Monday, October 29, 2012


I have briefly discussed racism before on this blog, and noted that I would eventually come back to it.  I feel that this is as important of a subject as it is a touchy one, so I will try to be careful how I word this.  Racism is a very real thing in the world, as everybody knows, but it is very different in the United States than it is here in Korea (and I would imagine most other countries).  The fundamental reason for that difference is Nationalism.  America is a country of immigrants, so we have a very diverse demography, most of which consider themselves American.  In other countries around the world (Korea and Thailand being my only real experiences so far, but others seem to apply), there are immigrants/foreigners/outsiders, and they are clearly that.  The reason is when one Asian person sees another Asian person, they know immediately if they are Japanese, Thai, Korean, etc.  Not only do they recognize that immediately, but to some degree, it matters.

I'm not saying that the racism that I have seen, experienced, or heard about is worse, or terrible.. but it IS very different.  I think it is important to point out that in America, racism is often hidden, because in this day and age it is so looked down upon.  Of course it still exists, but we don't have clan rally's like we used to, we don't have institutionalized slavery, and we do have a Black president.  

(photo from internet)

(I will take this opportunity to point out that the term "Black" is just as politically correct as "African American."  I prefer to use the term Black these days because we don't refer to White people as "European Americans."  I am not racist at all, just a realist.  Because of this I feel comfortable discussing race-related issues, though some other people do seem to feel uncomfortable discussing them.  One of my biggest pet-peeves living in Korea is when an American acquaintance refers to a black South African [for example] as an "African American" by mistake.  They are so afraid of saying "Black," and sounding racist, that they automatically refer to them as African American.)

Anyways.. I digress.  I am happy that racism is beginning to fade away with the times, but as someone who is a certified Social Studies teacher with a particular interest in Sociology and Anthropology, I enjoy discussing such matters, because they are very real, and relevant   Living in Korea I have the unique opportunity to gain some perspective on racism around the world.  When you identify with a Nationality that is the same as your race, it is much easier to be influenced by history and contemporary issues in this matter.  Koreans have a very bad history with Japan and China, and many still have hangups with them.  The younger generation is much more open minded than the older folks I've encountered, but there are some problems.  China and Japan have some fairly serious issues as well as you may have read about in my post about Craziness in Eastern Asia (and/or you already knew that).  Well when they had an international incident, the Chinese people targeted Japanese people living in China.  That must have been a terrifying time for those people, and that was blatant racism.  Those people didn't do a thing wrong.

These kinds of things don't really happen in the United States.  They have happened in the past (Japanese Internment Camps?), but these days people who are racist mostly seem to notice skin color.  Black, Brown, Yellow, Red.. I've never heard of an American say "I hate Koreans.. but the Chinese?  They're cool"  Nope, they say "Those Asians.. blah blah blah."

I have experienced racism in America, Korea and in Thailand.  I haven't had any HUGE problems from the several occasions that I experienced negative racism towards me, but it is enough to bother me a little.  I'm not going to get into the incidents back in the States or the minor instance in Thailand, but I will give 2 examples from Korea.

One example, and the most common, is positive!  Me, along with many of my fellow WHITE foreigners here in Korea, are constantly feeling like we are being regarded as better than other people.  We are very "handsome" or "pretty."  We are very "cool."  We get respect from many before we even say a word.  My Indian and Black friends don't encounter this here... sadly.

I love this because it's so true.  You don't know that different is bad until society tells you that it is.

The other example was a negative one, and I was fairly offended.  About 3 weeks ago I worked a Saturday English program (the one with the picture doing arts and crafts).  Afterwards my friend Justin and I went to have lunch together at a Lotteria, a Korean fast food joint.  I happened to have my guitar with me and my bike helmet, so if we didn't stand out enough to begin with, we definitely did this time.  As we stood waiting in line having some small talk, the workers behind the counter definitely took notice to us, and started making fun of us.  I don't know all what they were saying, but as Justin was ordering I started to notice this, and they were being very obvious about it (it was 2 or 3 young girls, maybe 19 years old taking part).  Justin was ordering in a normal manner, doing nothing out of the ordinary, but they were practically laughing in his face.. and he either didn't notice or chose to ignore it.  I wasn't happy, but I was planning on letting it go.. until the girl taking his order loudly made a comment using the word "Waygooken," which means foreigner.  So just in case any of 40 people in the restaurant didn't know she was making fun of us to our face in a different language, now they all did.  I tapped Justin on the shoulder and told him what I had been noticing, and he had basically been oblivious to it (if you don't speak much Korean, you generally tune out what the random Koreans around you are saying).  Well I speak a little more Korean than Justin, so I decided I had a social responsibility to say something.  I was up to order, so I ordered using as much Korean as I could, just to see her reaction to it.  She did not slow her roll at all, and just kept carrying on, having what appeared to be the time of her life.  Since she didn't get the hint I said "Shila hamnida.  Waygookens.. jamy kay ta, eh?"  Which means "Excuse me.  Foreigners look funny, eh?"  In the tone that I said it, the whole restaurant seemed to go silent!  It was a bit of an intense moment, but boy was she embarrassed.  I thought about asking for her manager to complain, but since she didn't say another word the whole time we stood there waiting for our food, I just let it go.  The other customers in line didn't say anything, but I don't think I offended anyone, and I actually  feel like they respected that I stood up for my friend and I.  I'm not much for confrontation or conflict, but some things are worth causing a bit of noise about.  Racism is one of those things.  (However do keep in mind, this is very low level racism.. nothing like what so many other unfortunate people have encountered.)

