both young and old.

    My guess is that being mixed in Korea will put one in the "other" category. Whether that "other" is in a good or bad sense, I think that's dependent on the individual Korean.

    Honestly, while I hope my children go to Korea when they're older, the negative comments left a very bad taste in my and my DH's mouth. I really hope things for mixed Koreans have improved like the Korean writes.

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  35. First, I just wanted to point out that just because some Korean people can be generally pleasant on the surface towards "Mixed-Koreans" doesn't mean they're not racist.

    This whole issue is complex, and I think it's silly in a way when non-mixed people to try to hypothesize what it might be like or explain what they think it's like just based on their observations. That's not to say their inputs aren't valid or important, but I think it's also (and perhaps more so) important to take note of the actual experiences of those in question.

    I think the whole issue of perception of mixed people by Koreans boils down to the question of whether or not they accept those mixed people as their own. Or at least, recognize that a part of those people (the Korean part) is the same as them (the full Korean). In very general terms, "being Korean" and "Korean-ness" has two important factors: how Korean you look and how Korean you act, in that order. So, the more Korean you look, and then the more Korean you act (in areas such as language, manners/customs, etc.), the more likely you are to be accepted as Korean, at least at the most shallow level. Like people of any other country, even America, they will most likely be insensitive at one point, and usually subconsciously.

    So, if you look Korean, but don't really act like it, Koreans will still more accept you as them than if it were the other way around. An American Gyopo who is not "Korean" in any way (with regards to behavior) is more likely to be considered a "true" Korean than a white Korean national that speaks fluent and observes all traditions and customs. At least generally speaking.

    Obviously, if you happen to be mixed, but look really Korean and observe all the customs and traditions and act really Korean, you're going be as close as you can get to “being Korean.” But that's not what we're talking about; how would Koreans view these mixed people? Who knows, everyone is different. All I know is heritage is an important but confusing aspect of mixed kids, and it sucks when you're not really accepted by either group your parents were because you're not full this or full that. And ultimately, I don't think Koreans, as a whole, would ever accept you as being "Korean." You're mixed, and on a good day, they'll be nice to you. On a bad day, they'll be racist, discriminatory, and hurtful. Inevitably, just like people of any other country (even America), they’ll be insensitive, usually subconsciously.

    More in the subsequent comment.

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  36. There are 2 special circumstances that might lead to different dynamics. One is family. My mother is Korean, so I have Korean family who treat me like, well, family. I don't even know if they consider me "Korean," but it doesn't really matter because ultimately, I'm one of them. I'm just lucky my mom is on good terms with the rest of my Korean family even after marrying a non-Korean, because I know this isn't always the case. I think this dynamic can be different, depending on the relationship of your Korean parent to the rest of your Korean family.

    The second circumstance is the whole star factor, which I hate. If you're famous, and Koreans find out you're any part Korean, they like to sort of exalt you as a "Korean" triumph, and obviously, they're going think, "He/She is definitely Korean!" But at the end of the day, if those Koreans sat down and really thought about it, I don't think they'd consider that person any more Korean than other mixed people. They just want to have something to show off, as Korea is so actively trying to prove how great Korea is. I think this is hypocritical and shallow, because they don't really care about those mixed people as people, what they've been through, and their feelings of belonging or acceptance, but care only about accomplishments of that person, making some half-assed tie back to "Korea," and exploiting that in order to make "Korea" look better.

    Sorry if I deviated with the acceptance issue, but I think it's an important dynamic in this discussion about mixed people and how Koreans view them.

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  37. Here is a good comment from Sajin K. received over the email, providing some historical background on the discrimination against mixed heritage Koreans:

    I read your post about mixed-race Coreans, and I deeply appreciate your invitation for other mixed race Coreans to participate in the conversation. I was the project leader for the National Human Rights Commission's Study on Amerasians (the progeny of US soldiers and South Corean Women) in 2003. Our seven-month study took us across South Corea in search of Amerasians remaining in the country. Through a series of interviews and site visits, we gained insight into the experiences of Amerasians in South Corea. The study shed light on the challenges facing South Corean society as it begins to move towards a more multi-cultural, globalized future.

