Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Being Black in the Kimchiland

Dear Korean,

I want to teach English in Korea in February. How badly am I seriously going to be treated, assuming I get a position? It's not like America is fat friendly, or Black friendly for that matter, but I hear Korea is 100 times worse. I'm a great person, kind, intelligent, and genuinely interested in learning about Korea and it people and culture. Will that be enough in the long run, or should I just forget going there?


Dear Korean,

I am a black man, born and raised in the United States. For the past four months, I am been diligently studying the Korean language because one day I would like to start a new life in Korea. I am educated and currently working on my Masters Degree and studying for an ESL certification with the hopes of one day taking my education, teaching skills, and the knowledge of Korea's native tongue to the country and make positives enhancements in a country that is continuously going. But my question is, can I go to Korea and become successful? Would I be able to attain a job other than just teaching English? Will the color of my skin overshadow my education, language skills, and the desire to help better its growing economy in the decades to come?


Dear Geralyn and Jihoon,

To give a better sense of Korean job market, a post by Yeochin will follow the Korean’s post. Also, please take a look at the discussion already happened on this topic at Expatjane's blog.

The Korean talks much about racism of Koreans and Korean Americans. (See for example here and here.) The Korean has also talked about America is much less racist than Korea (and less so than the rest of the world.) Unfortunately, this may have caused a lot of concerns from African Americans who intend to teach English in Korea.

The Korean thinks he is misunderstood in this regard. One way of understanding the sentence “racism in Korea is worse than America” is to understand it as saying “the manifestations of racism in Korea is worse than America.” That is, there are more ugly signs of racism, such as racial segregation or racially motivated violence.

But the Korean does not mean that when he says “racism in Korea is worse than America.” Rather, the Korean means this: “racism, defined as racially inclined thought-process, is more firmly engrained in Korea than America.” When the Korean says “racism”, he only means this: the belief that one’s race is determinative of one’s characteristics which are often negative.

So is racism worse in Korea? Absolutely. Overwhelming majority of Korean people sincerely believe that your race matters in evaluating who you are. But the relevant question in Geralyn’s case is: “Is racial hatred in Korea worse than that of America?” This is the relevant question because on one’s day-to-day life, expressions of racial hatred would be the only thing that affects the racial minority.

The Korean’s answer to that question is – not really. Once in Korea, black folks will be stared at. They will be subject to some rude comments. But there is little danger of malevolent discrimination, harassment or violence.

Here is an example of racism that is typical in Korea. The Korean attended a wedding in which the bride was a Chinese American and the groom was Korean American. (Wedding was in New York.) During the reception, the family members of the newlyweds took turns with the mic to say a few words. The groom’s uncle stood up and said, “I would like to congratulate [the groom] and [the bride]. I know a Chinese woman and a Korean man work out together well, so I am sure your marriage would be great.” Stunned silence in the audience for a few seconds, then some scattered polite applause followed.

The uncle here sincerely believed that being Korean and being Chinese impute certain characteristics to people. That’s racism. But he meant absolutely no harm to the newlyweds, and not too much harm was really done to the newlyweds at the end of the day. Such is racism in Korea.

(Aside: Keep in mind that the above is a description of Koreans in Korea, not Korean Americans. Because Korean Americans often come into contact with African Americans – usually the poor folks who occupy the same ghetto – they have a clear idea how to deal with a black: with suspicion and disdain.)

However, one thing to note is that such racism – racially inclined thought, to be precise – is a necessary ingredient in racial hatred. Racially inclined thought only needs a small spark to erupt into racial discrimination, harassment, or violence. Foreigners in Korea, including African Americans (more so because they stand out even stronger than whites,) do need to realize when such “spark points” happen in order to avoid any trouble.

The spark points happen when the racial minority appears to threaten the status of the racial majority. Remember, the worst violence against blacks in America happened after the Civil War, when their newly enfranchised status threatened the whites. Vincent Chin was killed in Michigan when Japanese carmakers were threatening the status of American carmakers. (And the American carmakers still did not learn their lessons, but that’s a different story.)

When do non-Koreans in Korea appear to threaten the status of Koreans? The Korean can think of three situations:

1. Working at “Korean jobs” – English teachers mostly do not fall into this category, but immigrants from Southeast Asia and China usually receive the brunt of this. In particular, there is a severe racist hatred against the Chinese in Korea right now. If the current trend continues a little longer, a full-blown France-style race riots are just around the corner for Korea.

