We recently posted a video that discussed anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea. In the video we said that in general, older Koreans are anti-Japanese and that younger people are not as racist. And then we got a flood of comments from Korean netizens saying things like “You’re wrong! I hate Japanese people!” … Idiots. I don’t think they realize how ridiculous they seem to the rest of the world. But they have their reasons, and I understand where they’re coming from.
Author’s Note: Racism is a very sensitive subject, and an ultimately complicated issue. A blog post is way too short to fully analyze and explain racist sentiments in any country. But I’m going to try anyway. I’m sure I’ll get some backlash in some form. But remember, these are only my opinions and conclusions, and I take full responsibility for any hate comments or racist internet trolls to come. Let’s get it on!
Korea is one of most homogenous countries in the world. And although pluralism has recently started to penetrate the peninsula, the vast majority of Korea is still without diversity. And that means there’s still much xenophobia, in particular with the older generation who spent their entire lives living with Koreans, eating Korean foods, doing Korean things. When their way of life is changed with an influx of non-Korean people, foods and things as is the case in recent years, fear and even anger are not irrational reactions. Of course it’s the same with any country that has experienced an influx of immigrants or foreigners (i.e. America, England, France, etc.). But for Korea, it’s magnified because even as recently as the late 90’s, it was extremely uncommon to see a foreign tourist, let alone an immigrant.
If you haven’t noticed, most Koreans are super proud of Korea. Of course Thais are proud of Thailand, French of France, Brazilians of Brazil, etc. But in Korea, it’s not just nationalism. As a people, it was a means of cultural survival. Historically, Korea has been overlooked for its more globally recognized neighbors to its east and west. Everyone knew of China and Japan, but Korea was often the forgotten country in the middle. Nationalism in Korea was a way of ensuring relevancy on the global scale. That’s why even to this day when people of Korean decent are in the international spotlight (i.e. Hines Ward, Super Bowl MVP; Daniel Dae Kim, American actor; Yoshihiro Akiyama, MMA fighter; etc.), Koreans rush to claim them as their own, no matter how far or distant their connection to the motherland is. It’s Korea’s chance to be noticed by the world.
Also, nationalism in Korea was a means of cultural survival quite literally during the Japanese colonization era.
During World War II Japan did a lot of things to piss off many Asian countries, not just Korea. In Korea’s case, however, Japan attempted to assimilate Koreans into Japanese society. The Korean language was essentially banned at schools, and classes were conducted 100% in Japanese. Even to this day, my 81 year old grandmother is still more comfortable reading and writing in Japanese than she is in Korean because of her education. She is completely fluent, and she often mixes her Japanese with her Korean without even knowing it. The Japanese policy of assimilation was essentially working.
But language is minor compared to the sex slave issue. During World War II, Japan used Korean women as sex slaves to ‘boost the morale’ of their military. Women were enslaved to service thousands of Japanese soldiers. It’s a huge diplomatic issue even to this day. Sex slave survivors continue to demand the Japanese government for formal apologies, which has yet to happen.
So Japan tried to eliminate the Korean language and culture, and they enslaved Korean women for sex. For those that lived through the era, racism and hatred is a completely natural and understandable reaction. For younger racist Koreans that hate Japanese, however, it’s a combination of their extreme national pride and their desire for history to be accurately reflected (the Japanese government denies/deflects many of these accusations). Anti-Japanese sentiment was also encouraged by the government to a certain degree, as the Korean government banned Japanese cultural imports (i.e. music, movies, comics, tv shows, etc.) until as recently as the late 90’s. And of course, there are families that teach this form of racism to their children.
Today, Korea-Japan relations are better than in the past (especially because of economic trade), but these historical issues continue to cause some Koreans to have anti-Japanese sentiments.
In Korea, Chinese citizens are Korea’s number one immigrants. And ironically enough, it’s Joseonjok (ethnic Koreans from China) that make up the majority of the Chinese population in Korea. But that doesn’t stop Korea from seeing them differently. Although they are of the same blood, Joseonjok are in the end still immigrants.