    Long story short, the Amerasian crisis in South Corea is one of the biggest human rights atrocities no one has ever heard of. Most people look at Amerasians as a regretable, but unavoidable consequence of US military occupation. People will make off-handed comments about "the oldest profession," or "boys will be boys," but there is an immeasureable amount of shame, guilt, and rage over the US occupation of South Corea and the volatile mixture of sex and violence that occurs outside of US military bases. Authors like Katherine Moon (Sex Among Allies), Yuh Ji Yun (In the Shadow of the Camptown) and Grace Cho (Haunting the Korean Diaspora) have written extensively about both US and South Corean government management and administration of human trafficking and sexual slavery for US military (I will save my discussion of the connections between the Comfort Woman system and US Militarized prostitution for another time...)

    Amerasians were a natural consequence of this system, and became the unfortunate locus of a society unable to articulate its frustration and outrage towards the American racial hierarchy that existed outside of every US military base. Institutionally, Amerasians were literally non-persons in South Corean society. Due to the family registry law, Amerasians were unable to be included on their Corean mother's family registry, and in turn were denied citizenship for decades. Without citizenship, admittance to school was an ordeal, but those Amerasians who did faced an overwhelming amount of harassment, violence, and discrimination. Our study revealed that 73.3 percent of Amerasians were harassed because of their skin color, 64 percent were ostracized, 61 percent were unfairly treated by their teachers, and 53.3 percent were subjected to regular physical and verbal attacks by students and/or teachers. Consequently, 42.2 percent of those Amerasians interviewed quit school early.

    Because of their limited access to education, many Amerasians find themselves at a competitive disadvantage for employment. Furthermore, many employers flatly refuse to hire Amerasians because of their appearance. On other occasions, when Amerasians are able to secure a job, many struggle with workplace racism from peers, superiors, customers, etc. For example, the Suwon Amerasian Vocational School was established in 1978 to provide Amerasians with job training in order to secure employment. The school was forced to shut down in 1981 because no companies were willing to hire Amerasians, even though they were qualified for work. Consequently, many Amerasians were only able to work in the illegal economies thriving around US military bases.

    (continued)

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  38. (continued)

    Unfortunately, for Amerasians racism is just as prevalent outside of work and school. Amerasians are subject to racist attacks and harassment when engaging in normal everyday activities like taking the bus, going to the store, or even walking outside. 75.6 percent of Amerasians in the 2003 Human Rights Commission study reported being subject to hostile/unwelcome stares in public, 57.8 percent had been harassed in public, 40 percent had experienced an unprovoked assault, and 28.9 percent of the respondents had been sexually harassed.

    Consequently, Amerasians have responded to these acts of racism by isolating themselves. Most Amerasians living in South Corea limit their movements to familiar stores and restaurants, while avoiding crowded areas. But in general, South Corean Amerasians try to avoid appearing in public at all.

    Not surprisingly, Amerasians in South Corea suffer from shockingly high levels of suicide, violent death, drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty, homelessness, illness, and incarceration.

    International adoption was an informal government method of managing the Amerasian "problem." Since the South Corean government keeps no statistics on race, it the total number of Amerasian births and adoptions are unclear. It is clear that international adoption, in conjunction with the aforementioned problems, has had a cataclysmic effect on the Amerasian population in Seoul. Rough estimates place the number of births at somewhere near 50,000, while our study estimated only 500 Amerasians to be left in South Corea. Even if either estimate is off by a factor of 10 (extremely unlikely) that would mean that approximately 90% of Amerasians were eliminated from South Corean society. If the numbers are correct, however, 99% of the Amerasian population has been eliminated from South Corea, making it one of the most complete cases of ethnic cleansing in modern history.

    However, the situation for most mixed-race people from the West coming to Corea will be dramatically different. As an Amerasian myself -albeit American born, raised, and educated, I have had problems in South Corea, but nothing like the Amerasians born there. I find South Coreans to be uncomfortable with me in the same way that they are with adoptees or overseas Coreans because we undermine their ideas about what a "genuine" Corean should or should not be. For mixed Coreans going back to South Corea, expect to do fine if you are comfortable being treated like a perpetual foreigner.