2. Being loud in a group, especially in an enclosed space – This could easily happen in a bar with several friends, for example. To Koreans, it could look like the foreigners are “taking over” the space, which may cause resentment. (Yeochin's post touches on this.)

3. Dating Korean women – Interracial relationship is a racist’s greatest fear, especially if it involves a minority-race man and majority-race woman. When a minority-race man dates a majority-race woman, other majority-race men feel their position threatened, because they feel that their possession is being taken.

So, here is the actual advice: if you are going to Korea as an English teacher, do not worry too much about racism in Korea. The worst you would receive most of the time is the incessant staring and some really ignorant comments. You are not in a situation to threaten the status of any Koreans, so you will be let alone.

However, if you are going to Korea as an immigrant as Jihoon is trying to, brace yourself. Korea is not a kind place for immigrants, because immigrants who stay in Korea often pose a threat to the status of Koreans. Again, the Korean would stress that there is no violence or harassment. But the quiet bias would often be enough to dash your job hopes, for example.

[The following is written by Yeochin.]

There really isn’t any specific racism in Korea as far as black and white are concerned -- it’s more of a numbers game. Koreans are afraid of large numbers of foreigners. Any foreigners. It could be a group of blond super models. If there is more than four, they will be denied entrance anywhere in Seoul.

There are a lot of examples of this. A few weeks ago a group of friends were denied access to a club. There were almost ten of them. There was a Korean with them and she was kind enough to translate “there are too many foreigners, you can’t come in.” Schools work in the same way. My school hired a man and my boss said – OK, we have a guy, no more guys.

Yeochin’s school just hired an African American. She spoke in a perfect non-regional diction over the phone and is very well qualified to teach. There were two positions open and three candidates; two white and one black. Yeochin was very surprised that the African American candidate was the first one hired. The girl was even demanding and wanted things in her contract changed. Yeochin thought that her boss would forgo this teacher who he described as “Difficult and unappreciative.” Instead, he gave into her demands while announcing to the office that he had just hired a black person, and aren’t we so diverse!

It was like when he hired a male teacher and he kept hinting at the Irish teacher that finally there would be a man around. He acted like he was doing the female teachers a huge favor. Irish teacher kept feeling insulted, like maybe she seemed desperate for a man or something. Our African American teacher was toted around the office in the same way.

So guess what happened when my boss interviewed a new girl and she turned out to be black? He told her ‘no thanks’ of course. We already have one. When the African American teacher who secured her job first heard about this, she just laughed -- she knew Korea was going to be ridiculous about that.

As it turns out, she was worried about getting hired as well. So nervous that she started to learn Korean and knew a lot of basic phrases before her plane even landed. She even prayed at lunch in Korean. She even gave the bosses gifts for hiring her. All this because she was afraid they would look down on her for being black. She was afraid they would not think she was as capable as her white peers. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Truth is, Koreans think all foreigners are lazy and incompetent regardless of their skin tone. This is sadly true. The Korean work ethic is above and beyond anything you would expect. The Korean teachers work twice as hard as the foreign teachers and they don’t get a free apartment and they get the same pay. It’s not a color difference, but a culture difference. hey don’t look down on you for being black, they look down on you for never being taught to work insane amounts of hours for no overtime pay. See?

This goes for Korean Americans as well. Yeochin’s school just hired a Korean American from the Bronx and already they think she will be inadequate compared to her native Korean co-teachers. To quote my boss “This is not America, this is Korea and our teachers enjoy working Saturdays.” A concept that I don’t think has caught on in America unless you work at Burger King.

So go ahead and apply to work in Korea. YOU WILL BE HIRED. You will get a job. Don’t settle for a lame job because you are worried about getting hired. You can have a great job where you want, for how much you want. You just have to be patient.

Yeochin wishes she could put a good word in for you to her boss, but like she said, that quota has already been filled. And if my boss needs to hire another teacher and they turn out to be a man, black or a Korean American my boss can proudly say in all of his diversity training “no thank you, we already have one!" What a hero.

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


  1. http://metropolitician.blogs.com/scribblings_of_the_metrop/2008/12/tips-to-avoid-being-assaulted-in-korea.html
    To avoid the sparks,in my opinion this piece is useful not just for the Black folks but for every foreigner in Korea.Also the block's author is black too.

