Rise of the new racismBack in my high school days, I was lucky enough to be a foreign exchange student in the United States for a year. Just thinking of it would instantly give me a surge of excitement, until I arrived in the land of my dreams. The question that I have received the most during my stay was “Are you from China?” In some cases, people would say “Ni hao,” without even asking what nationality I was. Along with that, making ‘squinty eye’ faces and repeating “ching chang chong” several times would follow up almost naturally.
However, racism also prevails in Asian countries, and Korea is no exception to this. Are we any better at dealing with racism? One of the characteristics of racism in Asia is that in most cases, the arrow of discrimination is pointed toward the same ethnic group, Asians - especially those who immigrated to earn their living. Due to various reasons starting from language barriers to different skin color, the wall of racism is becoming more solid in several Asian Countries.
In 2009, Bonogit Hussain, a professor from Sungkonghoe University in Korea received racial and sexist slurs during a bus ride with a Korean female colleague. After the incident, during his interview with an Indian news media, Mr. Hussain mentioned that the form of racism in Korea involves socio-economic aspects.
He quotes “For me, the two or three months as I went through the struggle, I never took the issue as being an Indian. This issue is about an economic development and a new form of racism.”
According to the demographic chart produced by the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, the total number of foreign nationals in Korea has surpassed 1,569,470 in 2014.
As of now, it is true that a large number of foreigners residing in South Korea work in production lines and factories, or 3D jobs which are the most undesired workplaces for Korean citizens. Therefore, some citizens consider foreign workers as those who take care of petty and dangerous work instead of Koreans.
Also, because workers are from less privileged countries, mainly from South East Asia, Koreans started to neglect the population even more. The U.N. special rapporteur Mutuma Ruteer believes that Koreans are hierarchizing foreign nations according to their economic status and it is one of the most serious side effects of rapid economic development.
However, petty and dangerous work includes construction, industrial product manufacturing and sometimes even technological and scientific research. In other words, fundamental areas that account for the basic infrastructure of the society. They are the “unseen workers” that sustain our own society. A society that they are not being so welcomed into.
Now is the time for us to realize what foreign workers from so called “developing countries” are doing in Korea: They are benefitting us, not only in our daily lives, but on a national scale too.
by Moon Soo-hyun, Student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies