Understanding Racism in Korea

Black face on national television. Shows Korea's lack of exposure/sensitivity to black people.

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!


General Racism in Korea

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.

Nationalism in Korea


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.


Olympic Soccer 2012 - Political statement after the Korea-Japan match

Olympic Soccer 2012 – Political statement after the Korea-Japan match

Korean Racism towards Japanese

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.


Korean Racism towards Chinese

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.


Mini Psy has been subjected to racism for being half Vietnamese

Mini Psy has been subjected to racism for being half Vietnamese

South East Asians / Other Asians

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.


Korean Racism towards Americans

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.


Korean Racism towards Black People

Black face on national television. Shows Korea's lack of exposure/sensitivity to black people.

Black face on national television. Shows Korea’s lack of exposure/sensitivity to black people.

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


  1. Vanessa says:

    What about Koreans against Singaporeans? :X lolol

    • Keith says:

      Singaporeans don’t necessarily apply to the South East Asian portion of the post above. They’re not part of the international marriage demographic.

      • Alyssa says:

        That doesn’t mean Koreans like Singaporeans too. During my time in Korea I found that Koreans will be cordial (and some are nicer than cordial) to Singaporeans but they will be a lot nicer to Americans. E.g. Pay more attention to Americans, hang around them more. That’s not exactly racism but I’d call it prejudice.

        • Kevin J. says:

          This mention about preferential treatment of Americans(whites) to Singaporeans stem from various things, including a pro-English mindset in South Korea. After all, American English has been placed on a pedestal to the point of excluding other speakers of English. Personally, from my experience as someone who was born in Singapore at best, but lived abroad outside of my country of birth for almost a decade(I am now proud to say that I am culturally Canadian and Australian more than Singaporean), I find that South Koreans do have a kind of subconscious hierarchy when it comes to relating to people of other races. I get away with a lot of things though, partially because I look very Korean and also speak Korean myself better than a lot of ‘gyopos’ because I learned the Korean language in university. Whether this has to do with racism against other Asians, racial preference(partially because I speak with a North American accent), or just because I met the good people, I cannot say.

          Racism is definitely real in South Korea, based on my experience where I was told to my face that I cannot teach English in South Korea because I am Asian in heritage and appearance, and hence do not fit in with the profile of an English teacher, whom they see as someone blond-haired and blue-eyed. That came from an education officer at EPIK!

          But well, just like what Keith had said, you have to really avoid the idiotic people. Idiocy permeates every society, and there will be idiots everywhere, even in Asia where the blatant racism that we witness (think, KKK and various other types of anti-black slurs which are politicized on television and in public) in the USA is absent.

      • Darren says:

        So would Koreans harbor any forms of racism towards a Singaporean? As you would have already known, Singapore doesn’t consist of one race, and Singapore is one of the unique country that names it’s citizen a name which is not a race. So would Koreans see us as Singaporeans or would they see us as Chinese, Malay, Indian? (The 3 main race that makes up Singapore, Chinese being the majority, making up 75% of the population). I’m very curious and have never asked a Korean friend, however I have never been treated with prejudice or racism.. I learn the language and eat their food, as I’m Chinese, I have fair skin too and I’m fluent in the English language. I’m so curious as to how Koreans see Singaporeans

      • Maria says:

        What about Latin Americans/Hispanics? I’m sure there have been unions between the two before, but I’ve never heard a Korean’s opinion towards them, or thoughts of international marriage between the two. It’s something I’ve been really curious about.

      • kai88 says:

        I used to LOVE south korea !
        no i don’t like it at all..

  2. Anni says:

    My appreciation that you had the courage for touching this very sensitive subject! :)
    I have been living in Korea for three months now and I have to admit that I’ve been exposed to some of those stereotypical racist or better, xenophobic behavior in general. I didn’t like it, my friends didn’t like it and it hurt.
    But as in every country, you cannot put all Koreans on the same level and I have had more positive experiences, like Koreans selflessly helping me in desperate situations, than negative ones. Maybe because I, as a German, don’t necessarily fall under one of those listed groups except for being a 외국인 in general.
    Overall, I feel welcomed here and there are several examples within my Korean friend circle and the academic staff of my university here who prove that this society is starting to become more open by dealing with this issue.

    • Keith says:

      Absolutely! Most Koreans I’ve come across are very pleasant and friendly as well. I am glad the majority of your experience is positive. :)

  3. 147 says:

    Wow, Keith. Way to keep it real.

    From a Western perspective, one thing that I could add that may have been overlooked, or maybe you just didn’t find it as important to touch on. But a lot of Westerners overlook this one, or can’t conceptually understand or even fathom this mindset: Collectivism.

    Korea, like a lot of Confucian societies, have a strong sense of collectivism, sacrificing the individual desires for the “greater good” of the group. This tends to result in a lot of generalizations about Koreans, even by Koreans, because people tend to be a lot more like-minded (despite having individual personality traits) and like-mannered. Of course, there are exceptions, but there is still…somewhat of a “hive mind,” so to speak. I’ve noticed a lot of Koreans will even repress their own personality for the greater good of the group their with just to not appear as an anomaly.

    Even kids: Just today, I was teaching a group of 1st graders English, and one of the text questions I asked was “What is your favorite color?” to which one girl responded “Green.” Suddenly, the most dominant girl in the class answered, “Pink,” and the girl who formerly said green changed her answer to pink, and no other girl dared to say anything other than pink.

    Now, what does this say about racism in Korea, and a lot of Westerners’ inability to understand it? Well, in the west, we have a lot of individual liberties as to how we can express ourselves. We can go full on “This is Amurrica,” and tell anyone off, be a saint or a jackass, say anything we want to anyone we want, and not care. Because most Western countries (I’m remiss to say all because simply…I haven’t been anywhere in the West outside of America) don’t think as a group, but value the individual over the collective. So when we leave the sanctity of that landmass that holds that attitude, and enter another landmass that values the collective over the individual, then Houston, we have a problem. And we still automatically assume that individualism is treasured. Even if we’ve heard about the collectivism in Asian countries, we don’t fully believe it or even understand how thick it runs until we’re in the thick of it. I’d say this is one of the biggest sources of culture shock foreigners have in coming to Korea, and some can’t take this heat.

    With that said, as much as we auto-assume individualism reigns supreme worldwide, Koreans tend to auto-assume the same thing, but replace individualism with collectivism. Why? Because that’s what they were born into. That’s what they were raised knowing and experiencing their whole lives, unless they’ve lived outside the country for a period.

    So, you’re an average Korean, a country with a pretty low violent crime rate. Haven’t set foot outside of Korea your whole life. You watch the news. You hear a lot of raw stuff going down in the west. By your own experience with the world around you, you’d start to piece things together in some sort of rationale like, “All/most Americans are violent/murderers/gun owners/rapists/gay/whatever alarming thing is being shown on MBC.” Now, this isn’t a Korea-exclusive thing, but I know people in Japan that have been asked, upon discovering they were American, questions like “How many guns do you have?” or “How many people have you raped?” Note the interrogators never asked if they owned a gun, or if they’d ever raped someone, but they just deduced that because they were Americans, they were NRA card-carriers and rapists.

    Even another funny aside, from personal experience. Last year, I was in class, and one of my students, an avid reader, came up to me and was telling me a story from America he had read in the paper. It was around the time of the Florida bath salt-eating zombie apocalypse, and that happened to be the story he was talking about. I don’t remember the beginning of the conversation, but the rest of it was this:

    Him: How do people taste?
    Me: W-what?
    Him: How do people taste?
    Me: W-w-w-well, you’re Korean, how does dog taste?
    Him: I asked you first.

    But again, I was never asked if I had dabbled in cannibalism, but just point blank asked how human flesh tastes.

    So of course, when that little taste of idiocy hits the peninsula, Koreans begin to deduce things. If an American rapes a Korean, Americans are rapists. If an American runs over a woman with a tank, then Americans, especially military are heartless bastards that will step on anyone they want. The media might not even have to sensationalize the sum of westerners, because the Korean psyche can do that just as well.

    Even one bad American employee at a school or a company will end up souring the entire company or school from ever hiring an American ever again. “Well, that guy was a douchebag, so I guess all Americans are douchebags and terrible workers. Time to change our recruitment to Canadians only.”

    That doesn’t make it right, of course. But it is something to understand or bear in mind when dealing with Koreans.

    • Keith says:

      That’s a really good point too. It’s a bit of us vs them mentality, which is extremely prevalent, especially since Korea is ultra Confucian

    • Ana Paula C. de Lucena says:

      Hello!! I’m from Brazil, and I understand ethnic mixtures

      We see with great respect countries like Japan, Korea and China.
      Japan to be a very organized people. China for their participation in our market. And Korea for the same reasons I cited, and the pop culture.

      Brazilians are not well regarded in most countries for being TOOOOOO “agitated”. Would like to know … the prejudice against Brazilians in Korea is big???

      • Pablo says:

        They love Brazil!

        Source: I am Brazilian

      • Daan says:

        Let me say something really important.I am brazilian just like you and I can write in portuguese but I’ll write in english so everyone can understand.I am half japanese and I was born in middle of asians.I don’t like Brazil that much so I was interested in Asia and I went to study asia,my first target was Japan because my father and grandfather are japaneses.I used to be proud of being japanese as a uncle of mine.My uncle went to Japan to work and live now he doesn’t EVEN eat japanese food because of the hate on japaneses.He suffered ALOT there,they worked in terrible condition and for long hours ( something around 12 hours per day ) and the boss yelled at him all the time when He was not doing anything wrong and he also get beaten by the boss.There is another uncle who went there and he related the same.He got yelled at and beaten by the boss.Now when someone call my uncle as ” Jap ” he gets pissed alot and say ” Jap My ass I am Brazilian ” . I’ve been inside japaneses and koreans and chineses here in Brazil and I’ll say something..NEVER,NEVER GO TO JAPAN.Japanseses are the worst Asians EVER.They are heathless and mainly RACIST.They think they are the best race of the world and they treat other races as piece of shit.

        See in this video -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uG-3x86FxP0 .A korean attacking a Japanese nazi. My japanese is not good but I understand some parts the J-Nazi are saying ” Kokoro ni daikirai ” ” Kokoro ni daikirai ” which means ” I hate from the bottom of my heart ” and I BET the subtitles are wrongly translated to show that the korean are the bad guy. That’s what Japaneses DO. There is another vid that I’ve saw circling in the koreans in Brazil community which japaneses was protesting against koreans living in Japan.Japaneses want they to go home. Do you think that’s everything ?? No Japaneses enslave their OWN childrens.My friends work to their family and my dad works to my grandfather and its common to see the ”enslavement ”.A friend of mine wanted to kill herself because of all she does is WORKING for her family and if you think they recognize or say thanks . NO ,they say that the sons are useless and say shit about them. That’s what you see in Japan and Japanese families. It’s something that happened with few friends of mine IT ‘S EVERYONEEEEEE .