  2. The remark I found that holds the most truth is that Korean see all foreigners as incompotent and lazy. When I worked at the hagwon it seemed the Korean teachers would complain the most about being tired but wore this like a badge of honor. I try my best not to complain about work while I am here.

    I work with just one coteacher at a public school now and I know I can feel I am lower position than her. But I try to work hard and get along.

    I would say that you do feel segregation and racism here. It is not blatent but is an undertone when you are out in publice (I am white). I think though it depends on the audience. A youthful audience is more curious than furious. while the older audience is bewildered and confused by the site of foreign peoples.

    Just be prepared to feel like you are second class and different.
    No longer kind or queen...which is how most Americans feel.

    1. Just be prepared to feel like you are second class and different.
      welcome, not being racist, now you know how black or 3rd world people fell.

  3. I just love to hear the BS Koreans like to tell themselves to feel better about themselves.

    Yes, we Westerners are so lazy and incompetent that it took us to liberate Korea from the Japanese, and then we saved South Korea again after the Norks invaded in 1950.

    Uh, yes, you're welcome.

    And, more to the point, there's a difference between "working hard" and working smart." Koreans may work longer hours than Americans, but guess who the UN found to be the most productive workers in the world?:


    That's right, the lazy-assed Yanks.

    What's interesting is that in the following stats, Germans work nearly a mere half of the hours that Koreans do, but they've got the third largest economy in the world and they're surviving the current economic crisis rather well at the moment, and certainly better than South Korea:


    I'd say if you stripped away all the endless cellphone usage at work, endless meetings and "team building" BS, Koreans would actually work less hours than Americans as well.

  4. Scott,let Korean people feel good about themselves.''We are the most hard working nation in the World'',or ''We are pure blooded'',''We are the master race'',all of this beliefs did not come out because of no reason,the unbelievable amount of pain before 1953 had created this beliefs.If Koreans are happy this way,it is OK for me and I understand them

  5. @Scott:

    Did you have you ass kicked by a Korean? Did your girlfriend cheat on you with a Korean? Do all the Korean girls you hit on turn you down?

    Every comment you ever wrote in this blog shows some level of despise for Koreans and I'm starting to wonder why.

    By the way, I'd like to thank you for your personal efforts in liberating our country from Japanese domination and also for saving us from the "norks". I love to hear these assholes trying to take credit for something they had nothing to do with whatsoever.

    Want a reason to hate Koreans? I'll give you one: Go fuck yourself.

  6. seriously Scott people like you are the reason why Koreans don't like foreigners. you think you are so worldly and great for living in a place like Korea but you still have this entitlement because you're a fucking American and think the rest of the world should bow down to you.

    if you're going to a place like Korea the most important thing is to humble yourself and be able to appreciate it for what it is. don't feel like you deserve anything at all because that is when you get yourself into trouble and that is when assholes like Scott ruin the reputation of all foreigners.

  7. Woo-hoo, I'm being attacked on both the (ethno) right and the (PC) left. I must be doing something right.

    "Did you have you ass kicked by a Korean? Did your girlfriend cheat on you with a Korean? Do all the Korean girls you hit on turn you down?"

    OK, we all know what your hang-ups are here. If you really just want us to whip out our johnsons and have a measuring contest, all you have to do is ask!

    Anyway, Ksoje, I like your fighting spirit. Since you're such a tough guy and Koreans are such world-famous hard-workers, why don't you start defending your own country so we Americans can go home? Isn't 6 decades long enough?

    Elise/종은, I've been in Korea over a decade and have paid my dues. If you think Koreans are going to love us foreigners just because we roll over and let them bad-mouth us left and right (including in this very post), then you're either naive or just disingenuous.

    What's interesting is how people seem to be able to dish out the nationalistic BS but they sure can't take it. I'm actually the least nationalistic person you'll meet (as are many of my Korean friends, by the way), but just think it's fun to play the same game other people around here like to play and see what kind of reactions I get.

    The point being, no one likes a nationalistic asshole, right?

    Am I getting through here, anyone?

  8. Alright, now that everyone got their potshots in, the Korean will stop this line of debate right here. Any further talk on this topic of whether or not Koreans think foreigners are lazy will be summarily removed. The topic was tangential in the post, and largely irrelevant.


    the Korean will address a few points.

    Am I getting through here, anyone?

    No, because rudeness and snark make a poor rhetorical tool in trying to get through people. It only invites hostility, shown by the following two commenters.

