Ready or not, Korea no longer ‘one-nation’ of only pure-bloodsKorea’s major political parties recently pledged to enact laws to prevent discrimination against mixed-race people. Politicians were spurred by nationwide excitement over the recent visit by Hines Ward ― a U.S. football hero born to a Korean mother and an African-American father ― to South Korea, his country of birth. Although the number of multiracial children in Korea has increased due to a surge in international marriages in recent years, particularly in the countryside, Koreans’ tendency to regard multiracial people with contempt has not changed. Today, we look at social discrimination against multiracial people and why we should work on removing racially-based biases in society.
Who are multiracial people?
Mixed-race or multiracial children are born from the union of parents who come from different races or tribes. Such unions are a natural outcome when people from different racial groups live near or among each other, when people migrate, or when they are conquered by foreign invaders and colonized.
This mixing of races has happened everywhere throughout history and multiracial people are prevalent around the world. With wars of conquest and the rise of European colonization multiracial populations have grown until modern times.
In many societies mixed-race people have often been regarded as a lower social class and those whose ancestors were from Africa were more likely to be treated unfairly.
From ancient times, multiracial people have been victims of social bias. In many nations with a strong social bias against mixed-race people they tend to be regarded as inferior.
Multiracial people are known by distinctive names in different societies; in some instances, different generations of mixed-race descendants were known by different names ― as in the slave-owning era in the United States, where the terms also denoted the shade of skin color. In the United States, the first-generation offspring of a black person and a white person was called a mulatto; in India and Malaysia, mixed-blood children of natives and white Europeans are known as Eurasians.
Countries in Central and South America have the highest proportion of multiracial people in their populations. In these countries, people of mixed European (especially Spanish) and Amerindian blood are called mestizo. In that part of the world, however ― as in other places that came under Spanish colonial rule, mestizos enjoy social and economic predominance over the native populations.
Multiracial Koreans and discrimination against them.
Koreans are proud of their “one nation” identity and hold to the principle of “pure-blood” families, celebrated in history textbooks, such as in this statement: “Ours is a country of one nation, which is very rare in world history and it has maintained this tradition.”
Although the nation has mixed with other nations and races, particularly through invasion by the Mongols, Japanese and others in the past, it is hard to tell apart people coming from mixed East Asian ancestry.
Awareness about multiracial Koreans started after the Korean War, in areas near American military bases, with children born to Korean women and foreign soldiers, especially from the United States.
Since the mid-1990s, foreign migrant workers from East Asia began coming to South Korea and gave rise to Kosians ― children of mixed Korean and other East Asian parents, reaching more than 30,000 today and rising fast every year. Since 2000, the number of Kosian children has skyrocketed as marriages between Korean men and East Asian women increased.
According to government data, about 36 percent of Korean men in the countryside married foreign women, especially from East Asia, last year. In an elementary school in Muju, North Jeolla province, half of the new students entering the school next year are multiracial.
The social belief that “Koreans should marry Koreans,” has apparently collapsed. Scholars foresee international marriages continuing to rise because Korea needs foreign workers due to its low birthrate, and Korean women refuse to marry farmers and live in rural areas.
It is time for the country to embrace a multinational and multicultural society.
The urgency of the need for change in national policy, social institutions and individual attitudes was underlined by a 2004 survey on multiracial Koreans by the National Human Rights Commission, which found that about 40 percent of respondents had attempted suicide, trying to end suffering from discrimination.
The biggest problem for mixed-race families is that their children are not guaranteed equality in educational opportunities. Most mixed-race children drop out of school after being teased and harassed by classmates and are caught in a vicious circle of poverty and alienation. More than 30 percent of multiracial children do not go to school.
Mixed-race Koreans are also victims of discriminatory policies. For example, until last year, mixed-race Korean males could not serve mandatory military duty because, according to the government, it would be difficult for biracial men to participate in group activities ― having been alienated; they were therefore not good at teamwork. Beginning this year, however, mixed-race Koreans can volunteer to serve in the military ― but only a few have come forward.
by Lee Tae-jong, Cho Jong-do