        I know what I am saying . See this vid its an asian party in Brazil -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jN_c8NgE74 I ‘ve been in the middle of them so I am not saying my opnion I am saying what I’ve seen. I’ve saw many times my japanese friends saying how much they hate koreans and chineses ( mainly koreans btw )

        So if you like asia and like Japan better you change your mind.SO if you like asia and like koreans Please keep it.Koreans are not racist and they are really friendly and kind. I love korea and koreans.I’ve went to ” Bom retiro ” the korea town of Sao Paulo and I love everyone there.It’s very hard to see a mean korean ^=^. If you are korean and are reading this and you hate Japan you can hate them even more.If you have a korean friend or some1 you know in japan please say them to quit it.Koreans don’t need Japan at all. What I am saying about Japan is not everything it’s far worse than you can imagine.

        So stop liking japan or hate japan even more.

        Thanks for reading.

        • Gaiasking says:

          I’m brazilian as well and went to Japan as well. What can I say about you? Just laugh. If you hate Japan because of that, sorry you had bad luck just that and trying to spread the anti-Japan feeling here is just stupid of your part. All that I can see is that you’re following the anti-Japan sentiment that Korea loves to spread around the world and just going mainstream like every low dekassegui that did bad things in Japan and now hates the country because it rightly punished them. I still live in Japan and I can assure you: don’t think that here is like Brazil.

          There are those ultranationalist japanese that often got recorded on those videos, but I have 100% of certain that they make a very low part of the society (less than 0,1%). Japan is as well one of the most homogenous society of the world, like S. Korea, so it’s obvious that they are reserved against people of distinct ethnicity and culture, but once they understand you, they act like incredibly friendly. Just stop trying to badmouth Japan just because you couldn’t fit their society. All one the things that you said about Japan they are all lies, fruits of your inner mind. Never saw or heard anything like that in all my 10 years living in Japan.
          When I arrived here I had a hard time trying to fit the society and the new culture, but now it’s all past waters and all the prejudice that I heard about in Brazil is just myths for me. Of course, if you think that here is Brazil and try to mess up everywhere and don’t diligently work, than it’s very right to yell against you. If you’re in Rome try to act like the romans.
          Now, I’ll change to portuguese so that I can truly say what I feel against types like you without having to disturb non-brazillian people or lack english words to fully express myself.

          Por causa de malditos dekasseguis fracassados como você hoje o Japão enxerga brasileiros com desdém. Malditos sejam esses fracassados que vem para cá para cometer crimes e nem respeitarem a cultura local e depois ficam de cú doce e se fazendo de vítima, dizendo que o culpado é o Japão. Ah, vão se fuder vão! Se não tá gostando daqui vazem mesmo e voltem pra desgraça do Brasil que lá realmente é seu lugar. Se lá é tão bom assim pra que vieram pra cá hein?! Não basta ter a cara de japa pra ficar se achando japonês não viu, aprenda a falar o idioma e a respeitar a cultura daqui. Se não está disposta a fazer nem isso, então ao menos tente não incomodar aqueles que estão dispostos a tal. Todas essas besteiras que você escreveu aqui, todas, são puramente formas que inferiores como você encontraram pra descontar essa estúpida raiva e falar mal do Japão. Por culpa de seres como você que toda a comunidade nipo-brasileira sofre aqui pelo preconceito. Não culpo os japoneses, eu mesmo fico muito desconfiado quando me aproximo de brasileiros. Tipos como você são uma vergonha para a comunidade nipo-brasileira, mestiço de merda!!

  4. William says:

    I find it funny how koreans are so anti-chinese when chinese people like koreans, while Taiwanese people dislike koreans, koreans tend to not give a shit.
    I guess the main reason why there’s anti-chineseism is cause of the fact that most chinese people act rudely in Korea, saw it with my own eyes.
    Some Taiwanese people feel the same too.
    Honestly I just find this whole racism against people that have the same ancestors (joseonjok/Chinese) as you very fucked up.

    Taiwanese here.

    • 147 says:

      Actually, the anti-Chinese tourist sentiment is kind of picking up worldwide with more mainlanders having the disposable income to travel internationally, but lacking the social mores to do so respectfully, not just in Korea. There’s also the fact that the PRC aided North Korea in the Korean war, and was one of the chief reasons that the war is still in a stalemate right now. Up until China intervened, South Korea and the US jointly held the vast majority of North Korean soil under their control. Some of this may be tertiary, but there is still some resentment of the Chinese that is overlooked for some of the same reasons Japanese resentment can be overlooked: Economic.

      And of course, based off language alone, it’s harder to differentiate Taiwanese from Mainlanders, so that may also exacerbate the problem.

    • Darren says:

      Because certain races don’t necessarily belong to a specific country anymore unlike Koreans in Korea only, I felt compelled to let you know Chinese lives in Malaysia, Singapore and also Indonesia, in fact Chinese makes up quite a percentage in these countries. To be honest, Chinese in Singapore dislikes the Chinese in China as much as the surrounding countries dislike them.

      They come off as rude and uncivilized which I hope will change in the future.

      Singaporean Chinese here.

  5. Jed says:

    Well generally racism is present anywhere in the world. As for me, my experience with Korean people has been a mix of both positive and negative. However, I have Korean friends whom I have close contact with and who are very friendly people. I’m Filipino by the way.

    • Guillaume says:

      So true, I think that we might (in Canada anyway) tend to be more hypocritical on the matter. The image that people and government give themselves are different than the truth behind closed doors.
      How many times did I hear : “I’m not racist, but[…]”

      • P&C says:

        In a way some Canadians are more hypocritical about racism, but I would rather word it was “too aware” in comparison to other countries. I don’t mean to say that Canadians are racist or anything, but I mean it as the Canadian population being very VERY multi-ethnic. Some cities may contain more than one ethnicity, like Toronto. Others may have one specific ethnicity as the majority of the city’s population, like how Mississauga has a lot of Filipinos living there or how Brampton consists of mainly Indians, Sri Lankans and other “Brown” descent. I think it’s this exposure to different cultures in one place that makes Canadians more aware of the differences between cultures, and hence, they tend to compare between them more than other people.

        But despite this, I noticed that, rather than being “racist”, most Canadians tend to be more nicer to people, especially those who are not citizens of the country. I think that because of this exposure to different cultures, and how the media shows the occasional story of immigrants getting their Canadian citizenship on (insert date here), it allows most Canadians to be more understanding and welcoming to foreigners entering the country. I’ve always been told by international students on campus that Canadians are “too nice” (lol) and “really helpful to strangers”.

        There are always going to be those people who want to be single-minded and think that the world is theirs because they’re White/Black/Brown/Yellow/Pale/Whatever. Those people we’ll just have to learn to ignore (and not punch them in the face). It’s true that people and governments would portray themselves differently than when they’re in their own private space, but I wouldn’t say Canadians, as a whole (from what I understand of the comment), as being hypocritical. I sure as hell am not. :)

  6. Andreea says:

    I’m from Romania, but i live now for some years in Greece.
    I think countries like USA, Australia and Canada see racism totally diferently than most of countries. For example in Romania, I grew up in a small town, but studdied in Bucharest (the capital). I’m more used to foreigners, than my parents or even my grandparents (that live in a smal village of 1000 people). For them, if they would see an african/american or an asian would be something super interesting and curious. It wouldn’t be racism, it would just have to do with the fact that they don’t know other culture/nationalities. It’s the same with Greece. Maybe a bit different, since they have a lot of immigrants from Phillipines, Nigeria and Senegal. All the “racism” in most of East European countries, comes from ignorance and unknown. They don’t teach us in schools or it appears in the news….

    • sylvia says:

      I was in a small village outside of Tirgu Mures and had a couple people tell me they had never seen an Asian person in real life. (I’m Korean American.)

  7. Christian Bello says:

    O.K. About Korean-Chinese Joseonjok here are some numbers from Wiki….

    The population of Koreans in China include millions of descendants of Korean immigrants with citizenship of the People’s Republic of China, as well as smaller groups of South and North Korean expatriates, with a total of roughly 2.3 million people as of 2009,[1] making it the largest ethnic Korean population living outside the Korean Peninsula.

    Chaoxianzu (Chinese: 朝鲜族) or Joseonjok (Hangul: 조선족) form one of the 56 ethnicities officially recognized by the Chinese government. Their total population was estimated at 1,923,842 as of 2005,[2] and 1,830,929 according to the 2010 Chinese census. High levels of emigration to South Korea, which has conversely reported a large increase in Joseonjok, are the likely cause of the drop. Most of them live in Northeast China, especially in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, which had 854,000 ethnic Koreans living there as of 2000.

  8. Leonardo says:

    I had decided going to South Korea through the Science Without Borders program. After I read the article I might think it over. Thanks Keith for pointing it out. As I am Brazilian myself I have tanned skin (so you guys probably see me as black, though I am not black) and I also fall into the American ‘issue’.
    The program lasts one year meaning that I’ll be living, studying and working in the country for this period of time and after I read ‘147’s’ comment (third one) I am afraid of what I might go through over there. I don’t think I will bear this for a year…

    • Keith says:

      There’s no reason to worry, you will be fine. It happens sometimes. And I wanted to explain why it happens in this post. But you will meet many wonderful people.

      That’s the exact response I didn’t want! Please don’t take it the wrong way.

      • Leonardo says:

        I’m sorry! It’s not my intention to spoil the article in any way. However, this is what many people probably will think after reading the article and/or comments. :/

        • 147 says:

          That also wasn’t my intention, to scare people off. There’s a few things I would like to clarify:

          1. Outright racism is a very rare occurrence in Korea, Seoul in particular. Simply put, to lash out at someone would go against Confucian mores. Those same constructs that will frustrate you in your adjustment to life in Seoul will also protect you. So even people that are really racist without a cause most likely won’t say a thing to you.

          2. The biggest culprits of outward racism are, by and far, drunk men, mostly Ajusshis. And of course, the best course of action when faced with an outspoken, drunk, racist, old guy would just be to ignore it or move away from the situation.

          3. Even if your appearance is more African, simply put, most people aren’t going to really bother you. It’s mostly just fear of the unknown element in their world, and the key word is fear. The people that are prejudiced are usually too afraid to say anything at all, and the people that will want to talk are usually generally interested in meeting a foreigner.