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  39. Erik von Markovik: All people are shallow.

    The Korean: How does a person just walking down the street display his or her Ivy League degree and good family pedigree for passersby to see? Obviously there are classy ways to dress and to carry oneself, but clothes and skin pretty much all one has to make a first impression. Everything I've read about racism indicates that it is pervasive and subconscious; even people who try not to be racist (or sexist, or looksist) operate by default on subtle stereotypes. (See implicit association tests here: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/- they now apparently have translated some of the tests into Korean.) The way subtle racism works, people belonging to certain groups have to be Ivy League and have a good family- there's an extra hurdle in other people's minds when it comes to accepting the people in those groups.

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  40. How does a person just walking down the street display his or her Ivy League degree and good family pedigree for passersby to see?

    Why would anyone in Korea care about a person just walking down the street? That's what the Korean wants to really emphasize here: a lot of the questioners have this crazy idea that because Korea is overall a more racist place than America (which is true,) they might get stoned in the streets or something (which is ridiculous.) The only time when racism will really come into play is when a non- or half-Korean meaningfully interacts with a Korean person, not simply walking down the street.

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  41. i am not a person of mixed decent but have been considered about the treatment of children from mixed families. particularly for those children of mother's from southeast asia. this is the largest number of "multicultural" families in corea. there are lots of programs to assist these families but it seem that most are about trying to assimilate these moms and their children into corea over trying to address the larger issue of their eventual ostracizing and racism they face.

    race is ever important issue in corea particular for these children because their mothers are not fully accepted as being "worthy". generally these woman are looked as inferior and consequently their children are consider "un-corea". many coreans know that this occurs but feel they are justified in their judgements and this is a product of the privilege they possess. they also feel there is nothing that can be done to change these attitudes but the burden of the "solution" (aka assimilation) is placed on the "victim" of the racism.

    this is a broad statement and doesn't account for individual experience but in general the larger concern is not for white/corean but those children with darker skin or whose parents are from southeast asian countries.

    racism is something that needs to be analyzed from a systematic perspective rather than an individuals perspective. the individuals experience is a sign or symptom of systematic problems.

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  44. Do people not know what RELEVANT means? The OP is about mixed race Koreans. Say something about mixed race Koreans. Otherwise your comment is gone.

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  47. I think another factor one has to take into consideration is if the mixed Korean person's biological parents are married to each other or not. In addition to the whole racial purity myth, there is the question of legitimacy as well. Prejudice against illegitimacy may also play a role in negative attitudes by some.

    The term "mixed" or "half" Korean may also be more of a western concept. In places like Korea or Japan, you are either "Korean" or "Japanese" or you are not. There is no such thing as half. If one is not 100% Korean than you are simply NOT Korean at all as far as society is concerned. Although this kind of thinking may now be totally passe in Korea considering how fast Korean attitudes can change these days.

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  49. "a lot of the questioners have this crazy idea that because Korea is overall a more racist place than America...they might get stoned in the streets or something.The only time when racism will really come into play is when a non- or half-Korean meaningfully interacts with a Korean person, not simply walking down the street"

    So we should just ignore anyone who gets pointed at, stared at, mocked, talked about, made to feel uncomfortable weird walking around Seoul (or on the Subway). What evidence do you have for this claim? All you're doing is using rhetoric to call 'accusers' crazy. Because your baseless claim seems to be contradicted by thousands and thousands of Westerners living in Korea.

    Arguably Mixed-blood students would get treated even worse than foreigners in Korea, because it indicates inter-racial 'hooking up' took place, which brings with it a whole other stigma.

    By the way, everyone read YounHie's comment for a balanced response from a parent of mixed blood kids.

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  50. So we should just ignore anyone who gets pointed at, stared at, mocked, talked about, made to feel uncomfortable weird walking around Seoul (or on the Subway). What evidence do you have for this claim?

    When did I ever make that claim? Show me where I said we should ignore anyone who gets pointed at, etc.

    Arguably Mixed-blood students would get treated even worse than foreigners in Korea, because it indicates inter-racial 'hooking up' took place, which brings with it a whole other stigma.

