2:39 pm - 04/18/2012

Sudden Discussion on Race Grips South Korea

Suddenly, South Korea is having a moment about race.

All through the Korean media and in business lunches and casual conversations, people are talking about race and Korean identity, a civic discussion shaped by the confluence of four news events.

The first was the gruesome murder of a young Korean woman (which hit the front pages in part because of the bungled response of police to her emergency call) by a Korean-Chinese man in Suwon. Then came a shooting spree by a Korean-American in California. Next was the election of a Philippine-born immigrant to the National Assembly. And finally came the approval on Tuesday of a Korean-American as head of the World Bank.

At the center of the civic and media discussion has been a spate of race-tinged criticism and false rumors spreading on Korean Internet sites about Jasmine Lee, the Filipina-Korean who joined the Parliament as a proportional representative from the New Frontier Party after its victory last week.


The vitriol has caused a rare alignment in the South Korean media – both the Chosun Ilbo, the country’s biggest paper and leading right-wing voice, and the Hankyoreh, the biggest media force on the political left, published strongly-worded editorials smacking down the apparent racism.

Both papers connect the dots from the Suwon murder to the slander against other immigrants over the past week and the criticism directed at Ms. Lee, which marred what should be a proud moment for South Korea – the first time a foreign-born immigrant has made it to the heights of the National Assembly.

“While outrage at a brutal murder is natural, it is shameful to allow this to descend into racism and xenophobia,” Hankyoreh said. It said that the name-calling and criticisms were “irrational” and pointed out that Americans did not resort to sweeping generalizations against Koreans in the wake of shooting incidents that involved Korean-Americans.

Chosun Ilbo sees a double standard in the pride that Koreans are taking in the appointment of Korean-born American Jim Yong Kim to head of the World Bank with the knee-jerk, xenophobic criticism of Ms. Lee and other immigrants.

“It does not befit the world’s 15th-largest exporting country to get excited about the achievements of an American who comes from Korea but on the other hand to react with hostility to an immigrant who achieves something here,” a Chosun columnist wrote. “Such double standards are unacceptable.”

Robert Koehler, whose Marmot’s Hole is one of the best-read blogs in the Korean expat community, suggests there’s politics at work even in the way the various media are playing different aspects of this discussion.

While that may be true, it’s a noteworthy turn in an ethnically homogenous country that only in the past decade has seen a sizable flow of immigrants and is trying to sort that all out. There are two main sources of the population inflow: women coming to marry Korean men and men coming to work in lesser-paying, so-called “dirty and dangerous” jobs that aren’t attractive to Koreans.

The immigration flow is fuel to both the South Korean economy and health of society overall as the country’s population growth is quickly leveling off. Even so, there’s plenty of anxiety or antipathy in South Korea about immigrants and it plays out in more ways than racist comments on Web sites.

Amid the onslaught of media coverage about the topic in recent days, the English-language newspaper Korea Herald weighed in on Wednesday with a long feature story about foreign labor in South Korea. Government policies illustrate the broader conflict, the story points out.

For instance, while the country has become more open to immigrant workers, it places limits the amount of time they can stay, which prevents them from settling in, rising up the ladder at their workplace and becoming full-fledged members of Korean society. Permanent immigration remains relatively low in South Korea compared to other industrialized countries.

Source: korearealtime
askbask 18th-Apr-2012 01:01 pm (UTC)
Not too soon! It becoming a mainstream talkie can only be good. Can't be ignored or treated as a non-issue anymore, policies are put in place (see the racism post), etc.
lonelymoon 18th-Apr-2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
Yep, it's about time.
jangneri 18th-Apr-2012 01:47 pm (UTC)
“It does not befit the world’s 15th-largest exporting country to get excited about the achievements of an American who comes from Korea but on the other hand to react with hostility to an immigrant who achieves something here,” a Chosun columnist wrote. “Such double standards are unacceptable.”


THIS.