          Real talk, I’ve been in Seoul, and I’ve had a couple negative experiences, yes. But, the positives outweigh the negatives. I’ve met some chill, nice, awesome people from all walks of life and age groups. I’ve talked with some little kids about baseball outside a subway, talked to several Korean elderly men on the subway who speak amazing English that were really friendly, joked around with a drunk businessman whom I didn’t know on the last train home from Lotte World, made really good friends with North Korean refugees, and etc. Just like we’ve been talking about the bad western eggs stinking up western rep on the peninsula, there’s some sour Korean apples that curl your tongue regarding Koreans…if you let them. Blow off the negative, enjoy the positive, and have fun.

        • jaydee says:

          May I also add : to refrain from a most likely positive experience based on what could be fear of the unknown is rather sad… I personally view this in the sam category as what was mentioned in the article itself, misunderstand based on ignorance and fear ….. better to experience yourself with an open mind instead of closing doors to what could have been… this is solely my personal opinion

      • Kertenisha says:

        I’d just like to point out that I am African American AND in the military living in Korea. Not once have I felt unwelcome or treated differently here. Everyone that I’ve come across has been respectful, helpful, and friendly. I’m sure there are some that aren’t, but those kind of people exist everywhere in the world. Korean children that aren’t used to seeing darker people are often intrigued, however, it is one of the cutest looks you will ever get! They aren’t mean about it, just curious and want to interact with you. Just being open minded and respectful of the culture here is a big plus. Even if your Korean isn’t all that great, most will appreciate you for just trying to learn.

    • DomHyo says:

      You will be fine. Like Keith said, it might happen sometimes. I’ve been here for 4 years and the biggest racism I’ve personally experienced is a woman being scared to sit next to me on the bus. Don’t imagine Koreans waiting to spit at you on the street or anything like that lol.

  9. Nat says:

    May I ask about your point of view about how do Korean people feel like with other Westerners like European people or Australian one?
    Because after living in Korea for one year I’ve realized that not being American is kind of a good thing if you are white and you live in a district where American soldiers have pissed off several people several times…
    Thanks for your analysis, I think it is quite realistic.

  10. Hanan says:

    Hi Keith ,
    thank you for sharing this topic with us^^
    i want to know if there is racism against muslim comunity and muslim countries because all the korean knows about islam is what they see in Arabie Saoudite or UAE.

    • 147 says:

      I’m sure Keith can also field this, but since I’m hanging around:

      Outward racism? No. Prejudice? Probably, but since I’m not muslim/arab descent, I can’t tell you for sure. Of course, a lot of people outside of the middle east assume that middle easterners/muslims are terrorists, and Korea, knowing the same amount of information from the rest of the world knows about 9/11/Arab Spring/etc., there is somewhat of a presence of that train of thought too. But, I’ve encountered several muslims in Korea that were just simply never openly bothered.

      Of course, UAE and a lot of muslim countries are becoming large business hubs now, so of course, with Korea becoming a growing economic power, they have a lot of contact with the middle east now. So YMMV, but I don’t think you’ll encounter many problems in Korea.

      Actually, I’m friends with one Korean woman who double-majored in English/Arabic and spent semesters abroad in Egypt/Jordan and has visited Morocco/Abu Dhabi/Syria (before people started keeping it real over there), and she was constantly tutoring Koreans in Arabic. So there is an interest in the Arab/Muslim world in Korea. Also, there is a mosque in Itaewon, so there’s also a decent sized muslim community.

  11. Jonathan says:

    The collective society is a great point! As for the Brazillian guy… I wouldn’t be intimidated. I’m Puerto Rican and I had a great time in Seoul this summer. It’s not any different than when you are in NYC and occasionally you run into some asshole. (It happens everywhere.) I even met a Brazillian girl whos parents were both Korean… She was raised in Brasil, her thinking was Brasilian but here parents immigrated from S. Korea.

    The thing I find most frustrating is that in the U.S. you can be from anywhere and I think most will accept you as being American, even if you have an accent. However, with Korea (for the reasons mentioned) you can learn Korean, have lived in S. Korea for 20 years, and you will always be considered an outsider no matter what because of the way you look. Which I find pretty frustrating.

    I have shared living environments and have been surrounded by Korean nationals for years during my schooling in the US and have made friends and even dated. I was really surprised when my Korean gf at the time had a visiting professor and her professor was shocked when they saw a white guy as a waitor. My girlfriend later explained to me the professor’s reaction and said that in Korea there is a lot of racism towards blacks especially.

    I wouldn’t let all the ignorant people out there keep anyone from visiting Korea… its an awesome and overall friendly country! And to be honest, and this is just my opinion… If a Korean didn’t like you for whatever reason, it’s not like they’re going to physically attack you unless you’re hanging out in some party district late at night in pure drunkeness, then maybe It could happen, just like it could anywhere else around the world.

    People in Japan and Korea are very polite for the most part… Again back to that collective culture. At most they might think “stupid foreigner” and you would never know.

    • che says:

      Jonathan, you’re the only one on here so far who has touched on the most common, yet most subtle form of racial discrimination in SK: “…you can learn Korean, have lived in S. Korea for 20 years, and you will always be considered an outsider no matter what because of the way you look.” Exactly! I’m speaking as a white person who only speaks Korean in public. By far, the dominant language here is Korean. But so many times every day in public native Korean speakers assume (though most of them have never interacted with non-native Korean speakers; often racially non-East Asians) that the appropriate language to speak to non-East Asians in is English. Most people don’t realize this, but it is manifestly discriminatory to refer to one race in one language, and another in another language. It doesn’t matter that almost no non-native Korean speakers learn Korean. Native Korean speakers (and ideally those who are not) should still start from the national standard of Korean when referring to a stranger, regardless of race. And yet, they often answer my Korean with English! At every institutional level in the society is this discriminatory practice taught and reinforced- in politics, schools, the media, and in the home, “You must learn English to speak with foreigners.” Even if your nationality is South Korean, your non-East Asian racial characteristics signify foreignness to most members of society in South Korea. Also, in order to teach English as a native English speaker in SK, it is not a stated policy, but one must not only speak English in class, but outside of class to all members of an establishment, as well. This is true of elementary, middle, high schools, and universities, as well as private institutions of all sorts. How is this racist? You have limited linguistically realized power if you’re always dependent on translators in public. Good luck finding a job if you’re an English teacher planning to exercise your right to speak Korean in South Korea!

  12. Christian says:

    Hey, thanks for this good article.
    I studied Japanese and Chinese language and culture/history at university and spent one year as an exchange student in Korea. I guess I learnt a lot about east-asian history from all perspectives. And to be honest, I’m fed up with all this anti-Japanese sentiment. I mean, I can understand where this comes from. I’m German and I know how difficult it is to deal with your own history and fight against forgetting what happened. I know that Japan did and still does many things absolutely wrong. But I think the problem are not the normal people but the authorities who still keep this racist thing going. I met Japanese people who said they hate Koreans and when I asked them why, they just answered: “because our teacher/parents said so”.
    When I was in Korea I met many people who said bad things about Japan and asked me who Dokdo belongs to. Same with Chinese people I met (actually they are worse). But I never had the feeling that any of those people (especially young people) ever really thought about this whole thing or did anything else than just reciting the propaganda they heard in school or from their parents. I think most of them don’t even know what they are talking about. They feel superior but are actually doing the same thing as the Japanese. Not dealing with their history and just keeping old traditions going.
    About my own experiences with racism in Korea: it was ok. Not good not bad. I would definitely sign what you wrote. I met many warm-hearted people who welcomed me with open arms, went to dinner with people I just met on the street, had chats with cute 할머니’s on the subway. People were interested in me and it felt good. But there were also negative sides. It was kind of difficult for me finding real friends. All seemed very superficial and I often had the feeling I couldn’t get really close to them. As if there was an invisible barrier between us. Difficult to explain. I never had that feeling with my Japanese friends actually and with Chinese a little bit less. Strange.
    But the worst was loosing my identity and becoming the 외국인 or 외국친구. I have a name for god’s sake! Even my teacher said that and at all occasions where there were more than one Korean friend, me and my foreign friends automatically became anonymous. My highlight was the guy from the photoclub who, instead of asking my name directly, went to ask another guy from the club 그 외국인 이름이 뭐꼬? Yeah. That feels good. For me as a German that is an absolute no-go. Maybe we are a little bit over-sensitive when it comes to racism. And I think none of those people I met in Korea mean to be rude, they just didn’t know better.
    Anyway, I can’t wait to go back to Korea next spring! <3

    • che says:

      그렇죠! 일단 본인 인종이 동아시가 아니면 절대 ‘한국인’이 되지 않아요. 친구들은, “와! 한국인이 되셨군요!”라고 대하듯하겠지만, 빈 인정입니다. 다른 한편으로는 낯선 사람한테는 “외국인”이 될 수 밖에 없습니다: “와! 한국어를 잘 하시네요!” “어디에서 오셨어요?” “한국에 있는지 얼마나 됐죠?” 항상 그 ‘당신은 외국인이’라는 추정이 하의식적으로 암시 되어있어요. 한국어 사전의 ‘한국인’의 정의는 “우리 나라의 국적을 가졌거나 한민족의 정신과 혈통을 가진 사람이다.” ‘민족’의 정의도 보시면 한국인이 되려면 인종은 상관 없는지 개닫겠는데, 나는 사전과 한국 사회의 거의 모든 사람들의 추정하고 남을 대우하는 성향이 너무 일치하지 않는지 알고 싶군요! 아이고!

  13. Brazilian reader says:

    Brazilians proud of Brazil? Lol

  14. Brazilian reader says:

    Brazilians proud of Brazil? Lol
    Where did you hear that?

      • Naadira Alia Johnson says:

        Thanks for making this post I always wanted to visit Korea (I really just want to travel all around Asia! 😀 ) but when i told my parents they totally lost it. My dad had planned to take me on a trip to Japan as a graduation present (I’ll be graduating high school in a few months) but when i asked if we could change it from Japan to a trip to Korea all my dad said was “I will take you anywhere but there.” And that made me angry i thought he was being unbelievably rude. It just turned out my parents didn’t know how a society like Korea that had been so closed off to the rest of the world would treat a black girl like myself and a MUSLIM black girl at that. Which brings me to my question. I’m glad you discussed the Racism of black people in Korea but said people in Korea or relatively nice but what about Muslims? When i’m older and out on my own i will always have the decision of either taking off my scarf and blending in with the crowd or keeping it on…i don’t really know. But if i did keep my scarf on and went to Korea making it a clear sign i am Muslim would i be treated badly? I’ve had my fare share of bad treatment and ignorant comments here in a America but not to much. Would i get ten times more harassment because of how long Korea has been closed off or are Muslims pretty accepted there?

  15. Georgiana says:

    Very interesting article. But I’m curious to know the racism in korea towards Europe, an especially, towards East Europe.

    • Keith says:

      For every other race not mentioned, it’s not easy to say. The ones mentioned above are common. But Eastern Europeans as well as Arabs aren’t common enough for Koreans to have a general racism towards. It’s just like black people, except it doesn’t contrast as much in terms of skin color and is therefore probably not as shocking

  16. Jr Marx says:

    Great post!!!!

