Opening up to the worldA local court slapped a criminal penalty of 1 million won ($860) on a 31-year-old man, surnamed Park, for racially focused remarks against an Indian professor during a bus ride.
It marks the first-ever racial offense case in this largely ethnically homogenous society.
The finding sets the legal grounds for defining the act of humiliating and shunning foreigners based on their religion or race.
Until now, Korean nationals were never convicted or even aware of the crime of racial discrimination, and the sentence doled out to Park sends a strong message throughout society against deep-rooted prejudice and hostility against different races.
The 28-year-old victim, Bonojit Hussain, a research professor at SungKongHoe University, said he has had to put up with humiliation and hostilities throughout his life in Korea. People moved away or chose not to sit next to him in crowded subway trains, he claimed. One time when he fell asleep on a bus, Hussain said the driver woke him by kicking his thigh.
A Korean female who accompanied Hussain during the bus ride when he was mocked told The New York Times that her family members scolded her for befriending Hussain and interrogated her about the nature of their relationship but were pleased when her cousin married a German man recently.
Our society’s double-standard against different races is shameful. According to a recent survey by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, more than 70 percent of foreigners from the Western Hemisphere found Koreans friendly, while just 40 percent of Asians felt that way.
To many Koreans, Asian foreigners are associated with migrant workers engaged in cheap labor or women from poor Asian countries married to Korean men in rural areas. For those reasons, Koreans often treat them differently.
A society based on reason should not discriminate against others just because they come from less-wealthy countries. Moreover, the discriminated foreign population offers valuable contributions to our economy.
Korean society is rapidly turning multicultural and diverse. Some predict one out of 10 Korean nationals will soon be non-native. The government not long ago announced a pro-immigration policy. We must first, however, overcome our partiality to “pure blood.”
Failure to do will exacerbate social conflict and provide a barrier to becoming an advanced society. We must not continue to judge and look down on our neighbors and their children because their skin color is different from ours. We must not limit ourselves with the antiquated legacy of ethnic homogeneity.