    FINALLY! It only took you six comments, but you finally managed to say something relevant. Now, I would love it if you could say something more substantive. Do you have any personal experience to share regarding biracial Koreans? Do you personally know any biracial Korean? Do you have any documentary sources to share?

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  51. Hi there,
    I'm a mixed Korean Euro girl and have visited Korea a couple of times. I cannot speak Korean, so my observations are somewhat superficial. My parents were never married, but I haven't sensed this to be a problem to my Korean relatives (maybe it is, but I don't know). As a child I recall food sellers in markets singling me out from my crowd of cousins and giving me something for free whilst engaging my aunt in a conversation most likely about who I was. Basically I remember being treated really special everywhere, but very nicely.
    A few years ago strangers were much more common in Seoul, but nonetheless caused people looking at them. The weirdest thing was people literally congratulating me on how my white genes had overpowered the Korean ones in my phenotype. This was strange, as it occured at least three times. Apart from that, random encounters asked for my email address in order to practice English with me, though English isn't my first language and I was invited to be on television although I don't speak Korean.

    Enjoy your vacation. Most people won't be mean to you.

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  52. Being a Korean hapa myself, I admit that I do wonder sometimes how "pure" Koreans might view me. But I never really gave it too much thought because it's not an issue for me in the States. With the Korean or Half-Korean friends I have, I guess you could say there is that sense of underlying solidarity or communion in sharing a heritage with one another to some extent.

    I did have a few observations while visiting family in Korea with my mom last year. They hadn't seen me since I was a baby so it was like meeting me for the first time. One, my relatives made a few comments about my skin tone and how it was just like a Korean's. It felt like they were amazed that this could be the case since I'm only half. Two, they loved the fact that I ate so well. At first they were concerned that I'd only have a taste for Western foods, but once they learned that I grew up eating a balance of Korean and Western foods (and that I love Korean food the most!), they were thrilled. Three, despite being a foreigner, they treated me like family because that's what I was. It didn't matter that my mom married an American, we still share blood and a history. Plus, her family took really good care of me when I was a baby and we were still living in Korea, that I imagine they still hold on to strong feelings of wanting to care and protect me.

    All that being said, yes, I do get stared at in Korea. Probably for the sole reason that I look different. Once, in Suwon, my older male cousin simply stated that people who stare are just trying to figure out if I'm Korean or white or maybe something else altogether. But I never felt like I was treated harshly or rudely (although this could be due to the fact that I was rarely without the company of a family member).

    I guess I'd have to agree that it's really a case by case basis. It probably depends where you are in Korea, how Korean you look, how fluent in the language you are, etc., etc. I think someone else made the comment that from a Koreans POV, there is no "half-Korean", you either are or you aren't. And I agree with that to an extent because obviously there are people who feel that way. But again, it really depends on the person you're talking to. The same male cousin I mentioned will inform me about different issues happening (politics, economy ...) because to him, yes I'm American, but I'm also Korean and should have an interest in such things.

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  53. Now back to my elaboration of my previous points...

    I must first preface this by stating that this is about meeting Koreans with no international living experience for the first time.... because people's attitudes can change over time.

    0. (Added a point zero because this trumps them all) Celebrity status. If you are famous and a mixed Korean, you can pretty much drop the mixed part. Hell, if you're a mixed Asian celebrity and totally not Korean,there will be Koreans claiming that you are Korean even if your Asian heritage is not Korean. (Ever hear anyone tell you that Keanu Reeves or Tiger Woods are Korean? I have!)

    1. Looks. How Korean does the mixed Korean look?

    This matters especially on first impressions. If it is apparent that the mixed Korean has Korean blood simply by looking at his face, then the acceptance as a fellow Korean comes a bit faster. (Although this is possibly nullified if the mixed Korean is also obviously something other than white, unless you win the superbowl or something.)