    I’m married with a korean woman and her parents was shocked when she said “I have a brasilian boyfriend”. After this I start to work with her family and they know me better. Now we’re married and very happy!!!! (And I love 김치, 미익 and others) 😉

  17. Bwin51 says:

    I enjoyed this article, but would like a deeper discussion of the American military presence in Korea. I’ve heard rumblings for several decades about the dynamic between American soldiers and Korean women and would like this issue openly discussed. Also, if the Japanese were to apologize for their past bad behavior that included comfort women, do you think young Koreans would change their attitudes toward the Japanese? My firsthand recent experience with young Koreans in Seoul was open hostility toward Japan.

    • Hay-Z says:

      Wherever there are military bases in a foreign country there are generally red light districts. For the US this rings exceptionally true and definitely for the US bases and Asia.

      Japan had high levels of prostitution near the US bases and this was allowed as it brought in revenue for poor families, facilitated US mens sexual needs (and remember the Japanese had “comfort” women so they knew this need – which is wrong by the way) and it reflected Japanese society somewhat. This practice died in Japan after modernization. While In Korea the same thing occurred and has sort of died down now. But a good example is Prostitution in Daegu and Itaeweon.

      So you can see this pissing of locals even if they themselves have high rates of sex industry and prostitution. Add the fact for poor women marrying a US serviceman is a way out.

      I’d like to add another factor which is that many US service men are raised in a hyper masculine environment and they do a tough job often in a place they hat. Naturally they act out, get drunk and need women to treat like sex objects. This naturally raises the ire of the locals.

      I think Korean women and White Men is a huge pairing with white women and Korean men not even similar in number (but likely growing) I think this adds a dynamic and itslef is a remnant ofcolinial mindset and is seen throughout East ad South East Asia. With South Asia the pairings seem equal I fromf first hand have slightly more males married to foreigners (all white) compared to female relatives and foreigners. I think the reasons are complex but such an unequal pairing causes problems. Sadly I found some students at SNU and HUFS I met to have white worship even though they were smart… I wasn’t jealous because I am asexual but disappointed. There are heaps of nice foreigners including white guys and they chose the TESOL/US military trash. sigh

  18. Didier Arias says:

    Very interesting post! The saddest thing is that in every country we’re gonna find racism :( in Mexico there’s racism towards our people too :( we called it “malinchismo” (it cames from a Mayan woman called La Malinche who married Hernán Cortés).
    I hope to see the day when racism dissapears!

  19. Chopsuey says:

    I’m Filipino-Canadian. Born and raised in the Philippines. We also have both the Americans and Japanese in our history (and present). Unlike the love/hate relationship between the American soldiers and Koreans, it is all love/love for the Americans that you’ll see in the Philippines. I could be wrong about this since I have not been living in Asia for over a decade but I cannot see that changing anytime soon.

    As for the Japanese, Filipinos also experienced maltreatment under their regime during WWII. I cannot say that I ever noticed any hatred against them in my generation or my parents’ generation. History is already far removed from the present. I understand the significance of history in shaping the present but the past should not hinder the present in moving forward to the future. They know that the earlier generation made a mistake in the past. Their government may still not have apologized but the people who commited those acts may no longer even have the capability to apologize. It is either they are long gone or their memories are already long gone. The sins of the father are not the son’s.

    Just my 2 cents but let me tell you if late grandfather who fought in WWII against the Japanese is still alive, he would probably have my hide.

  20. Expatkerri says:

    Hey Keith,

    I am so glad you did a post on this touchy subject. I get many questions on my Youtube channel about racism in Korea… and I find it hard to make a video about – simply because people get offended and angry so easily. I think you’ve done an eloquent and simple explanation of the sources of racism in Korea, and the fact that it really does stem from xenophobia a lot of the time.

    I want to try to talk about positive racism sometime – that is how some Korean people have an inflated view about caucasian people… but again it’s a touchy subject and I don’t know how to approach it! Thanks for your post. I’ve shared it on my Facebook page

  21. christopher powell says:

    I have been living in Korea for 4 years now. I am an African American, and I play for the Daegu Symphony Orchestra. I have lived in quite a few places, from Europe, to China, Thailand, etc. for the past 8 years. I have never experienced racism to such an extent as I have in Korea. actually, I never took notice of it at all until I moved here. Of course after living here for 4 years, I know the many excuses or reasons for why it came to be this way. However, rudeness is just that, and it affects the person nonetheless. I would say my experience has been 50/50… largely because I am a very positive person and it is for my great job that i choose to make it work. It could easily be a 75% negative experience if I were an English teacher. While understanding is nice and all… I’d rather a change of attitude take place. Korea is one of if not THE most technologically advanced societies in the world with so much information at their fingertips. I hardly think ignorance should be an excuse anymore.

    • iloveinternet says:

      Korea, like other xenophobic countries, wants your money, skills, food and knowledge, but they don’t want you to ever be a part of their society.

      A visit? Y’all come back now, ya hear!
      Long term residency? Your kind don’t belong around here, so git!

    • Dylan says:

      well, the good thing, mate is that I think it is changing. It is very recently that korea opened up to international immigrants, and when you compare how quickly they are adapting to the situation with other countries historically, i think you’ll find they are pretty tolerant. i’m sure i don’t have to tell you about how long america to took/is taking to become equal, for example.

      i’ll tell you a little story, here. i’m from a small town in the Uk. until i was about 18, i’d only see about 5 black people ever. so, if I’d see a black dude, i’d be staring like fuck. obviously, now, i’m embaressed about that, and can’t believe what a rude little shit i was. my sister, who is about 10 years younger than me, grew up in the same town, but with much more ethniticies having moved to the town, she wouldn’t stare at all.

      haha, in my head this was a better story than it looks like typed out. anyway, the point is, once koreans get to meet international folks then they are likely to become more tolerant and open-minded.

      unfortunately, i don’t know any country which is automatically open to all cultures, but i have faith in koreans to learn tolerance very quickly. i think the koreans are fundamentally good people, and will overcome their racism quickly.

      anyway, that’s my early morning opinion

      • Dylan says:

        oh, yeah, i thought i’d qualify my statement. i’ve got total faith in koreans to become racially and culturally tolerant….unless you’re Japanese. that shit has got a long time to go….!

      • Lillie says:

        nice one, I like how you did that.

    • Francis says:

      Sorry to hear of you experiences, Chris.

      Unfortunately Racism is 1 of those things that won’t go away overnight and it’s a long process of education & positive reinforcement.

      You being a pioneer immigrant in a country that is relatively infantile in terms of foreign immigration unfortunately means you will probably experience more racism than later generations.

      As a Korean who has lived in Australia for a decade and immigrated in the early days of their Asian Immigration wave, I certainly too have experienced racism. I know how disheartening and frustrating it can be. It’s a lot better now in Australia but these things will take its course and time.

      Korea might be the 1 of the most connected places but how really connected are those people to the rest of the world?

      I think the Govt could certainly play a big part in help improving attitudes towards foreigners with an educational campaign. Or even on a local level, perhaps your Orchestra colleagues could organise some sort of event where locals and foreigners can come and mingle?

    • Hay-Z says:

      I was with a beautiful black woman in Gangnam and cringed to hear a “what up mah nigger” and just a general disdain for us. What was sadder was hearing how ugly she felt from being in Korea. Thankfully she’s in better pastures now.

      I think the disdain to Africans stems from a Colonial mindset, the looting and murders of American-Koreans by gangs of African-Americans during the LA riots and simialr outdated concepts.

      That said, I saw a really hot African girl who seemed married to a sort of plain and nerdy Korean it was cute and amusing and he clearly has done well and she is happy. They probably don’t give a shit and love their lives.

  22. Ashamed brazilian says:

    Yeah… soccer and naked woman at RIO’S CARNAVAL… that’s something to be proud about right? Who needs honesty, education, good manners or safety? There is no perfect country, and I probably wouldn’t be proud of being born anywere (maybe scandinavia… but I don’t know a lot about there so I can’t really tell) , but to find a proud and concious brazilian… is a bit rare.

    • Giulie says:

      Yeah… That’s pretty true. I ,as a brazilian myself, am not really proud of brazil, but I think that its good points are the mixture of etnics so that we tend to not have so much prejudice against others.

      I’m a bit scared though. My plans for the future are: going to a korean university as an exchange student and living there for a couple years or something, so, knowing this makes me a bit worried.

      I wanted to know what koreans feel/think about brazilians…

    • Cristiane says:

      So sad to see brazilians looking down on our country like this…I only red BS about Brazil,from brazilians here,so sad…We also have a lot of good stuff there,beautiful landscape,amazing food,a very kind,compassionate people…Every country has problems,in one way or another.Living in other countries,I learned that,they always gonna show in the media the worst of other countries.
      Im really sorry that you get to highlight the worst things,but I think that,some things start with ourselves,and one of them is education.Bad Mouthing your own country,or any other country for the matter,tells more about you as individual,than a whole nation.You should travel a little more,and learn in the process to be a little more open mind.There all kinds of people in every country,you will see.And just one more thing;Try to be what you think our country is lacking.If you want things to change,you should start with you…I think I am blessed,because i was never a victim of violence in my own country,and I am from Rio.However in Spain and Italy,i was assaulted,beated by thugs.That never happened to me in Rio.Shits happens,and will not choose a certain country for that.
      If you dont feel well anywhere,the problem is not the place,or the people.YOU are the problem.
      Not Brazil,not other countries.
      You,and only you,amigo

      Just another thing,you know that we have a population of 203.403.263?Im pretty sure your opinion dont represent all brazilians.Your opinion dont represent me or many people that i know,thats for sure.We still have a lot of work to do related to safety,education,health…But even so,I love my country,and I know many other people that thinks the same way.

  23. Daniel K says:

    Great post, Keith! It certainly is a very complicated issue– or string of issues, really.

    I had an African-American friend in Seoul– an absolutely lovely person who enjoyed living in Korea and could speak Korean, too. She was walking down a Seoul street one mild winter’s day when a glove fell out the pocket of the jacket of the woman in front of her. My friend picked up the glove, politely said “shillye hamnida,” and held out the glove. The woman turned around, took a look at her face, and stifled a scream (but couldn’t hide the look of horror on her face). My friend stood her ground, sadly already used to such reactions. Eventually, the woman saw the glove, took it, mumbled an embarrassed, “kamsa-hamnida,” and rushed off.

    She posted this story on Facebook with wry humour, but also a sense of tired resignment. Just another day in Seoul for her.

  24. Karen says:

    This was an interesting post! I always knew a type of racism exist in Korea and I know how nationalistic Koreans can be. I also know that Koreans are one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I am a Chinese-American and like my trip to Mexico, I am impressed how nice people can be. My husband is also Korean. Reading this article basically confirmed a lot of my suspicions.