For the most part, immigrants in general are coming from poorer countries looking for better opportunities. Since they’re coming from poorer countries, immigrants in any country usually get blamed for stealing jobs and benefits from citizens, causing danger and harm to the population, and they generally have a bad reputation (think Mexicans in America, Vietnamese in France, or even Koreans in Japan). Also, when an immigrant and a native citizen commit the same crime, it’s usually the immigrant that gets highlighted in the news and not the native citizen. This happens in most countries, not just in Korea. And in Korea, it just so happens that Korea’s immigrant population is dominated by Joseonjok.
And although they are of Korean decent, their association with China probably gives ethnic Chinese citizens a bad reputation as well. It’s obviously not the only source for anti-Chinese sentiment. Far from it. But the sheer number of Chinese immigrants definitely is one of the main reasons for anti-Chinese racism in Korea.
All that immigrant based racism towards Chinese? Apply that to Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai and Filipino nationals, the newest immigrant demographic coming to Korea. Most of them are coming as foreign brides for Korean men, and many are also birthing interracial children. This rapid increase in international marriages and families started in the 2000’s and continues today. It’s a new phenomenon that’s happening very quickly. And for many Koreans, it’s scary to see their country change so drastically and so quickly.
Koreans have a love/hate relationship with the United States of America. The US was South Korea’s most influential ally during the Korean War. Without the US, there wouldn’t be a South Korea today. And many Koreans have a deep appreciation and even fondness of Americans because of this. But after the war, the United States installed military bases in South Korea to protect from the North. Some support it, some don’t (this in itself is a controversial topic that I don’t want to get into). And those military bases are very active with thousands of US soldiers roaming about. With thousands of Americans, there’s bound to be a few idiots that make all Americans look bad.
Any time an American soldier runs over people with a tank or Korean girls are raped, it becomes huge news stories that overemphasize their Americanness and deemphasize their individual stupidity. Also, the weekend fights and arrests with drunk American soldiers near US Military installments help perpetuate the bad reputation as well. Couple that with general cultural differences between the East and the West, and you got yourself a few reasons for why anti-American sentiment exists in Korea.
Racism against black people (Africans, Americans, Caribbean, etc.) comes from a fear of the unknown. Again, Korea has historically been one of the most ethnically pure nations in the world. And although caucasians and other asians are seen often enough in Korea, the reality is that some Koreans will go their entire lives and never see a black person. So to see someone that looks completely and utterly different can be awe inspiring. For some it’s a curiosity. And for others its fear inducing. Just like most forms of racism, this one is purely out of ignorance.
Again. I don’t want you to get it wrong. There are tons of Koreans that have very positive sentiments for people all around the world. In fact, most of the Koreans around me are quite international, and have many international friends from all over. That’s because I tend to avoid the ignorant people I encounter in Korea. I don’t like dealing with idiocy. But as crazy as they are, and as much as I don’t agree with them, I do understand where some of them are coming from. Obviously this blog post doesn’t do any justice to the extremely expansive and complicated issue of racism in Korea. And yes, there are more reasons. Of course there are. But many of those reasons are ridiculous (i.e. they’re dirty, they’re poor, they’re stealing our women, we’re pure blood). Essentially it’s a racism that is based on ignorance, and I’m not going to waste my time with that. But I do hope this blog post brings some awareness and understanding to the reasons for some of the racism found in Korea.
It’s a complicated issue that deserves plenty of discussion. Leave a comment and don’t be an idiot please.
P.S. To the racist Korean netizens that hate on SeoulisticVideos, you’re welcome.
Keith Kim is a Korean-American living in Seoul, Korea. He likes espresso shots, photography art and he loves his Playstation 3. He started seoulistic.com as a hobby site, and is now in the process of turning it into a full-time business. Wish him luck! Check out his blog for an uncensored view on entrepreneurship, dating and life in Korea. Personal Blog: gyopokeith.com Facebook: facebook.com/gyopokeithkim Twitter: @gyopokeith Youtube: "Gyopokeith e-mail me anytime at: gyopokeith [at] gmail.com