Making an issue out of racism

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Making an issue out of racism


The only famous American women I knew about before I went to study in the United States were Helen Keller and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Then, I learned about Rosa Parks. An African American, she refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger, and her arrest helped propel the civil rights movement and resistance to racial segregation.

While I knew little about Rosa Parks, a middle school student passionately explained her life and the significance of her action to me. He described Parks as a symbolic figure who changed America’s modern history. I realized that even middle school students consider racial discrimination a heinous crime in the United States.

That’s why I paid special attention to a racial discrimination suit that a fired white employee filed against a Hyundai Heavy Industries subsidiary in Atlanta, Georgia. While the court didn’t accept the plaintiff’s charges, we need to take note of his claims.

The head of the subsidiary made racial jokes, and Korean employees had a cliquish culture that excluded locally hired employees. If the suit were filed by a non-white American, would the company have been able to avoid the charge? Hyundai may have benefitted from the preconception held by many in America that Caucasians are traditionally the inflictors of racial discrimination.

Koreans have only a vague sense of racism, largely because the country has long believed itself to be made up of a single ethnic group. Koreans are not generous about accepting foreigners and are insensitive to their claims of discrimination. Last year, a broadcasting station aired a segment about the dangers of Korean women dating foreign men. While foreign media called video segment discriminatory and resident foreigners protested, not many Koreans or domestic media outlets took the claims seriously. The lawsuit in Atlanta was similarly overlooked.

If Korea could remain a homogenous country forever, there would be no problem. But those days are over. Korean companies are going global, and we cannot survive without living alongside foreigners. Multicultural families are already becoming a part of our communities. Since they are Korean citizens, policies are being made to ensure their well-being.

As yet, those policies are limited to education and human rights protection. So far, we don’t have any programs aimed at teaching Koreans how to live harmoniously alongside people with different backgrounds, worldwide efforts to eradicate discrimination and why racism is a crime.

At this rate, Koreans who make racial jokes without realizing how offensive they’re being could end up in trouble in countries where even middle school students are aware of the sensitivity of the issue. Korea is already a global economic power. We need to begin educating our citizens how to become global citizens, before it’s too late.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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