  25. Dylan says:

    I actually think Koreans are remarkably tolerant given the cicumstances. From being almost totally homogenous about 20 years ago, to the thriving international community they have today, they have been remarkably understanding. Think of the hundreds of years of issues America have had with extreme racism. France and the Uk have major issues with racism, and this often is of a violent nature. Australians are very racist (in my opinion. in general). but i think that foreigners here notice the racism more, because for most of the (white) foreigners here, I imagine it is the first time that they are on the receiving end of it. while in their won countries, there may be institutionalized that goes unnoticed as does not occur within their ‘circles’ or in their neighbourhood.

  26. Simeon says:

    Thanks for tackling this one Keith. I have many Korean friends, most who have had very little experience, if any, with black people, which I am. It’s always a pleasure for me to give them a first-hand introduction and make it a pleasant experience. Honestly, I can’t represent every black person, but to someone who has never met or had a friendship with a black person, it ends up being that anyway. It’s a responsible thing to treat people well no matter what, but we have to be careful especially when someone’s whole view of our culture/ethnicity/country etc, could be on the line. I love that 99.9% of the Koreans I have met in my life have been quite open and friendly with me. While Korea might have it’s struggles with race, you can find really awesome people if you give it a chance. The same as any other place on the planet. You can find idiots everywhere, and you can find awesome people everywhere too. Keep doing what you are doing dude. Understanding is the start of healing.

  27. Jewell says:

    Thank you for this article Keith it was very informative. Next fall I will be traveling to Korea and have been using your blog to help me understand the culture, it’s been very helpful. Racism/discrimination of any kind is prevalent around the world especially in older generations. My fear about traveling wasn’t geared toward possible racism but more so about misunderstandings Koreans may have toward me based on media hype and the few bad apples they may have encountered prior to me. I know that being an African American female would not be the norm despite the influx of immigrants moving to the country. However, after reading this article I feel more comfortable to visit Korea and hope I can make positive impressions on those I encounter.

  28. Maria says:

    I think Racism in Universal…

    An outsider comes to your country, they tend to not follow the rules, act all air-headed, they stick in their own groups and look down on the locals…. obviously this creates friction…

    What happened in WW2 happened here too… my grandma can write and speak Jap too…but I guess she’s learned how to move on…

    Ppl just need to respect each others cultural differences and embrace the vibrancy behind them. Not condone each person for being different…!

    One Love Peeps!

  29. Lillie says:

    I really love the way you covered this Keith! I couldn’t agree with you more.

  30. paul says:

    우왕 사이트를 뒤지다가 발견했네요~이런 사이트가 있다니!!정말 좋은 사이트인것같아요^^ 대단하시네요~!

  31. Francisco says:

    What about people from South America (I’m from Chile and I’m
    slightly tan)?

    By the way, the work of all of you have done to introduce the Korean culture to the world in such clever way it’s remarkable.

  32. Abacaxi says:

    Anyone knows what it reads on the banner the soccer player is holding? I can’t work out the first letter in the last syllable. Is that a ㅂ or aㅍ?

    독도는 dogdo-neun .. vase/pitcher and an object marking particle.

    우리방 could read “our room” according to an online translator.

    All in all I’m nowhere near translating this I think :).

  33. Abacaxi says:

    Making it 우리땅, “our land”, Dogdo must be a region or an island .. “Dogdo is ours only!”

    It appears I was an idiot anyway :).

  34. Jessica says:

    I honestly don’t understand the point of this post. Because Korea has developed so much in so little time, the country has numerous flaws, and xenophobia is simply one of them. It is also a problem that will be solved over time as Korea becomes more and more globalized. The strikingly negative connotation throughout the whole post and your seemingly all-knowing nuance about the cause of such racism amazes me.

    • Keith says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      Not everyone knows about the development/xenophobia, so that’s why I wrote this post. For the most part, the response has been good. And of course there’s going to be negativity. It’s a post about racism.

      Not sure what you’re talking about with the know it all comment.

    • Francis says:

      I disagree Jessica.

      This article touches upon a taboo subject in Korean society that needs to be brought to the forefront.

      And the interest shown by a lot of people that are interested in visiting Korea only reaffirms what Keith set out out to achieve.

      Racism is an ugly subject matter so negative connotations are only naturally part of the package.

      I can see why you thought he had a know-it-all attitude, but perhaps that is just a side effect of him comprehensively covering many facets of racism in Korea.

    • Hay-Z says:

      I bet Jessica is a typical Kpop tard and criticising Korea is a no-no.She can’t wake to go see Big Bag or Girls Degeneration and see a Drama. No way her fantasy land can be bad.

      Ignore retards who calim you are a know-it-all, she’s clearly trying to do it herself. What a retard

  35. Michael says:

    Hi Keith, great article and also I am a big fan of the seoulistic youtube channel. I have a question which is along the lines of this article…

    I am from Hawai’i, I am half Korean and half Hawaiian/Portuguese/Spanish/Chinese. I joined the US army a few years ago and I am going to be stationed at Yongsan next year.

    You touched on Koreans feelings towards Military and also other races, what are their feelings towards mixed Koreans? Will I be frowned upon? Growing up in Hawai’i everyone is mixed and I was used to that until I moved to the mainland, people didn’t know what to call me, Korean, Pacific Islander etc. Now that I’m moving to Korea I just wanted to know what to expect.

    • Francis says:


      Attitudes towards mixed race Koreans have improved a lot.

      Even as recent as the 90s, you certainly would’ve experienced racism against you if you were of mixed origin. And certain race combinations would have had more negative reaction and prejudices than perhaps what a foreigner might have experienced.

      But I am happy to say that the attitude towards mixed Koreans seems to have improved a lot.
      IMHO I think you might get treated better than a foreigner now because of your blood ties to Korea.

      Also there’s been a dramatic improvement towards mixed marriages and that can only mean good things for you and descendants of mixed marriages :)

      And I think having an increasing stable of movie/k-pop/Sports stars that are of mixed parentage and their increased media exposure to the Korean people have certainly helped IMHO.

      Whilst it may be impossible to avoid racism altogether, I hope it’ll prepare you mentally if it does happen.

      And Enjoy it while you’re out there.

  36. 진희(JinHee) says:

    Thanks for the articles Keith. I really enjoyed reading them. You covered basics of living in Korea. I, myself was born & raised in Korea, and experienced racism by Korean boys & girls in ’70’s and ’80’s, also. Racism is everywhere though. Look at America. I am still going through it. Being a mixed human being people in America treats me differently,,,,,especially the blacks. Ignorance. Looking forward to reading more,,,thank you. 고마워 :))

  37. Johanna says:

    Thanks for talking about this Keith , i´m from Costa Rica and even after i read all these articles about racism in Korea , i still want to live there , by any chance do you know some latin people ? How is it for them?

  38. John says:

    I am a black man and I have been to Korea and generally encounter a lot of Korean people from my hometown of London, England. I have seen both extreme points on the racism spectrum, having had a Korean girlfriend before and having tons of Korean friends, I can honestly say that Korean people are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Saying that, I understand any racism they have. Every country and culture experiences racism towards another culture, because its just really a form of hate. I like to still believe in individuality and feel that if I do meet a racist Korean, i.e. a store owner who refused to serve me lol, that is all on him and his thinking. I would still live in Korea and plan to do so after I finish my degree 😉

    Generalisation on a whole isn’t good because in the case of black people anyone who was brave enough to tell me the reason why they disliked my kind was just because of stereotyping, saying that most black people are violent, but after you get the Korean approval of safety by lets say going out in a group of your Korean friends, no matter where you’re from, about 80% of Koreans you will run into will no longer be afraid of you.

    Dont hate me for pulling that random statistic from my ass.

  39. abbie says:

    Wow These really help me tohave a deeper understand of South korea hehe .
    How about Hong Kong??
    Wt is the korean impressiom towards Hong Kong people??
    Hah Since Im from Hong Kong, Im really interested but rarely can I find topics like this. Does korean also has racism towards HongKonger like Chinese???

  40. Ashley J says:

    Thank you so much for this article Keith. I knew that Korea and China as well as Korea and Japan had cultural static, but I had not known alot of the details about it such as the outlook on joseonjok and Chinese immigrants. I do plan on going to Korea in the near future to stay for a year or 2 and even though this article doesn’t scare me in anyway being that I’m a black woman, it does give me a good understanding of why many Koreans may feel the way that they do. Keep the information coming! Alot of your viewers and readers really enjoy it and find it quite helpful :)

    BTW, your youtube vids are also awesome~!

  41. Dayo says:

    Let’s be real! It does exist! I’ve been in Korea now for a few years! And I have been treated very well as a black guy. The younger generation do not mind seeing or having black friends or interacting with them. However there is a sense of fear they towards black males. I’m not in the military, but I always get asked… “Are you military?” And mind you, I’m not even that muscular!

    I actually resulted to this post because, today I was told I could work for a company because I was black. I couldn’t work as a teacher because parents complained they didn’t want black teachers teaching their kids.
    If this same situation happened back home in the States, I don’t think the president or CEO or manager at a company would adhere to such blatent form of discrimination. (I’m only guessing) I think it’s completely wrong. But hey, what can I do I’m in South Korea. I think I’m just going to pack my bags… And all this on a day when Nelson Mandela dies.

    As race, we still have much to learn. Ignorance is not a valid excuse.

  42. DavidXian says:

    This is a good one. Although it seems like Keith expose the dark side of racism in Korea, I’m very thankful for this one. Why? Because I’ll be prepared. If somehow someone (in this case Korean when I go there) treat me in a racist way, at least I will understand where it came from. :)

    And people, please don’t get him wrong. Look at the title: “Understanding Racism in Korea”. I think he just wants to explain and to make us understand why Korean did that—though racist acts are unacceptable whatever the reason is.

    Anyway, it’s not (just) Korean that racist and NOT every Korean is racist.
    Racists are just ridiculous ignorant idiots whatever their citizenship or ethnic are.

  43. James says:

    Good article.
    I visited South Korea once, I was insulted and robbed for being “american” and having a Korean girlfriend by a group of young men.
    I am from the UK but they still insisted on saying I was American and taking the little money I had on me and taking my phone. They then pushed my girlfriend over and left.
    so yes, there is a racism problem. I’ve travelled to many places and generally, racism towards Caucasians usually isn’t an issue at all, I encountered it in none of the countries I’ve visited before, which include egypt, kenya, the sudan, india, Mexico, japan, thailand, china, pakistan, malaysia and others.

    • Hay-Z says:

      Trust me incidents against non-whites is higher and more frequent.

      Where you in Daegu or near a US military complex?