    2. Language ability - how fluent in Korean is the mixed Korean.

    The reason why I added this point is because language is an important part of culture and we are talking about Koreans in Korea (not Korean Americans, where this point would not really be as important.) You can be accepted initially by your looks and parentage alone, but if you can't speak the language, then you'll be treated as a foreigner, even if you are a full blooded Korean-American. Of course the ways that most Koreans treat Kyopos and straigth up white Americans will be drastically different, but that's for another time to discuss.

    3. Parentage - is it the mixed Korean's mother or father who is Korean.

    This one comes at the very end for a reason... because it really isn't that important at all... However, in the minds of some Koreans, this is the most important of the rules, and trumps all others. The reason is that by having a Korean father, the mixed Korean has also inherited the father's blood, and name. Some would even argue that mixed Koreans made this way don't need the mixed label at all, and aren't a "problem" (because dirty foreigners aren't taking away our girls. Nice gentle Korean men are taking away the beauties of a foreign (white) country. Something a bit of national pride!)

    I once had an old Korean say to my face that my father must be a great man, since he was able to attract a white lady in the '70s!

    So I guess among older Koreans, this point might have more sway.

    Now, don't go making a list of my points and publishing it as a guidebook or anything, and remember, Koreans are individuals, so there will certainly be exceptions.

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  54. I have to agree with TK on this one. How Koreans perceive--and therefore treat-- biracial Koreans depends on more than merely their biraciality.

    I'm not going to comment on what kind of knee-jerk, gut-deep feelings Koreans in general tend to have when faced with a biracial Korean--as I do not claim to be a mind-reader. I can only invoke anecdotal and empirical evidence to how they treat them, which I think springs from both how they feel about them, and how they think they SHOULD feel about them.

    I think Koreans treat biracial Koreans who aren't "Koreanized" as they would treat a foreigner--a.k.a different from how they would treat a fellow Korean. And quite rightly so, as they ARE different.

    Even if biracial person A has a parentage that renders her visibly indistinguishable from a "Korean" (Kosian, for example), if she has little or no knowledge of "Korean-ness," she will be treated accordingly.

    I happen to have a biracial friend (we went to college together in Korea) who is visibly biracial-- with a completely American name, to boot--but she is every bit as Korean as they come (meaning perfect mastery of the language, pop-culture etc). She expected no special treatment, didn't advertise her biraciality (but it was glaring) and fit right in. Needless to say, she's on the cookie-cutter Korean path to success now (she's a 대리 at a major 대기업 only 2 years into the job.

    So I guess that pretty much speaks for itself.

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  55. My daughter is half Korean... her father, my ex, is Korean and I'm Caucasian (so basically a mutt! haha)

    His parents freaked out when they found out. They told him he couldn't marry me or live with me or they would stop sending him money and force him to come home.

    Uh yeah, he basically told me that he couldn't do anything against them so I dumped him immediately.

    So yeah, I'd say I experienced some of the worst case.

    That said, all my Korean friends are very supportive and love her because she's so freaking cute! :) Besides his parents who cringed when they knew I was not only pregnant but white...... everyone has treated me well. So yes, I'd say it depends on the person.

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  56. How do Korean nationals look upon "halfies" whose other half is East Asian(e.g. Japanese, Chinese)?

    Are they viewed better or worse than say, a White-Korean or a Black-Korean? As far as I know, the former is a lot rarer than other forms of racially mixing. Cheers.

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  57. This issue would be non-existent if people on the various sides would give up the pernicious fiction of "race." There is one human race. It has different colors, different languages, different cultures. It is composed of people who mostly easily trust others with shared appearances and experiences. But there are not separate "races."

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  58. hi guys im Robert. im actually Korean-Indonesia, now im confused how to study at korean. i just graduated from high school and now im still learning korea. Does anyone here can give me some information about how to study in korea or is there any club like Korean-foreigner? Thank you very much.

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  59. the word used by Koreans for us (half and half) is ti-gee (spelling isn't correct, hope you get the idea) which means half fried. ps: I was born in 1958, my father brought my mother and I to the USA in December of that year. it has always been my experience that Koreans here in the usa look down on those women who married Americans, which I think is very funny. When I see a Korean here in the US with both parents Korean, I ask how did you get here, 9 out of 10 times it is because someone in their family had married an American GI and had been sponsored by them....

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