Xenophobia in Korea

May 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

The issue of race and ethnicity in predominantly homogeneous societies is an issue that has come up in my political science class, Politics of East Asia, time and time again. Korea and Japan both heavily subscribe to the “one blood” idea–that they are a people of one race, descended from a union between godly/otherworldly beings way back when. (I would argue that this is something China wants to do but has not succeeded in doing to the extent Korea and Japan have, given that China is home to over 13 distinct ethnic groups [not including Koreans living there] while Korea is home to Koreans and a small population of Chinese and Japan is home to the Japanese and a minority of Koreans and Chinese.) 

As the number of mixed-race marriages increases, however, Korea is now having to adjust to the presence of “multiethnic families (다문화 가족, or 다가족)” and figure out how to integrate them into society. (More on the challenges facing multiethnic families and their children here, here and here.) Yet there are many obstacles, one of which being Korea’s historical and present xenophobia and exclusivity. More on this issue from Korea Joongang Daily, “Giving Up On Xenophobia“:

Thousands of nonnative Koreans now live among us because of interracial marriages, jobs or for education purposes, yet Korea’s understanding and tolerance of other ethnic groups remain far below the global standard. In a survey on acceptability of a multiethnic society by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which was conducted on 2,500 people aged 19 to 74 nationwide, only 36 percent was positive about changes that make our society more diverse in terms of race, religion and culture. 

That’s less than half the average 74 percent approval rate in 18 European countries. The results of the survey suggest that many immigrants from different cultural backgrounds could be suffering from various forms of discrimination and prejudice in Korea due to their skin color or mother tongue.

Our evolution toward a multiethnic society is inevitable. We must remake our laws in various fields to support a society that accepts differences. We also should welcome foreign talents to raise our international competitiveness. We feel proud of the success stories of ethnic Koreans overseas even though they are no longer Korean citizens. We should encourage foreign residents to be successful members of our society.


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