    Yes, we Westerners are so lazy and incompetent that it took us to liberate Korea from the Japanese, and then we saved South Korea again after the Norks invaded in 1950.

    That doesn't even make sense. Lazy man with a gun beats active man with a knife every time. (Subject to Jack Bauer exception.)

    [I] just think it's fun to play the same game other people around here like to play and see what kind of reactions I get.

    The Korean does not think it is fun. This blog is for a civil discussion, not for mind games. There is a name for people who like to play mind games on message boards -- they are called trolls. And you are rapidly approaching that status.

    The Korean knows you are a well-educated person who are capable of writing in a civil and serious manner. So do that. Want to talk about U.S. military in Korea or Korean nationalism? There are posts about those in this blog as well -- go talk there, because it will be relevant.

  9. As far as KA's "usually the poor folks who occupy the same ghetto" as Blacks in the US I'd like to address that:

    1. All Blacks do NOT live in the ghetto. (I know you didn't say that, but there's this stupid belief out there that people actually believe that black folk don't come from all walks of life. We're all the same and we all live in the ghetto. NOT!) We do live in the suburbs, and it's not uncommon to have a majority black suburb. Anyone who doesn't think so, clearly only travels in 'certain circles'. And no, a majority black suburb is not rare and just because it's majority black doesn't make it a ghetto.

    2. Being as such we all don't live in the 'ghetto', the KA's that do business in the black areas out here in the suburbs, are the same: Rude, nasty and suspicious. I know for a TRUTH that no one has threatned them, jumped on them or robbed them, YET they have this very nasty racist attitude, so much so that I refuse to give them are anyone else my business that has such sloppy and ignorant customer service. So, yeah sometimes it really is 'just because.'

    I also think that some posters are trying to give Korea good 'face'. Yeah, there are some things that IN GENERAL Korea thinks about all foreigners, but when you have people that already think you're "dumb, dirty, loud, ghetto and poor" and all of the other 'black' stereotypes on top of the general 'foreigner' stereotypes, then you're fighting a whole new set of circumstances that the other 'lighter ones' just don't have to. Oh and you will probably get told to go back to Africa, cause for some reason, it prevails in general Korean society that ALL blacks come from "poor dirty diseased" Africa. lol, that one kills me! lol.

    I also know for a fact, that they will hire that white face before they hire a black one. Not that they won't hire a black person...but that white face WILL have a significant edge...and don't be surprised if you hear this come out of an employer's mouth, either, because political correctness or whatever, just doesn't exist.

    Just sharing what I know.

  10. "Any further talk on this topic of whether or not Koreans think foreigners are lazy will be summarily removed.... Lazy man with a gun beats active man with a knife every time."

    Uh, yeah, OK. For the record, 8 million Americans fought in the Pacific War, and the Japanese had more than a few guns themselves. It was no cakewalk, let me tell you.

    Anyway, my advice to any person of color thinking of coming to Korea to teach is to try Japan or China instead. You will have a much better time in those countries than in Korea. In Japan subcultures including those of African-Americans, Jamaicans and Africans are much more widely accepted and appreciated, and China is a multiethnic, multicultural society that is far more open to people of racial or ethnic difference.

    It is possible that Korea will fundamentally change its attitude towards foreigners in another decade or two, but in the meantime I actually see Korean nationalism become more extreme these days, and it is possible that Korea and Koreans will ultimately decide that they are happiest being a relatively closed society that keeps to itself and remains at the periphery of the global community.

    Just my two won, of course.

  11. I have to say, once again, that it comes down to money and simple jealousy--a system problem before it's a nationalism problem. When you're a korean who's been slaving away at a company for up to a decade, and you have to "put up" with these recent college grads from overseas who are making just as much money if not more than you just because they can speak their own language, well then you are just begging for some ugly consequences. In that kind of screwed up environment, I'm not sure if it makes sense to wonder if say Americans or Koreans would handle the situation any better. The point is that a system problem of that magnitude would decidedly irritate most people of any nationality.

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  14. I fear that some of these Korean nationalists will create very big problems for Korea in the near future.Korean politicians are incompotent when it comes to dealing with them.Especially if Korea doesn't learn how to embrace immigrant workers,I don't think it will bring good economic consequences for Korea.Even ethnic Korean workers from China have some serious problems.We'll see,I hope everything turns out good for Korea.

