Time to embrace diversityThe United Nations raised an issue of the term “mixed blood,” or “hon-hyeol” in Korean, which has been unwittingly used in Korean society. The report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination notes as one of its principal subjects of concern that terms such as “mixed-blood” and “pureblood” contain notions of ethnic and racial superiority prevalent in society. It was merely two years ago that we changed the name of the color we previously referred to as skin color to “peach,” despite the fact that the skin colors of humans are diverse, ranging from black to yellow to white. It clearly shows we have been blind to racial discrimination issues. The UN report should be rendered as painful advice for our society which has fallen for the myth of a homogeneous nation and closed nationalism.
It is true that Korean people have long lived as one community within a relatively united cultural sphere, and the notion of a homogeneous nation has been useful in the course of resistance against foreign oppression. Yet the number of resident foreigners in Korea amounts to one million these days, and four out of 10 men in rural areas marry foreign women. In a few years a quarter of elementary school students in rural areas will be children of international couples.
The concept of a homogeneous nation, which does not reflect reality and leads to discrimination and violence, should now be reconsidered. Social institutions should also be modified in all areas, including education, health care, language and welfare, in tandem with the multicultural age.
The same UN report advised the Korean government to implement legal procedures to punish criminal acts on the basis of racial discrimination. The government must indeed push for the speedy passage of anti-discrimination laws which are already in process. Stronger and effective measures should also be taken to prevent discrimination against immigrant workers. However, the fundamental key lies in the perception of the public.
We will not be able to shed the infamy of a racially discriminative country when employers who force Muslim employees to eat pork, get away with only a hand slap from the court.