"South Korea, a country where until recently people were taught to take pride in their nation’s “ethnic homogeneity” and where the words “skin color” and “peach” are synonymous, is struggling to embrace a new reality. In just the past seven years, the number of foreign residents has doubled, to 1.2 million, even as the country’s population of 48.7 million is expected to drop sharply in coming decades because of its low birth rate.
For most South Koreans, globalization has largely meant increasing exports or going abroad to study. But now that it is also bringing an influx of foreigners into a society where 42 percent of respondents in a 2008 survey said they had never once spoken with a foreigner, South Koreans are learning to adjust — often uncomfortably.
In a report issued Oct. 21, Amnesty International criticized discrimination in South Korea against migrant workers, who mostly are from poor Asian countries, citing sexual abuse, racial slurs, inadequate safety training and the mandatory disclosure of H.I.V. status, a requirement not imposed on South Koreans in the same jobs. Citing local news media and rights advocates, it said that following last year’s financial downturn, “incidents of xenophobia are on the rise.”
In South Korea, a country repeatedly invaded and subjugated by its bigger neighbors, people’s racial outlooks have been colored by “pure-blood” nationalism as well as traditional patriarchal mores, said Seol Dong-hoon, a sociologist at Chonbuk National University."
With so many things that could be said, it's hard to know how to respond. It occurs to me, that yet again, people are people and for some reason we're naturally xenophobic. It also occurs to me that maybe folks in the US have something to offer. As one of the countries with one of the more racially charged histories, we've been struggling with this for years. Other thoughts: is it reasonable for folks to expect to reap certain benefits of globalization without having to face all of its effects?
What I've really been thinking about lately is the way in which we frame race issues. The NYT article frames the issue from the angle of a country combating racism. It discusses the inequities and social harassments that foreigners (and those who associate with them) must face. Certainly, it's an important topic. South Korea's government has discussed trying to implement programs that downplay the virtues of "pure-blood" nationalism.
Admittedly, South Korea's history has strongly associated diversity with subjugation and abuse, an additional hurdle, but I often wonder how often we actually focus on the inherent benefit that all folks gain from diversity instead of simply equality because it's an ethical value. Outside of educational environments, I feel like the main dialogue around race and diversity has more to do with "equalling a playing field." Basically we focus on making sure that diverse elements do not harm those outside of the mainstream, but we don't spend as much time focusing on how bigotry actually harms all involved, not just those that are "other."
I guess what I'm saying is that when we focus only on the lack of privilege that bigotry creates, it inevitably sets up a zero-sum game with the mainstream losing something (jobs, scholarships, anything really). Addressing racism means that folks have to give something up. However, when the issue is reframed as 1) yes we will be ethical human beings by treating everyone equally AND 2) look at what richer lives we will ALL lead with increased diversity, I'm wondering if it's easier to accept and support.