Giving up on xenophobia

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Giving up on xenophobia

The statement issued by the Federation of Korean Associations in the United States to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the Los Angeles riots gives us a lot to think about. It said the Korean community partly caused the immense physical, emotional and material suffering during the spasm of looting and attacks from black and Hispanic neighbors because it kept itself closed and intolerant in a multicultural environment like America’s. “We must re-examine and check ourselves against racial arrogance and discrimination toward other ethnic groups,” the statement said.

Los Angeles, and particularly the Koreatown that is close to black and Hispanic neighborhoods, went up in flames amid murderous rioting that went on for days after a jury acquitted white LA Police Department officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King. In the wake of the African-American fury, Korean shopkeepers suffered greatly, including deadly shootings, arson and looting. Instead of mourning and blaming others for the losses, the Korean community in the statement was reflective and regretful for its insensitivity and racial selfishness, which fanned resentment during the riots. The lesson should be taken note of back in Korea, where society is becoming more multiethnic.

Thousands of nonnative Koreans now live among us because of interracial marriages, jobs or for education purposes, yet Korea’s understanding and tolerance of other ethnic groups remain far below the global standard. In a survey on acceptability of a multiethnic society by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which was conducted on 2,500 people aged 19 to 74 nationwide, only 36 percent was positive about changes that make our society more diverse in terms of race, religion and culture.

That’s less than half the average 74 percent approval rate in 18 European countries. The results of the survey suggest that many immigrants from different cultural backgrounds could be suffering from various forms of discrimination and prejudice in Korea due to their skin color or mother tongue.

Our evolution toward a multiethnic society is inevitable. We must remake our laws in various fields to support a society that accepts differences. We also should welcome foreign talents to raise our international competitiveness. We feel proud of the success stories of ethnic Koreans overseas even though they are no longer Korean citizens. We should encourage foreign residents to be successful members of our society.
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