      That often triggers an anti US and often an anti-white sentiment.

  44. Santé says:

    I think it’s not about a nationality. You may have to see the background, especially against other Asian nationalities.

    For sad and stupid reason, there are many old Korean males who are single, and they found their brides from some of countries and get married. The problem is they got married without solve ‘Communication problem’. How can you find another half without communicating each other? Then there are many issues among themselves and we observed their marriage fail. Also those families having difficulties in financial wise, the government try to support them as an ‘International Family’/’Multi-Culture Family’.

    From here, there are negative opinion on international marriages. Of course, there are many successful international marriage also with full of LOVE.

    But hey, who cares of nationalities?
    We are all same, and we are same mankind on this planet.
    We shouldn’t use the word of ‘International marriage’, ‘International family’, but ‘Marriage’, ‘Family’.

    I think this is such stupid…

    Just treat them as the way you want to be treated in other countries.

    Just normal…

  45. irina says:

    interesting article…just change the word “decent” in “when people of Korean decent are in the international spotlight” and “And although they are of Korean decent, their association with China probably gives ethnic Chinese ” to “descent”

  46. Az says:

    Hi Keith,

    Please allow me to introduce some additional points to this topic.

    There is a duality that should be noted when considering the prolonged issue of national identity. South Korea’s expansion highlights the government’s emerging successes in exports however teaching cross-cultural awareness and communication through local media has only recently come about.

    As many may know that culture management is a challenging management issue particularly from a control perspective. Further, the systemic issue of wrote learning practices throughout the education system tends to inhibit creative approaches to complex problems such as this.

    So the crux of this comment is to propose that once the critical ratio is reached on a social level and multilateralism is achieved on a political level it is highly likely the prevalence could significantly decrease within a relatively short period of time. Refer to Francis Fukuyama’s recent speech.

    FYI – I’m a Korean-Australian born and raised in Sydney with recent experiences of discrimination. I was physically assaulted and verbally abused on the subway (line 2) three days ago as I was speaking English with my foreign fiance.

    With Kind Regards,

  47. rouzbeh says:

    hello again,
    sorry to be asking this, but what about middle east? are they depicted as terrorists like in most western media, or are most Koreans ok with them?

  48. From a Singaporean says:

    Sorry but majority of koreans are racist and arrogant. They always bash innocent japanese, discriminate against chinese and SEA people includin black people.. They should wake up and realize that they are the most racist and xenophobic asians in the world. Youtube has too many korean butthurts and racists.

  49. Joann says:

    how do they feel about Mexicans/Mexican Americans? I want to go teach English there but I would like to know everything before hand that might happen to me…. you know, like a precaution. I’ve gone through racism but seeing it from there eyes would give me a better view on things…. thanks :)

  50. Az says:

    First hand experience of racism from a Korean-American woman thankfully, there are Koreans that are standing up for change.

    Theory of where this all came from…

  51. j.e says:

    Is there any racism against muslim girls (muslimah) who wears hijab in korea?

  52. pearl says:

    i am a black girl,precisely from Nigeria.i plan to study in korea though i am a little shaky ccuz of this post.i am risk taker though so i wont change my mind. the only problem i have nw is that even in my country i turn heads when i go out nd i always get pple asking for my contact because i am a really tall girl who aspires to go into the modelling industry.if pple are awed by my height,with racism added can i take it?

  53. Mallory says:

    Well thanks for talking about this. I know most people interested in other country’s wonder how they might be received. Even I have had it cross my mind when thinking about traveling to South Korea. I figure it would be something on the lines of what you wrote. I’m a black American girl, and even here in the states we have ignorant people.
    So I for sure figured there would be ignorant people in S. Korea. Where there is far and few diversity. But I think going to other country’s can help with that. I like to think the students and travelers coming over here, Wanna leave me with a happy memory of a person from their country.
    No doudt its scary going somewhere new and where you stand out like a sore thumb. But I love Korean culture and I’m all for going there^^

  54. Sacha says:

    Hello there,

    Your blog here is really interesting, especially since I’ve been seeing a few korean dramas lately.

    Since you’re talking about racism, and no one hasn’t brought this topic yet, how do korean people treat moslems?

    And what is there impression of seeing a girl using a scarf/hijab on their head?


  55. Marten says:

    Hey =) I am 18 years old, and I will be going to Korea in summer for 1 year.
    I am half german half french and speak some really really really really really basic korean! I have blonde curly hair and I am pretty white. I will be living in Seoul. Now: Do you think I should either work in a german school? Or do an internship with a korean firm in 3 years? ( for the same period of time)
    And should I say I am german or french? My korean friend said I would be fine since I am “European” but I am just wondering!

  56. british girl says:

    Koreans should be the last race/people to think they are better than anyone. They are driving their own to mass murder. Reading some of these commments made me want to hurl, korean are not white but yellow skin mongolian, true blood yeah! then you can say black are true blood too right?

    Korean are selfish, self centered, materialistic people who are not to to family or their kind, they are racist against their own, to get ahead inlife they uses their children to be pimped out to the best buyer.
    I am so perturbed when I hear they run ans scream when they see a black prerson, give me a break, africa is not that far away and they have been going to korea for generations.
    They all need to come into the 21st century. No wonnder when they travel abroad theyare treated that way, they are rude impolite and down right SHAMEFUL!!

  57. Elizabeth says:

    Hey Keith, I always wondered about the blackface in Korea. As you mentioned South Korean racism stems from fear. But, as someone living in Korea and meeting hundreds of different kinds of Koreans, do you really think fear is the cause of someone wanting to paint their face black and make jokes? For example, when I first arrive in Korea I met so many different types of races I didn’t even know existed and I never felt the urge to do something such as blackface when I entertaining my friends at a 술집. What’s your opinion?

    • John says:

      It’s one thing to meet people from ethnic groups you didn’t know existed, but Koreans know black people exist but have just never seen or met one in real life. They only ever see how they’re portrayed in media, whether it be music/movies or new articles.
      Joking or making fun of a particular issue is just one way of coping with a person’s own fear or ignorance, albeit not a very positive one.

  58. trust says:

    i think this article actually did its best to tackle racism in Korea its the best I’ve seen so far (and i have seen a lot). Actually Koreans are nice people when you get to know them its just that they kind of don’t trust each other talk more of someone with a different color or skin tone,beside if you’ve ever seen any of their movies they’re always scared of foreigners at first even where i come from according to my mum first time they saw a white guy they thought it was a goblin some thought he’d been infected by a terrible diseases so i guess its not just Koreans ,by the way i am full African from Nigeria

  59. Dunn says:

    Well tackled keith,thumbs up.
    Though i feel there is a bit of sugarcoating on some issues
    which still puzzles lots.
    Why did an entire tv station air that program?i think a program to run on national tv
    Is not a one-person thing.so let us rule out the ‘ignorance’ excuse.
    If it was for fun,think about throwing bananas, fun but it has bitter consequences.
    But again i am just being open minded and welcome to correction.

  60. kyrie says:

    Unfortunately, racism do exist everywhere, every country some degree.
    I’m Korean lives in US – actually LA/OC area- and I do have quite experience from white axxholes.
    Thing is, generally, Koreans are not that bad at all. Many of them just don’t have experience how to deal with others esp. when there is difference. i.e. color of your skin or sexual orientation..etc. But I heard there was dramatic change since I left Korea some 10+ yrs ago.
    I’m sure many of you’ll have no problem to be in Korea unless you are looking for some trouble. :)

    Lesson I learned while I traveled many places in the world, be polite and nice to others then others treat you the same.
    That’s my 2 cents.

  61. Hay-Z says:

    As someone who is South Asian (Pakistan/India) albeit born in NZ I think racism in Korea is multifaceted but there’s a significant point about it. That is there is a ranking of foreigners. So Whites are often idolized whereas Blacks and South Asians and South East Asians are at the bottom. I think if there was wide spread collectivism and racism to all groups I could understand it more and I think in this case such as is the experience of many people in Japan (although this is a general sentiment I can’t tell for sure how accurate). However, having many people in my social group, there were more problems and negative experiences with coloured people than with the Whites (US, Canada, Australia and Europeans) and Other East-Asians. I was spat on once and not allowed into two places for example (I was in Seoul for only 2 months) and I had hell with my Goshiwon and the manager definitely looked after other foreigners. The final insult was when after painstakingly cleaning my room (which was filthy when I arrived) he made me clean it again. Young people were hit and miss but there was no major issues bar some calling me poor or making dumb comments. The real problem was from middle aged people. I had my shirt grabbed and was told “I know why you are here! Stop it” by an irate woman and just did not get much politeness at all. I never got angry or too annoyed but it wears thin after a while, specially when you try so hard to be the prefect visitor. Being white in Korea can occasional have issues but in Seoul it’s much better and lets face it many Koreans would date a white over any other race.

    I guess this race ranking stems from a colonial mindset and so on but it is tiring and I feel like it is something not going to go away because I think the mindset is entrenched with many young people. For me constanly being told I was a liar about my nationality also showed that Koreans overall can’t comprehend that countries like the US, Canada, Australia and NZ are multicultural. It’s somewhat ironic because when here the Koreans are very qick to scream racism. A good example is over in Australia when a Korean man was murdered it was a sign of predation on Koreans but actually he was killed by a fellow Korean.

    And if you want some more facts Korean men are the highest group of sex tourists in Asia now. They also commuted more brutal massacres in the Vietnam war than the US (although US killed more innocent overall).

    I received a scholarship to go study at a high ranking Uni in Seoul but I am having second thoughts.

    Disclaimer – this is my opinion and everyone has different experiences, as well this is in by no way to hate on Koreans (or any other group). I’d also like to point out the nicest group – old people. I was told they’d be rude and racist they weren’t… I was so touched. I guess older people have wisdom to see good character!

    • Az says:

      Well said Hay-Z. Its disheartening to hear that you were treated in such an appalling way. I’m sorry this happened to you.

      This prolonged issue of national identity does have its roots in colonialism and the events leading up to the annexation of Korea. Koreans have neither forgiven or forgotten.

      Rampant racism is thriving amongst the younger generations as well. Despite my painful experiences from my own race. I still opt for positive change through education and media. There are many possible strategies. I do agree that the rate of change is debatable. I’m an optimist at heart hopeful that both North and South Korea acts on this before they are coerced to do so.

  62. I was just writing an article based on my experience as a foreigner here in South Korea and doing some research about it to compare with other foreigners. Your article is excellent and easy to read, kept short and straightforward and eye-opening.

    Plus, you have my respect, that attitude shows you are a great human being.

  63. SporeG says:

    Where did you get the info that Japan never apologizes? It did dozens of times! It’s just that racist and xenophobic Koreans are not willing to accept them! Korean sex slaves? Japanese prime minister in 1993 sent signed certificate of apology to each of them and offered 20,000US dollars each!! But those crazy Korean bigots (they say they are ciitizens group etc.) forced poor old women not to accept!!! You talk as if you know history but your explanation is so cheap. Makes me throw up.