  15. Come on Scott, you're brushing away the easy money problem way too easily. I'm sure you do know what the competition is like for decent jobs in Korea? And I'm sure you do know how easy it is for a westerner with a bachelors degree to get flown over there all expenses paid? Koreans of course are well aware of this. They know better than anyone -- it's too much in my opinion -- the value of being competent in english.

    And you make it sound as if expats don't have families back home helping them out. And of course average Koreans who work 10 years at a company don't make anywhere near what you said.

    Everything else you said is probably true. Most of it has already been talked about on this very site, if you're not familiar. But I still think the easy money problem is at the core of what's going on, because making a decent living is top priority for most Koreans, and when they see westerners making easy money, it pisses them off. This is of course not to say that expats deserve any of the bad treatment they get.

  16. JW:
    since when is the market fair? there are countless Koreans who make the same or more money than the average ESLT bum. but nobody questions their integrity in the same way as in the case of foreigners.


    some good points. Insecurity / paranoia when being confronted with foreigners is of course nothing Korea specific but something any society experiences where immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon.

    the topic of 'Korean internal division' / 'search for identity' i find interesting, this topic i don t find very much discussed within the K blog sphere (but i m limited to english speaking sites).

    maybe time for me to formulate a question for The Korean ...

  17. I'm not sure why it's so hard to understand what I'm trying to say. It's very much like winning the lottery. If you are lucky to have been born or raised in one of the english speaking countries listed in those countless ads and thereby have that coveted western citizenship, just by that very fact you have a very very good chance of getting the opportunity to travel the world almost all expenses paid.

    When someone wins the lottery, people around will try to manipulate him out of spite or self interest. Clockwork. Universal impulse. That's what it is at the core of the problem when it comes to english teachers.

  18. I do think Scott made an interesting point about competition between Koreans in Korea. Age-old hierarchy aside, older workers (my experience here is confined to public schools and hagwons, so whether this carries over into a corporate environment is not something I can comment on) are at a disadvantage, though it appears public schools have much fairer hiring practices than hagwons. The oldest Korean coteacher I ever had at a hagwon was just over 30 and over the course of the year I found it perplexing (at first) that every few weeks someone would come to school with a discreet bandage somewhere on their face. They're trying to stay competitive through plastic surgery! Nevermind the enormous unemployment of young Koreans who have just graduated from college, those who are already employed will do anything to stay there, and I think in a national environment shaped in the tragic ways that Korea has been over the past few thousand years (since we might as well pay some attention to the historical formation of the national psyche as well) I imagine that foreign teachers especially are viewed as a sort of necessary evil, important to have to remain competitive but potentially threatening to the hierarchy. That said, many of the Korean here with whom I've become personally acquainted are sincere in their curiosity and in their more modern outlook, which departs greatly from the perspective of their parents, and some of my close acquaintances here are in their 40's but certainly have no desire to return to the days of a military dictatorship.. several of my coteachers were actually involved in the not-always-peaceful student demonstration in the early 80's, so there is a true passion for internationalism afoot in Korea, as there is anywhere, but there is also some massive baggage along for the ride. James Joyce likened the Irish struggle against England to the Israelite struggle in Ulysses, and my coteacher recently used this analogy to compare the "Han" spirit of Korea to Ireland in terms of a melancholy nationalism that is at its root proud but which has been trampled time and again.. I could go on but others are so often more to the point than I. Sorry for any typos in this post... it's FREEZING in my classroom right now.

  19. [Can we delete all the 'angry white man' comments already?]

    Back to the topic at hand...

    Dear reader,
    Have you been black all your life?

    If you answered "Yes", to the above question, you are indeed prepared to face 'racism' in Korea!

    What you will experience in Korea is not much different--and in my personal opinion--less annoying, than what you would experience in the United States. Unfortunately, guys like Scott are living and working in Korea, and they've brought all their baggage with them.

    Still, unless you're from a multicultural mixing pot like SoCal, NYC or The Bay, you're probably used to guys like him. (Otherwise, you may want to read Expat Jane's post on Ugly Americans to get up to speed.) For the most part, racism isn't what you should be worried about, it's the culture clash you'll have with your employers that might wear you down...

    [I've got a heck of a lot more to say about this one but I'm veering into the 'more than 500 words' category so I'll post it to my own blog...]

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  21. Well T-Hype I don't necessarily believe Scott is bringing anything but what he observes. I mean one might as well be honest.

