Why Korea Should Embrace Multi-Culturalism

    December 11, 2007 10:30

    Anwar Kemal, the country rapporteur for Korea to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

    The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended on Aug. 17 that South Korea acknowledge it is now a multiethnic society and make laws against racial discrimination. UNCERD said unrealistic emphasis on and excessive pride in the ethnic homogeneity of Korea is no longer in the national interest. The recommendation was important news and marked a watershed in Korean society.

    The Chosun Ilbo spoke via phone and e-mail to Anwar Kemal, the expert who served as country rapporteur for South Korea. He said Korea should avoid using racially discriminatory expressions like “pure blood” and “mixed blood.” The Pakistani diplomat was appointed to the four-year term of rapporteur this year.

    - Why did UNCERD urge Korea to legislate laws against racial discrimination several times in the report?

    We recognize Korea’s efforts to eliminate racial discrimination, but more is needed. We want Korea to legislate an anti-racial discrimination law in line with the UN standard. The Korean parliament should define what racial discrimination is: that is the first thing to do to eliminate discrimination against alien workers, foreign spouses of Korean people and children from multi-ethnic families. The Korean Constitution doesn’t ban racial discrimination in detail.

    - How is South Korea doing compared to other countries?

    Korea has achieved amazing economic growth for the past 40 years. However, it has not opened itself to foreign workers sufficiently compared to developed countries like the U.S., Germany and Britain. Among developed countries, Sweden is the country that has made the most remarkable achievement in removing racial discrimination. A female immigrant from Burundi, Nyamko Sabuni, is the minister for integration and gender equality in Sweden.

    - Koreans have identified themselves with the nation for a long time. In Korea, nationalism was a means for promoting social integration and resisting foreign invasions.

    I know. But now Korea is an industrialized country. It is not a weak country facing threats from foreign forces. Also, nationalism in this day and age is not based on ethnic homogeneity. Take the example of Brazil and the U.S. They are multi-racial countries. But their people are very patriotic.

    - Why is it so important to avoid using discriminatory expressions like “pure blood” and “mixed blood”?

    Many people find them insulting and those expressions are not scientific. A DNA research leader like Korea shouldn’t use such expressions. All people’s blood is the same.

    - Is it inevitable for Korea to become a multi-racial society?

    Korea has the world’s lowest birthrate. It will see its population drastically decrease 10-20 years from now. The number of money earners will decrease, and instead the number of pension recipients and retirees will increase. Korea is already suffering from a serious shortage of manual workers. The nation’s economy will be hit hard by the lack of labor forces unless it accepts immigrant workers.

    - Which one is better, assimilating foreign workers for social integration or respecting their culture and accepting the coexistence of heterogeneous cultures?

    All foreign workers should be encouraged to learn Korean. They also need to have an orientation about Korean culture, labor ethics and etiquette. But it is unwise to keep them from preserving their own culture. It does no harm when foreign workers preserve their culture. Rather, it can help social stability.

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