  64. Arthur says:

    Thanks for providing some insight on the subject. As a Korean who has grown up abroad, I didn’t necessarily understand why there was so much clash between me and other Koreans, primarily because of stereotyping and racism. But yea Korea is quite racist… I live in south east Asia and I remember having some of my friends talked badly about by my relatives. It was a real culture shock for me…

  65. Seppen says:

    Ignorance is no longer an excuse. For example, it is the same thing as me seeing stereotypes about Asians and racist crap about them all the time. Do I listen to them? No! I know better because of this crazy thing called the INTERNET. If I can learn about their people, language, and culture here in America and develop a love for it, then they can do the same! They can look up our fashion, music, movies, etc but you can’t educate yourself on how blacks and Mexicans aren’t all illiterate thugs? BULL SH*T. I’m sorry, but I cry foul on that one.

    I know an old Korean lady. She owns a restaurant that my family and I go to all the time! Her place was even broken into by blacks but when she saw us show interest in her culture and thank her in Korean, she was good to us ever since.

    Whether it be about Japanese, Blacks, Latinos, Indians, etc. The only way to improve on the racism issue (YES. Racism is racism. If they wouldn’t like people doing the same to them, then they shouldn’t do it to other people. A lot of them go to other countries and get mad that they are treated the same way they treat other races! When is enough ENOUGH? ) is through education. If you truly educate yourself on the truth, then you probably won’t think the same. No one is better than someone else based off of race. Somewhere, there is a Korean girl who is smart and pretty and racist. But somewhere else there could be an equally/more attractive and intelligent Japanese or Black girl! Why? BECAUSE THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RACE!!!

  66. Juan says:

    So just wanted to ask, what is the general view/treatment of Mexicans/Mexican Americans in Korea? I ask because I’m planning on studying abroad there this year and wanted to know what kind of reception I’m likely to receive. Kinda worried that aside from the general reaction to foreigners the crap going on in mexico the last few years has colored perceptions even though I haven’t been there for near a decade.

    • Carlos says:

      I’m mexican aswell living here. All I can say is they sometimes stare the s*** out of me, but if you know the ettiquete generally they treat you right. And i’m european descent so they get surprised to know I’m mexican, but always in the nice way. Not once have they mistreated me after finding out. In my experience it all boils down to your body language and knowledge of ettiquete. If they see you scared you’ll just make them stare harder at you. Hope this helps.

      • Juan says:

        Thanks, that’s nice to know. Hopefully it’ll be a nice change from here in the states where recently its been the usual arguments and cartel this or that.

  67. Rebecca says:

    Anyone know how someone from South America would be seen and treated? My boyfriend and I have been considering going to teach in Korea, and he is Peruvian (born/raised in America and fluent in English and Spanish). As far as appearance, he’s on the darker side of the range of skin tones of Peruvians. Just curious, I looked on youtube but couldn’t find any videos mentioning anyone hispanic in Korea (I assume because there must be very few!)

    • Jay says:

      I’m a Korean-born American. I spent the first 11 years of my life there, and I’ve been back there multiple times a year since. I do think some of the people will see it as being from a poorer and dirtier place; however, I don’t think anybody should feel it strongly enough to have it effect you negatively overall. You’ll get far more curious inquiries about your life and your culture opposed to shifty looks and an occasional pointing. I personally haven’t been around a lot of anti-American people either. I mean I have met people who feel very strongly that America should stay out of Korean politics, but that does not usually translate into hatred of all American citizens. 15 years ago, I’d have said the racism in Korea was prominent enough to be a considerable problem, but I think nowadays you won’t have to worry about a thing (unless you’re a Southeast Asian person. I feel that there’s still a strong prejudice against those people because many of them in Korea are minimum-wage immigrant workers or wives)

  68. Nelly says:

    I have a friend online who is Korean and she is soo nice and respectful. she also wants to meet me one day. The thing is…she doesn’t know i’m African American. I hope she accepts me for who I am and not my color. oh well just have to wait and see ^^.

  69. corey says:

    Hi, I am thinking about teaching in south korea, but my concern is the level of racism towards Chinese. I am a British/USA citizen, would it be better just to say I am british and what problems might i experience as i guess I look Chinese but also at times mistaken for Thai / Korean. Any advice would be appreciated. thanks.

  70. timothy says:

    Hey, interesting article. I am a hybrid mix between Chinese and Korean born and living in the U.S. so i am in the mix up here. How? Simple. Mom and Dad who were immigrants from two different countries met here in the U.S. So, how would i be viewed in Korea (especially by the elders) if they knew i were a hybrid between both by first impression? Would i be considered a “Joseonjok?”

    • Kevin J. says:

      Timothy, I suspect that the older generation might call you derogatorily as a ‘honyeol'(mixed blood) or worse, since technically, there is little in the Korean(south Korean or north Korean) culture to actually accept the possibility of mixed heritage unlike in countries such as the USA, Australia or Canada. Then again, I might be wrong here. I can speak Korean myself, and have many Korean friends, whom I think would just see you as a foreigner probably on account of your nationality. But the older generation of Koreans are probably a harder group to tap in terms of sentiments. If you are half-white and half-Korean, like say, Dennis Oh and Daniel Henney, there is this rather unrealistic pedestal which Korean women of all ages, young and old, place you on, but if you have any bit of any other heritage such as Chinese(a country which used to colonize Korea in ancient times and then competed with Korea for various cases of sovereignty historically) or Latino or African/African-American, there is sadly a rather disturbing compartmentalization performed by the older generation which I have noticed by actually regarding you either with lukewarm eyes or with antagonism as ‘unclean’. That was my perception of Korea a few years back, but things are probably changing slowly bit by bit, if not totally. And well, no, the term ‘choseonjok’ would not apply to you whatsoever, since you are not Chinese by nationality but ‘half-‘Korean by heritage.

    • Kevin J. says:

      Hey Timothy, I checked out the exact term for you. It seems to be 혼혈인(hon-hyeol-in), which is roughly translatable as ‘mixed-blood-person’. In South Korea, this term is probably a stigma and connotes impurity of bloodline, which goes back to the very ‘racist’ idea of a pure Korean bloodline spread through generations, the same way that ‘zainichi’ (Korean residing in Japan) is a stigma in Japan. When you do introduce yourself to South Koreans, you should take care to state that you are American (mi-guk sa-ram 미국사람), and in any case, if you do encounter some really nice and non-racist Koreans(which I am sure you will, apart from those other nasty and ignorant ones), you might be likely to experience the state of being called ‘gyopo'(pronounced often as ‘kyopo’ due to the Korean displacements of ‘k’ and ‘g’ in their ㄱ character), 교포, which is translatable to that of an overseas brethren. Keith, the manager of this website, is a gyopo himself as far as I am aware from reading his posts.

  71. Well. I’ll put it like this. I’m a black student at a historically black college and I’ve been to Asia a few times. Koreans were the nicest people I’ve ever met. Even recently doing another semester in China, all my friends were Korean. Maybe it was curiosity but I never felt any unwelcome feelings. I met their families lol and etc. on my blog voyagetoasia.com
    I talk about my experiences in Asia as a black person and my attempt at bridging the cultures.

  72. Dave says:


    I deal with recruitment within my school. I have put forward many very qualified black and Muslim people to my director only to be told that the parent’s won’t like if they are hired.

    I feel powerless to do anything about it, frustrated, angry, and upset. I don’t know what to do. I would really appreciate any advice.

  73. justcurious says:

    I was always curious about how Koreans thought about South Asians. (India, Bangladesh etc). We’re all ‘Asians’ in general. I found that alot of our culture is also very similar. Would South Asians be too foreign to them?
    I’ve seen ALOT of south asians with features that are very similar to East Asians (People say i’m one of them hehe xD ) except for the skin colour. (We’re not as pale as them).
    I’m from Bangladesh and I think people here have diverse characteristics. There are people with really really pale skin, yellow and brown. Even the facial features are a mixture.
    I want to visit South Korea someday so i was really curious about it. I always find blogs talking about foreigners as in Americans or Western people.
    Would i be too standing out? or would they just not care?

    • Hay-Z says:

      South Asians?
      Probably lowest of the low along with blacks.

      Never ever say you are Nepali or Bangladeshi, even if you are always say “Indo Saram Ibnida” they won’t like you but there will be less problems.

      I\South Asians are stereotyped as poor anddirty and all the men are rapists. Koreans are retards though. India supported South Korea in the war but ws smart and wanted to take a less combative role (Medical teams) and also being kind with North Korea.

      If you are South Asian go to Japan. More Japanese anime and even movies have Indians in positive roles and there is a longer shared culture and history.

      Japan > S.Korea by far

      • Az says:

        I’m sorry to hear that Hay-Z.

        Ethnicity ranking is a distorted perception prevalent in every culture and region. I do agree the severity is relatively high in Korea. If I may provide some insight, Korean culture and society exhibits high levels of social coercion to the notion of homogeneity. A notion that is outdated.

        Though I wouldn’t go as far to say that Japan > S. Korea. Nor should one say S. Korea > Japan.

        Japan = Korea
        I look forward to the day when all are equal.

        PS – I love Indian & Pakistani culture. The food is rich and Bollywood is amazing.

  74. Kenny says:

    My girlfriend is a Korean. When we met, she was friendly and nice even though she havent talk to a black guy before. We started dating and she came over to see me. We spent 2weeks together but before she came, her mom knew she was talking to a black guy and she always argue with her about that. someday, i was talking to her then suddenly her mom came in and asked if she was talking to me, she said yes and suddenly she asked her what would she say to me. She said “Hello”, i was so surprise and happy because that is the last thing i expected from her mom. Now we are planning to get marry. 70% of her friends knows me and even her brother and dad and also cousins and aunties. So i dont really think racist is such a big deal maybe i have to go there to witness it myself. What i know is that most of the girls prefer to marry a very rich guy. Also they all want to look skinny. I am From Nigeria by the way.

  75. Kenny says:

    My girlfriend is a Korean. When we met, she was friendly and nice even though she havent talk to a black guy before. We started dating and she came over to see me. We spent 2weeks together but before she came, her mom knew she was talking to a black guy and she always argue with her about that. one day, i was talking to her then suddenly her mom came in and asked if she was talking to me, she said yes and suddenly she asked her what would she say to me. She said “Hello”, i was so surprise and happy because that is the last thing i expected from her mom. Now we are planning to get marry. 70% of her friends knows me and even her brother and dad and also cousins and aunties. So i dont really think racism is such a big deal maybe i have to go there to witness it myself. What i know is that most of the girls prefer to marry a very rich guy. Also they all want to look skinny. I am From Nigeria by the way. I am planning to study Korean Language in Korea University.

