August 21, 2007 07:10
"The Korean word 'minjok' (race) doesn't include ethnic minorities such as white or black people who were born in Korea and have lived all their lives in Korean culture. Korean people indulge in black-or-white thinking. The idea that if you're not of 'our minjok' then you're a foreigner is racial discrimination," said a U.S. soldier in a Korean speech contest last month. "As long as Korea is an advanced nation, you can't excuse racial discrimination by blaming it on the ignorance of a few people."
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in March interviewed immigrants who had married Koreans and settled down in Korea. The survey found that these people resent expressions like "mixed blood," "Kosian" (a child born to a Korean and another Asian), and "half-Korean." A Philippines-born woman said, "My child speaks Korean fluently, so he's not half Korean but full Korean." A Japanese woman said, "The term 'mixed blood,' a derogatory expression that disparages and discriminates against children of international marriages, is already a dead term in Japan." Some 11.5 percent of children from such marriages said it was hard for them to go to school because they faced ostracism from their classmates.
One in eight marriages in Korea last year was international. There are some 720,000 foreign residents in the country, accounting for 1.5 percent of our entire population and up by 35 percent from last year. Of those, most were foreign workers (36 percent), followed by married immigrants (12 percent) and naturalized Koreans (7.5 percent). Foreign residents will likely exceed 9 percent of the population by 2050. Our society will soon turn into a multicultural one with one non-ethnic Korean for every 10 citizens.
A nationwide attitude survey was conducted in April. Asked what it means to be Korean, respondents said that simply believing oneself to be Korean is more important than nationality or blood. They said they could be on intimate terms with Southeast Asians as close neighbors (40 percent) or close friends (36 percent). This suggested that most people are fairly open-minded. But only seven percent said they would accept a foreigner as a spouse, and a mere three percent said they would accept a foreigner marrying their child. In reality, most Koreans are still narrow-minded.
Last weekend, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination urged Korea to end racial discrimination. "There was a genuine fear that overemphasis on and excessive pride in the ethnic homogeneity of the Republic of Korea might be an obstacle to the realization of equal treatment and respect for foreigners and people belonging to different races and cultures," UNCERD said in a report. The common concepts of "pure bloodedness" and "impure" blood came "very close to ideas of racial superiority." Ethnic homogeneity for many years gave us a strong identity which helped us to defend ourselves against outside forces. But this idea no longer holds water. Korea has achieved great prosperity in the global market and now must face up to its responsibilities as a member of the global community. Our eyes should be open not to the color of people's skin, but to their minds and hearts.
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