    Also may I suggest people go read the story of the Ethopian lady on Global Talk Beauty who talked about racism in Korea and her caucasian tv mates backed her up on it.

    She said she had a degree, went to apply for a job and was told straight to her face we don't hire BLACKS. Of course when she spoke of the story it broke her down pretty badily.

  22. Small_41

    Well, nobody here I don't think is arguing that Koreans don't have problems in their relations with foreigners. I'm not sure why Scott or anyone else would come to this site of all places to relieve what seems to be a pentup desire yell at Koreans who 1) wouldn't come to a site like this and 2) unfortunately only speak and understand Korean. So my suggestion to anyone would wants to change the minds ad hearts of Koreans is to learn Korean first. Because it doesn't seem like they will get significant better at understanding English any time soon.

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  33. Lest anyone should say anything about the Korean's quality control: please read the first sentence of AAK! Policy on the right sidebar.

  34. mimi,

    the Korean will answer a couple of points.

    Being as such we all don't live in the 'ghetto', the KA's that do business in the black areas out here in the suburbs, are the same: Rude, nasty and suspicious.

    It really does not matter where a given Korean American store is, because all Korean American storekeepers communicate to some degree. They attend the same church, and read the same Korean language newspaper. Because a significant proportion of Korean Americans do own stores in the ghetto and fall victim to disproportionate amount of crimes committed by blacks and Hispanics, such news affects all Korean American storekeepers who hear news of such crimes.

    Also, it is not clear if you ever lived in Korea from what you wrote. But from what the Korean can glean, it seems like you have a lot of interaction with Korean American rather than Koreans in Korea. Conflating the two is an easy mistake, and the Korean specifically made the point in the post about Koreans vs. Korean Americans to show that the two are different. (And one such difference is how they treat blacks.)

  35. I noticed a couple of links back to me. Thanks Korean ;)

    I'm not going to even wander into this mosh pit of a fight as I've said what I need to say on racism in Korea.

    Yes, it's here.

    No, when it comes to being a minority, it's not a huge deal. It's a huge deal only if you've never been impacted by it.

    So my fellow people of color, most definitely apply to work here if you think it's something that might work for you.

  36. Oh WOW! I am shocked and awed by the Kesumo comments about her friends' experience in Korea. I think your friend erroneously traveled to North Korea, not South!!!!

    Although I had never insinuated Korea as a perfect society, I don't ever recall Koreans resorting to violence against foreigners. If it did, I would like someone or anyone to provide me with some accurate data by a credible news media -- no blogs.

    I am having a hard time believing Kesumo's story. During the past summer, I had the opportunity to visit Itaewon, aka "foreign district" in Seoul. And I met many foreigners of which I had the opportunities to engage in conversations about their experiences in Korea. Most of the foreigners said that they were having the time of their lives, and the best thing about Korea was how they felt it was such a SAFE country to travel and live.

    For those that are somewhat unaware of contemporary Korea, I will delve into three major characteristics of the Korean people. First, Koreans have a lot of pride -- I think the Korean articulated this in a fine fashion a few months ago. Second, Korea tend to compare with one another, meaning that we talk about what are some of the things we have accomplished thus far in out life, either professionally or personally. This stems from South Korea's hyper competitive culture in general -- how many hours do students spend studying just to get into a decent university in Korea. Third, Koreans in general are peaceful people. For example, unlike some countries in the world, South Koreans protest by holding candle light vigils -- VT shooting, US Beef trade, ETC. In Addition, the ultra foreign-friendly treatments stems from that fact that we want them to have lasting memories of our country; that half a decade ago in total ruins stemming from a civil war. Although I am deeply saddened by the Kesumo's friend was attacked in Korea but, if it did, it is definitely a isolated incident.

  37. Speaking as a person of color (the white kind), I can say that there's probably no safer land for you to work and live than in Korea. If you're white, you're likely to face some opposition/racism because you're a foreigner. If you're another color, particularly black, you're facing very increased odds of fitting in. If you have it in your mind that you'll be accepted in Korea because you're white/black/green, you're wrong. You're not of the Han. But if you think that you can't have a meaningful life working/learning in Korea because you're black or some other color (than white) you're wrong. You're going to face more challenges (and more ignorance and suspicion) than your white sisters and brothers would, but that won't prevent you being accepted by Koreans that you want as friends/associates; I believe, perhaps naively as a white man, that your own actions and conduct will have a greater effect on your acceptance in Korean society. Sure, there's inbred racism Korea, but it's not going to get you dragged behind a truck. You might get jeered at, and you'll certainly get the N word - none of these things are right, but if you're more adult and situationally/culturally aware than your harassers are, your time in Korea will be of immense benefit. Face it, not everyone is going to like you anyway, and a number of those people will be extra suspicious just because you're not Korean and not white. If you're able to rise above that, Korea is/will likely be one of the best experiences of your life. It's much like so many things in life - there's a lot that you have control over and it's what you make it (mostly). Still, be prepared for a whole lot of culture shock.

  38. I don't have any doucmentation but I can say this from experience.

    I believe Korea to be one of the safest places to live in all the earth. As a woman I feel safe walking around at midnite or later and have no thoughts I will be assaulted or harrassed like I would walking the city in America.

    But that being said, we (hubby and I) have had our share of unfortunate happenings. Hubby was the focus of a drunk man's rage in broad daylight and he kicked open our front door. Hubby went to the police to report the incident and who shows up at the police station? THE man apologizing. Hubby let it go. I have been groped about 4 times here in Korea in public places (daylight hours) by Korean men and once some wierdo pulled his car over so he could do 'his business' (and I don't mean go to the bathroom) in front of me.

    Over a total of 7 years that about sums it up. I still feel safe here- much safer then I would at night in my home country.

  39. This post is nonsense. I worked in Korea for 4 years. During the hiring phase at a foreign highschool, I helped my Korean co-teacher choose some applicants from a resume pool. One of those applicants was black. (Applicants apply with pictures in Korea, a common practice.) The black man had an excellent resume. My co-teacher removed his resume from the pile without looking at it. Why I asked? Because he is black, and the high school students can't handle it. Second, I knew a black teacher who was asked to leave by his school after one year. Many ajumas complained to the school board that they didn't like a black man in their hamlet. He couldn't resign, but a white guy got the job next year. So racism is alive and well in Korea.

  40. JW--compare apples to apples. Recent graduates from overseas DO NOT make the same amount of money or more as recent Korean English teacher graduates do. Give me some statistics comparing Korean and non-Korean salaries of teachers in Korea that don't come out of your ass, like always.

  41. Maybe we should take this discussion elsewhere because it seems the Korean loves to delete comments.

  42. Just an anecdotal story here, and not necessarily true everywhere in this country: My hagwon won't hire blacks. In fact they won't hire Asians who have been raised abroad.The American head teacher at my school has even been called into the assistant director's office and asked a judgment call as to whether a person was or was not black, since that must have been a deciding factor.

    If you don't have a face that they think is "American/Canadian" enough, they won't hire you. Which of course is a northern European look in all reality. Also, they don't want any of your Australian, British, South African, New Zealander, or Irish accents either. Obviously Americans and Canadians are superior.... well, at least the ones of Northern European decent.

  43. The funny thing is, it seems as if "The Korean"is defending the social stigmas that Korean people place on other races, does it not?

    Anyway, it all boils down to this-Korean people who are racist (which a majority of them are) are plain hippocritical and stupid. Consider that white folks have made the most fun of people of asian decent's language, manner of dress, and all other aspects of asian culture.... I mean they consider Asian people "Exotic..." Hold on... being born different makes you exotic eh? Well that makes you more or less a friggin' animal in a zoo, because isn't an african elephant considered exotic??? But no, we have Asian people glorifying white people: How many times have I seen Japanese or Koreans with Brown/Blonde hair and eye surgery? How stupid is this? My thing is this- Asians need to be educated if they believe white folks to be superior to blacks, hispanics, etc because we are all the same except for small things. Oh and for the record: to a white man, you aren't anything but a chingy-chong with YELLOW skin and no matter how much you try to lighten your skin, dye your hair, or "fix" your beautiful eyes, you'll still be inferior in their eyes.

    P.S. Can you posters stop calling us "blacks" and say Black people or African Americans? Thank you.

  44. Birdman,

    There is no such intension. Racism is vile in any shape or form. But there is a difference between explanation and justification. The Korean only does the former. If you want change, saying "Stop being stupid" is the least effective way of doing that.