  76. Glo says:

    Greetings in the Name of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I.

    “That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained;…”- HIM Jah Rastafar I….Conquering Lion….

  77. Yuki Cross says:

    Do korean people like Greece…??? I’m from Greece (Cyprus) and im wondering…if they will like mee….

  78. im korean/mexican ( grand dad immigrated from korea to u.s then to mexico) and my girlfriend for over a year is full blood chinese (canto) however born in Belize then came to u.s as a baby. so im not saying im racist or anything also my best friend is japanese/mexican that lives here in u.s . im just saying, JAPAN, SHOULD, admitt and aplogize for their wrong doings. if they want relations to get better, until then i will continue to see them as disgraceful, since they cant admitt to things that happend, and atleast apologize, not asking for compensation, but atleast a god damn apology or even less, for them to accept what they did.

    • by the way park jong woo ( to football player ( or soccer whatever you wanna call it ) ) is not racist lol, hes just stating, the islands are ours, they are unresidented islands, i mean come on. weve own them, now japan trying to take chinas islands too smh

  79. Deborah says:

    My personal opinion – I think Koreans generally think that South-East Asians are poorer (although Singapore is part of SEA, there’s higher standards of living, higher GDP per cap etc. than other SEA countries.) Maybe it’s because a lot of foreign “bought” brides are from SEA.

    As a Singaporean, I don’t feel that Koreans actually dislike us or anything. But I do get a lot of stares (like literally insensitive staring right at my face, whispering indiscreetly to their friends..) when I speak English in Korea, especially in cities outside of Seoul. I don’t think they are rude & I don’t think it’s because of my Asian english accent too – I just think they are genuinely very curious about non-Koreans.

    I did however, notice a difference in the way they serve Koreans and non-Koreans in the airplanes, in restaurants. They seem much friendlier & helpful towards their own people. Then again, it might just be the language barrier.

  80. Jjokbari says:

    S.Korea is no longer the same country US and Japan thought in 1990’s.
    US used to take up 30% of S.Korea’s trading and so did Japan 25% in 1990. At that time China’s share was no more than 3%, almost negligible. But in 2010, the trading share dramatically changed. The share of US and Japan dropped to 10% respectively, but China’s percentage jumped up to 20%.
    China is as important as US plus Japan altogether for S.Korea in terms of economics. This is matching to ongoing political development (US will give back military command to S.Korea, Japanese company continue leaving from S.Korea). Reunification under China’s arrangement is becoming more realistic, but I wonder if this is something S.Korean people really want.

  81. Louise Bae says:

    1) There is no such thing as ethnic purity, anywhere in the world. And the Koreans are most definitely not ethnically pure.A quick internet search of their DNA make-up will show you that. I doubt that they are one of the most pure either…this label would probably be best applied to remote tribes. I am disappointed that you used this term in your article.

    2) Even on Wikipedia a 2009 study in which nearly 50% of Korean kids are not sure or are negative about whether they can make friends with a biracial child is cited. So it does not apply to just the older generation. Racism is very much alive and well in the younger generation as well.

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  83. Rose says:

    I think this is a gre at article because it sheds some understanding. I am black, from South America, living in the United States. I enjoy watching KDramas and KShows. I was recently watching an episode of “Hello Counselor” and an African Man was discussing how he is treated by some people while in Korea. He mentioned, someone even touched him once and then looked at her hands to see if they were dirty. He was dancing with a woman and when she found out he was from Africa and not the U.S, she walked away from him. Even on the show, when he appeared, the caption was “First Black Person on Hello Counselor”. There are some things I love about Korean Culture, but many things I also hate. I want to visit Korea, but was told by my friends in the military that I would be more accepted in Japan. I do think the fight on racism should start with the media in Korea and different races should be shown more often. Eventhough I want to visit South Korea, I have a deep fear and I’m from NYC, so that’s saying a lot. Thank you for this article..I will follow you because I think your insight is very honest.

  84. Msknoitall says:

    This is good information. I am a corporate exec with a global corporation and recently became facinated in the Korean culture. I was aware of some of the Asian-racial and classism issues there, but had not read about racism against blacks until now. I love that Koreans preserve their history and culture, but in their bid to reserve what was, they have failed to embrace what is. I was thinking of traveling there to see some of the beautful countryside, but have decided to wait until South Korea joins the rest of us in the 21st century. Many Koreans live in America, some do quite well in business, making fortunes off minority communities. Perhaps they should share their experience with those in Korea to change their misconceptions. Korea being very shutoff from the world is part of its charm, but being ignorant to what is going on in the world makes it undesirable… no one wants to visit a place where they aren’t welcomed.

  85. Jonathan Jun says:

    Your writing is reasonably thought out and fair enough as Korean myself I can very well understood what you are saying. I have a beautiful Korean “Korean” wife with whom I have no problem in communication and because of whom I have become a huge fan of Korean pop culture as well as Korean cars, electronics and spicy foods.
    I see lots of discrepancy in Korean people in general as I encounter them in Canada. I have lamented often on the verbal racism amongst the older Korean adults as well as younger ones who come with their young family as recent immigrants to Canada. The younger immigrants in their 20s and 30’s or even 40’s look smart, handsome, well dressed and drive luxury Japanese cars, but their behavior is often crude, rough, uncivilized, and snub their nose on other races. Their voice is so loud in public places (even in libraries) and their grown up kids in high school age as well as university age pollute public library desks and walls and university indoor walls in Korean alphabets (가나다라- GaNaDaRa) scribbling. The bad parking habit is also brought from Korea to Canada. Despite all these “uncivilized” acts transpired by the Korean themselves, they still think that they are superior over all other races.

    I wish that if Koreans are so proud and claim to be patriotic then they must SUPPORT South Korean economy (for the sake of their families, relatives, disadvantaged low social class population) by buying unprecedentedly well made high quality Korean cars (e.g. Kia, Hyundai etc.) and Korean electronic consumer products rather than cursing all they can against Japanese but drive around on Canadian streets in luxury Japanese brand vehicles such as Lexus, Toyota, Acura,Ininity etc. Japan is about 5 times richer than South Korea and so many and many and many and many Koreans inadvertently LOVE to support Japan by pouring so much money into the Japanese pockets by being their ardently loyal consumer product buyers. So I suggest to Koreans who love Japanese products, they better be courteous to Japanese (for there are many highly admirable qualities in Japanese that Koreans could learn from) but if they claim to be patriotic and defender of their own islet of Dokdo and what not then simply buy Korean products just so to support Korean economy whose GDP per capita is only about meager half of the Japanese counterparts’ GDP per capita. Koreans love to proclaim “대~한민국” (and accompanying 짝짝짝 ~ 짝짝), but in reality they help Japan to become bigger sports players on various international stages by loyally buying Japanese cars and electronic equipments; Japanese rake in so much money internationally and the Korean consumer money helps build various high end sports facilities in Japan including the wintersports training facilities as South Korea merely has only one internationally recognized figure skater, Yuna Kim, but Japan not only has a handful of internationally competitive female skaters, but also internationally well recognized few male skaters too.

  86. Olivia says:

    I’m an American and I’m half black/half white. I’m scared of getting harassed by Ajummas and Ajeossis for how I look.

  87. Minyoung says:

    What about English? Because the thing is I’ve lived in London my whole life but now I’m moving to Korea soon and I’m worried about not fitting in, even though I speak Korean and understand the culture, I mean I spoke it at home to my dad, my mum doesn’t speak it. but yeah

  88. Chris says:

    Ironically, Koreans racism stems in large part from the pure race mentality they inherited from their #1 enemy, Japan, which in turn inherited it from the eugenics theorists of the west pre-WWII.

    The nationalist movement to counter Japanese colonialism basically turned everyone into a racist asshole, unable to face the reality of history.

    From Japanese and Mongol and Manchurian invasions to Chinese Commanderies and status as the favorite vassal state, Korea is far from being racially pure. But as a typical example, Koreans constantly claim this to be true. Doesn’t matter the reality.

    Korea was a small powerless nation, but that doesn’t stop Koreans from reinventing history and portraying themselves as a regional power (including some claims such as ruling Japan, ruling China, and a host of inventions).

  89. Joseph says:

    You know, I feel sad reading this, even knowing it is true. I live in Guatemala, and here there is a lot of heterogeneity, so racism is not so common, or that’s what I think. Here there are a lot of Koreans in the area in which I live, and that’s fine for me, and the truth is, I would like to meet them and talk with them to know about their country. Is awful to see that most of them are crabby toward us, just because some of us have tanned skin doesn’t mean we are bad people! The young ones are friendly, but that’s short lived, because as soon as the parents see their children talking to us, they won’t let them talk to us again… I really wish I could do something, destroy those nasty borders of racism and arrogance, bring friendship and respect instead of hate and discrimination. Keith, I would like to you come to Guatemala and see with your eyes the problem…

  90. mc says:

    “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.” Wrong. They are *precisely* irrational reactions. What they are are “not unexpected reactions”. Sadly, though. Humans are irrational. But somewhat predictable, especially sociologically speaking.

  91. Kwak Dae Han says:

    Koreans are the people most proud of World!

  92. Meena says:

    I live in a area that has a nice hand full of Koreans :) My mother is Black(Quarter indian) and I’m Multi-racial(Creole). They’re very fond of us because we always visit their fabric store, they treat us like family! And I would always meet a random Asian man/woman and they would always compliment me. I never been to South Korea and I really want to go there, I’m also learning because its the third most spoken language in my state lol But this article helped a lot, I didn’t want to fly to a country that would be rude towards me, but this gave clarification, and I highly understand. Lucky for me, I’m not the type to get offended easily, and I could understand why they would be that way(I would to if I was them!) and its not a big deal unless you make it seem that way :) But no doubt, I’ll definitely visit South Korea, I’ve always been curious to see their culture up close and personal!

  93. Michael says:

    Thanks for this post. I plan on going to Korea but every time I start to do it, I get worried that Korea will ruin my generally positive perception of Koreans. I live in Koreatown in Los Angeles, California, and I’m black. The majority of my girlfriends in recent years have been Korean because of where I live mostly, and I’ve grown an affinity for the culture and the people. But I’m terrified that if I go to Korea, something will inevitably happen to hurt my quest to bring people everywhere together. Anyway, thanks for writing this :) that blackface thing was painful to look at :(

  94. Ani says:

    What are they like with Arabs?

  95. Marie says:

    I think your example with Vietnamese in France is off the mark. Vietnamese living in France are actually considered a model minority. They are the most established overseas Vietnamese group (since they’ve been there since colonial times) and have high education and assimilation rates. They are far more successful than Vietnamese-Americans or Canadians.