If Australia is racist, is Korea too?

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If Australia is racist, is Korea too?

Violence against an innocent person is unacceptable in any situation regardless of the race, gender, age or beliefs of the people involved. In Korea, editorials in several English-language newspapers are taking Australia to task for allegedly racially motivated assaults against Koreans. This raises three important questions.

First, is Australia a racist country? There are about 5.3 million first-generation Australians who were born overseas - roughly 27 percent of the total population. One in five is second-generation with at least one foreign-born parent. So only 53 percent of Australians are third-generation Australians with both parents born in Australia. Among Australia’s 22.6 million people, only 10.3 million have Australian-born parents. Since World War II, Australia has welcomed immigrants from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Along with the United States and Canada, Australia is a multicultural success story where people of all races and creeds have found a home and opportunities to prosper.

The structure of Australia’s population is living proof of the Australian spirit and hospitality. This diversity does create tensions. Examples include migrants from Somalia, Christians and Muslims from the Middle East, Croats and Serbs, Vietnamese and other Indochinese clans, and the Irish. These migrants fight among themselves and relive old hatreds, usually until their communities become third-generation Australians. The point is that intercommunal violence involves people from all backgrounds not some mythical “white” Australian picking on some defenseless “Asian.” Broadly speaking, racism in Australia arises from its dynamic and diverse population and intercommunal nastiness reflects this.

Second, are Koreans in Australia being targeted for racial violence? About 150,000 Australian people have Korean ancestors, including more than 52,000 born in the Republic of Korea. Australia does not publish crime statistics based on racial profiles; however, Korean newspapers report that four Koreans have been assaulted in Australia this year and imply that these attacks may be racially motivated. It is difficult to justify “racial motivations” when there is no information about the perpetrators except the allegation they where “white.”

Does this mean white Anglo, white Celtic, white Scandinavian, white Franco, white German, white Middle Eastern, white Canadian or white Greek? There are many shades of white in Australia. Also, the details are limited about the specific incidents. But we can look at one more closely. This is the claim of an unidentified 33-year-old Korean male “Mr. K” who says that he was attacked by “white teenagers” and blacked out during the attack. When he woke up, his little finger had been severed, he alleges.

Although the arrest of a 14-year-old boy has been reported the mysterious “Mr. K” is unhappy because the police allegedly told him he was in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” In Australia, shockingly, there are wrong places and wrong times to be in them. Near the technical college that “Mr. K” attends is a notorious homosexual pickup area in a local park. Could “Mr. K” and his friend have been in that park when it was being frequented by homosexuals of all ages looking for sexual encounters with strangers?

Could he have been involved in an encounter with some young teenage boys which involved payment for sex? Could he have misunderstood these circumstances, resulting in his alleged assault by one or more 14-year-old boys? His little finger being attacked does sound like some revenge with sexual overtones. This may be why the police allegedly commented on his bad luck. Whether this mysterious Korean is a homosexual or a pedophile or both is beside the point. The point is that each assault on a Korean national in Australia has its own unique circumstances and claiming “racism” is disrespectful to genuine victims and to hardworking police.

Third, can Korea justify its lecturing of other countries about racism? Let me be as blunt as an Australian can be: Korea is a racist country for non-Koreans who are not Caucasian in appearance. For instance, people from Southeast Asian countries are subjected to sneers and disrespectful treatment to their faces and behind their backs. The same treatment is given to people with dark skin. Japanese and Chinese are scorned except when they are spending money. Koreans on both sides of the DMZ are proud of their racial purity, which is the defining characteristic of the two nations: one blood.

Korea has a relatively tiny number of non-Korean residents and little experience in handling the dynamics and tensions of large-scale migration. Non-Koreans share with each other the racism they experience at the hands of Koreans on a day-to-day basis. This happens to foreign workers, foreign spouses and international students. It is endemic in Korea, which explains why many non-Koreans leave. The annual witch hunts against non-Korean English language teachers, the deeply insulting AIDS tests for foreigners and the language test for permanent residency are just three examples of structural xenophobia in Korea.

Koreans are notorious for their two-faced behavior toward non-Koreans in business, education and personal friendships. There is frequent violence against non-Koreans, particularly foreign spouses from non-Western countries; also, there are violent attacks on lone foreigners and there is physical bullying of “mixed-blood” children in schools. The list goes on. Korea has deep problems with issues of race; however, some non-Koreans do find genuine business dealings, friendships and love with Koreans whom they admire for their hard work and high spirits.

Each government should speak up for its nationals who face problems overseas, as should their homeland media; however, the context and facts of difficult events need to be examined and explained fully. The great liberal democracies in Europe, North America and Oceania, on which the free world depends, are struggling with the challenges of global migration flows and Korea is not. Unthoughtful posturing and name-calling in Korea toward another country belittles Korea’s prestige in the world.

* The author is an Australian academic living and working in Korea. He can be contacted at drlawrencebendle@gmail.com.

by Lawrence J. Bendle

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