  45. Wow, weeks later and people are still loosing both their minds and manners.

    "Just an anecdotal story here, and not necessarily true everywhere in this country: My hagwon won't hire blacks." - We KNOW this already. What's interesting is that the people who work there, yourself and the head teacher, seem to be letting it pass and not saying that it's wrong. If you are, you didn't mention that in your example. Considering the number of blacks I know teaching here on the hagwon level and the years I've been here on the university level, there are places that will hire blacks.

    Also, Birdman, I'm black and I don't mind the term "black" or "blacks" in reference to me. To each his own, but there is much more a person needs to do in reference to race to get me all riled up.

  46. I'm glad to see that a lot of the tension about racism in Korea has died down in this blog.

    I'm a Black guy going to Korea for the 3rd time in my life (for 3 yrs this time) and I plan on creating a page which will document my ventures in Korea as a Black guy. I do speak the language fluently (thanks to countless hours of study at DLIFLC Monterey, CA) and plan on covering as much of the peninsula as I possibly can. I will have a vehicle with me this time around and I can hardly wait to get started this summer.

    I've only experienced an instance or two of racism toward me and it was not extreme at all (mostly out of ignorance and misunderstanding of the Korean national's part). Aside from that, all the people I've met in Seoul seemed to be very impressed with my skills, which opened numerous doors that were once closed. I was able to get into most clubs, get a membership at a nice gym in Shinchon, etc.

    I remembered talking to a Korean when I was there in 2004 and this short conversation changed everything for me. I asked him, "Why are Koreans so afraid of dealing with me?" He said, "It's not you or your color they're afraid of, but your language." He proceeded to explain his statement into detail; from there, I told myself that the only way to combat what I was experiencing then was to help them feel comfortable (which to me entailed learning the language). So I left, went to school and spent 8 hrs. a day 7 days a week learning Korean all the way up to 400-level courses, and 2 yrs. later, I returned to Korea as a fluent speaker.

    I know how it feels when you really want to get to know someone but that language barrier is in the way hindering you from really knowing a person. I would start my conversations in Korean; they would think it's cute that I learned SOME Korean, so as always, they'd gauge me to see just how much I know. Let's just say after a few convos on current economical & social situations and how I felt about things such as reunification and Korean men & women changing roles in society, they (the Koreans I spoke with) would open up like a book to me. I even started getting bizarre curiosity questions about race issues...it didn't bother me; it only told me that they are comfortable with talking to me.

    I also worked for a friend, who is like an older brother to me, who is Korean at an early age who taught me very well about the Korean work ethic, so no issues there. I cannot wait to get there and show all other Black people who are interested in Korea and its people's way of life, that there is nothing to fear.

    1. I would love to know about your experiences over in Korea. I have been thinking about going and seeing as much as I can for my 30th birthday. Although, I am not too good with the language. When I first wanted to go all I saw when I reserched was these awful posts about Koreans hating blacks. I was afraid at first to go. Even some of the kpop idols that I love were said to be racists. I am trying to get a better undersnding and get over my fear and reading your post has settled how i felt. So please if you do write a blog let me know i would love to read about how it is over there, especially for an African American. Thank you for postinf this.

  47. This is in response to the post made by the Korean regarding the assertion that no violence and harassment will not come to a black person in Korea if they enter into the so dubbed 3 areas that threaten Koreans' position in Korean Society.
    I agree with the majority of your post. However, as a warning to any black foreigners (especially black males that like to date Korean girls in public), one of my friends who is black recently told me a story about how he was at a club with a Korean girl he met there that same night and they were leaving the club to go to a different place together. Then a group of at least three Korean guys (that the girl had been talking to earlier that night at the same club) seemingly starting abusively degrading the girl. My friend who speaks no Korean tried to intervene and defend her (this story is according to him not from a witness). Then the guys basically got into a physical altercation with my friend who was alone at the time. He got pushed, kicked, and punched a few times. Nothing too serious like one might imagine from the injuries of a gang beat down in the U.S. He had a few brushes and hurt pride; nothing more. However, that threat, while very minor and remote, does exist in Korea especially if alcohol and Korean women are involved. My friend is a very mild mannered and friendly black dude of Trinidadian descent that grew up Vancouver, Canada. So, the Korean while I love your postings and site, that one assertion about no violence or harassment for blacks in Korea is being called into question right now. I am on the ground here in Korea seeing and hearing what is happening in society. Just have to put that out there as a possibility. By and large though in my 16 months experience here, there have not been a lot of direct in your face harassment and/or violence.


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