Racism in South Korea

overview about racism in South Korea

Racism in South Korea has been recognized by scholars and the United Nations as a widespread social problem.

South Korean nationalism is something quite different from the patriotism toward the state that Americans feel. Identification with the Korean race is strong, while that with the Republic of Korea is weak. ~ Brian Reynolds Myers

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  • I was invited to the home of a young Korean couple for dinner and the subject of the children of mixed-race marriage came up. "You know, we hate them," the husband said quite unashamedly and, for some reason, with a smile. By "we" he meant not just he and his wife. He meant all Koreans. All felt this way. And feelings, I'd already noticed among my Korean friends, were not something to be kept in check by reason. They were justification for whatever came out of your mouth or made you swing your fist.
  • South Korea, not very tolerant, is an outlier. Although the country is rich, well-educated, peaceful and ethnically homogenous – all trends that appear to coincide with racial tolerance – more than one in three South Koreans said they do not want a neighbor of a different race. This may have to do with Korea's particular view of its own racial-national identity as unique – studied by scholars such as B.R. Myers – and with the influx of Southeast Asian neighbors and the nation's long-held tensions with Japan.
  • [South Korea] continues to struggle with minority rights and social integration, especially for North Korean defectors, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, and immigrants.
  • [T]o say that the Korean blood is purely "Korean" is sheer fantasy. A recent DNA analysis shows that 60 percent of Koreans have "foreign" blood. The very idea of forging a nation's destiny and identity on the basis of ethnic blood seems not only atavistic but also dangerous. It is atavistic because modern nations are increasingly made up of different groups and tribes, and dangerous because it is the cause of racism...
  • South Korean nationalism is something quite different from the patriotism toward the state that Americans feel. Identification with the Korean race is strong, while that with the Republic of Korea is weak.
  • Foreign traders were being restricted to certain parts of the peninsula well before the Korean people learned from the Japanese how to look at the world in racial categories. This makes it harder to figure out whether discrimination against foreigners in South Korea has more to do with xenophobia or nationalism. There still seems to be, as in Japan, a common sense of a certain racial hierarchy, with Koreans and perhaps the Japanese too at the top. But it's a moral hierarchy without much serious conviction of intellectual, let alone physical superiority. For all the loud professions of hostility towards Japan, the Japanese are considered the least foreign of foreign races.
  • To a radical Korean nationalist, the division of the nation, the race, is an intolerable state of affairs. So too is the continued presence of the foreign army that effected that division in the first place.
  • I firmly pledge, proudly in front of the South Korean flag, to loyally devote our body and soul to the eternal glory of the fatherland and the race.
    • Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of South Korea (1972–2007)
  • The historical origins and politics of Korean national identity based on a sense of ethnic homogeneity has not received adequate scholarly attention. Ethnic unity is widely assumed on both sides of the Korean Peninsula, and most Koreans do not question its historicity. Indeed, it seems 'politically incorrect' to question the eternal and natural essence of Korean ethnic unity. However, one cannot assume that Koreans' ethnic national identity is fixed, or is something that stems from ancient times.
  • I was seeking to explain anti-American movements that had erupted in South Korea in the 1980s. I was interested in explaining why South Korea, once considered a best friend and ally of the United States, had embraced anti-American rhetoric and movements during its pursuit of democracy. My research found that the movements had inherently been related to the politics of national identity, since with the anti-American rhetoric dissidents had sought to challenge the authoritarian state's definitions of nation and national identity.
    • Gi-Wook Shin, "Acknowledgements", Ethnic Nationalism in Korea (2006), Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, p. xi.
  • This dispute is over whether nationhood is a product of nationalist political mobilization of uniquely modern dimensions, or, conversely, whether the prior existence of ethnicity in fact explains much of modern nationality. The issue is particularly complicated in the Korean context, where there exists substantial overlap between the levels of race, ethnicity, and nation. When Koreans shouted, 'We are one' in Seoul's city hall plaza and in Los Angeles' Staples Center, they meant that Koreans are one race, one ethnicity, and one nation, regardless of their current legal citizenship, place of residence, or political beliefs. Although race is understood as a collectivity defined by innate and immutable phenotypic and genotypic characteristics and ethnicity is generally regarded as a cultural phenomenon based on a common language and history, Koreans have not historically differentiated between the two. Instead, race has served as a marker that strengthened ethnic identity, which in turn was instrumental in defining the nation. Race, ethnicity, and nation were conflated, and this is reflected in the multiple uses of the term minjok, the most widely used term for 'nation', which can also refer to 'ethnie' or 'race'. What accounts for the rise and establishment of such a strong sense of ethnic national identity of racialized notion of nation held among Koreans? As in the general literature on the study of nations and nationalisms, there exist several contending views to explain the origins of the Korean ethnic nation.
  • Korea needs to institutionalize a legal system that mitigates unfair practices and discrimination against those who do not supposedly share the Korean blood. Koreans need an institutional framework to promote a democratic national identity that would allow for more diversity and tolerance among the populace, rather than simply appeal to an ethnic consciousness that tends to encourage false uniformity and enforce conformity to it. They should envision a society in which they can live together, not simply as fellow ethnic Koreans but as equal citizens of a democratic polity. It should be an integral part of democratic consolidation processes that Korea is currently undergoing. Otherwise, it would be hard to expect Korea to become "Asia's hub," which will require the accommodation of cultural and ethnic diversity and flexibility.

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