Lotteria (photo from internet)

So there are some interesting differences that can be explored in regards to this topic, and this was one of the most significant culture shocks to me living abroad.  I needed to wait as long as I did to report on it though, so that I could really have a grasp on the social atmosphere.  I wanted to end with a Bob Marley quote, but I couldn't find one containing this message, so I will quote the movie I Am Legend, and hope that Will Smith wasn't lying... But if I ever have the opportunity to really impact the world in a positive way, I will carry Bob's torch, since he did not get to see his dream come true:

"He [Bob Marley] had this idea, it was kind of a virologist idea, he believed he could cure racism and hate, literally cure it by injecting music and love into people's lives. One day he was scheduled to perform at a peace concert, gunmen came to his house and shot him down. Two days later he walked out on that stage and sang. Somebody asked him why. He said the people who were trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness."


  1. I think this is a very good topic to discuss. While racism is still alive in America (particularly in the older generations) it's not really as harsh as it is in other countries. I recently read a news article where black woman set herself on fire, painted the "KKK" on her car windsheild, and then accused the KKK of setting her on fire. Stupid if you ask me to do something to yourself and then knowingly lie about it to the media. I love Asian culture (well minus the fact that there's some Asians who eat dogs and cats). I think they all have a very rich history. One aspect of Japanese culture that I love is the Fuedal Japan era. One Asian country I am a bit nervous about wanting to teach in is Vietnam-I saw something about Vietnam once on I think the Nat Geo Channel about their being pythons living in the rice patties there. *Hate snakes*. I wish that they would have taught more about world history when I was in middle/high school but no they wanted to focus on U.S. History. I think it is stupid that people in US still look down on inter-racial marriages (I mean seriously it's 2012 for crying out loud)-like that LA judge who wouldn't marry the black/white couple because he said 'inter-racial marriage is wrong and it will hurt the kids'. While bi-racial children may have a hard time connecting with either culture and may feel they don't belong in either culture or among either race that is still nobody's business but the parents and the judge should have kept his personal opinions out of his job. Now that I think of it I don't think I've ever been in school with Asians or other European people-even in college I don't remember there being a lot of Asian people during orientations or in the school. There were some people in college who were from Somalia (about 40 total) because the school I went to is a regional branch so most kids who are not pursuing one of the four degrees offered end up taking General Ed classes and then transferring to the main campus to complete their degree. I can't believe how packed Japan is and how tiny their homes are. Nationalism may very well pay a big part in racism in other countries. It'd be nice if every place in U.S. was diverse so people got to see others of different countries/races/nationalities but sadly small towns across US aren't very diverse. Sometimes I think that if every high school student was forced to go abroad for a semester in order to graduate to another country maybe that would open up their minds. But then I'm sure you'd have opposition from the parents (particularly the bigots) who wouldn't want their kids to go abroad. Still there should be something done to teach kids that it's okay to learn about other cultures in our country.

  2. How cocky you are describing how they said you're pretty and all. Maybe some just said that because you're different, so as not to offend you but mean the other thing. White people have poor skin texture and you guys age horribly. I'm 27 and Asian and I look younger than most white guys in their late teens and early 20's! It's true..I put that on anything..!

  3. You know, now that I re-read this post, I guess I could have worded that a little bit better. I don't mean to be cocky, but I personally have been told that I'm handsome hundreds of times in Korea, and I don't get the feeling that they mean 'the other thing.' Many of my friends get this treatment just as often, hence that comment in this post. I don't like to generalize though, and say ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE BEAUTIFUL to Koreans.. so again I could have re-worded that. Take it easy though, this is for broadening our understanding of different cultures and peoples, not for being hostile.

  4. Typical. A white person who have experienced white privileged all his life without realizing the various discriminations facing fellow minorities in his own country goes abroad and criticizes other countries for having racism.

    Listen up, racism is alive and well in the US so don't try to downplay it or say it is to a lesser extent than Asian countries. You don't have institutionalized slavery but you have institutionalized discrimination in your universities which hold Asian American applicants to a higher standard than white applicants. According to research by Princeton researchers, all else equal, Asian applicants must score 50 points higher in the SAT than whites to get into top universities.

  5. Here we go again.. I did NOT say that racism doesn't exist in the States, I simply said that it is different. I am not writing this blog to talk about racism in America; the clear objective of this blog is to write about Korea.

    We can talk about Asians being discriminated against in the States, we can talk about Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics... pick your minority group. Or white people for that matter. I personally acknowledge that I have benefited from white privilege my whole life, but I've had two significant instances in my adult life where I was discriminated against for being white.

    All I can say is don't be a hater, let's just work towards a world with a little less of this business.. Peace.