I think as a whole, S.Korea should be proud of Jasmine Lee's win. It's a sign of changing times, in a positive way.
michurusan 18th-Apr-2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
Are they talking about the shooting at an oakland christian nursing school?
I have a friend who had a friend who was shot :(. It still scares and saddens me.
music3chick 19th-Apr-2012 01:05 am (UTC)
yeah, probably that and the Virginia Tech Shooting
lydzi 18th-Apr-2012 02:29 pm (UTC)
One (big) step at a time.
coccinity 18th-Apr-2012 02:52 pm (UTC)
i think it's great that the two biggest newspaper media are supporting racial understanding!

on the other hand,
"For instance, while the country has become more open to immigrant workers, it places limits the amount of time they can stay, which prevents them from settling in, rising up the ladder at their workplace and becoming full-fledged members of Korean society."
its kinda douche how countries want to import cheap labour but refuse to keep them. reminds me of the maid controversy in hongkong where the court overruled a maid's appeal to become a permanent resident after staying there for more than 20 years, and she's legally approved to become a resident but they rejected her anyway. :/
k0dama 18th-Apr-2012 02:52 pm (UTC)
I must agree that it is truly bizarre that Koreans feel more brotherhood towards someone who has Korean heritage yet has never bothered to live in Korea for any length of time, rather than with someone who may not have Korean heritage but has lived the majority of their life in Korea.

AND THEN there's still the weird stuff with treating Koreans who had lived in the country but who no longer live there like they're a separate kind of Korean, as if they're unpure or something.

Sadly the only way to end all this nonsense is: time and diversity.
miki_831 18th-Apr-2012 03:56 pm (UTC)
Aren't immigration laws really strict in Korea, for any type of foreigner?
muzegrey 18th-Apr-2012 06:29 pm (UTC)
Honestly, it's not that strict per se - you just have to live in Korea for a long time to qualify. And they only give out 1-2 year visas for non-Koreans, so it's rather a pain to keep going through the visa process.

Then you have to learn Korean, study for the test, etc.

I want to get dual citizenship though. I'd never give up my American citizenship. lol
itskimbitches 19th-Apr-2012 04:14 am (UTC)
Okay legit question : during the taecyeon military scandal ppl were saying, "I hope he doesn't give up his visa" or "I would do anything for a US visa ". Is t really that big to have a US visa?
muzegrey 19th-Apr-2012 04:50 am (UTC)
Yes, I think so. Because first of all, US tends to protect their citizens abroad more. Two, there are a lot of benefits to being an American citizen, Three you are able to travel more easily to many more countries because the US has negotiated with many more countries.
cettefemme90 18th-Apr-2012 05:01 pm (UTC)
Good. Now continue talking about it, and make changes.
benihime99 18th-Apr-2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
At least all this mess is forcing them to talk about the issue
clicheterms 18th-Apr-2012 07:07 pm (UTC)
“While outrage at a brutal murder is natural, it is shameful to allow this to descend into racism and xenophobia,” Hankyoreh said. It said that the name-calling and criticisms were “irrational” and pointed out that Americans did not resort to sweeping generalizations against Koreans in the wake of shooting incidents that involved Korean-Americans.
well, that's just giving america too much credit, lol.

but i agree w. the sentiment and i'm happy that mainstream newspapers are taking a positive stand.
falling_empress 19th-Apr-2012 04:08 am (UTC)
true, but koreans didn't turn into public enemy #1 because americans are too busy hating muslims.
itskimbitches 19th-Apr-2012 04:18 am (UTC)
Tbh Americans don't really hats Muslims. They're just confused and ignorant about what's going on with the religion and middle east. One minute you're worried Russia will set off a nuclear war the next you're wondering who's Allah and why did he blow up the towers. Its fear of the unknown and why.
falling_empress 19th-Apr-2012 04:58 am (UTC)
idk as an american muslim i disagree lol, but i also live in an ultra conservative state, so it really doesn't help...i think it just depends where in the country you are.
deerlike 18th-Apr-2012 09:39 pm (UTC)
Hankyoreh, the biggest media force on the political left

As a leftist person, this is relevant to my interests. I'd like to read Korean news from a more progressive publication - I wonder if they have many of their articles translated into other languages like English? brb investigating.
deerlike 18th-Apr-2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
They have an intro page in English, which is a hopeful start for those of us not fluent in Korean: http://www.hani.co.kr/english/editorials_intro.html#top
falling_empress 19th-Apr-2012 04:08 am (UTC)
if korea is going to be like that to foreigners, then why do they expect the rest of the world to welcome them with open arms? oh wait, cuz we're not complete dicks.
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