For Part 1, see here.
My earlier post discussed how I experience racism here in Korea as a person belonging to an obvious and small minority. This time I’d like to discuss how that minority is also racist. The foreign teachers here are white men and women from Canada, the US, the UK, New Zealand and South Africa. (I suspect there are also teachers from Australia here, but I haven’t met any.) Often called Native English Speaking Teachers or NEST. There are other foreigners, of course, I’ve met Russians, Sri Lankans, Thai and Chinese people. All of them are here for work, except one who is here because she married a Korean man. What I’m getting at is that although Korea is an extremely homogeneous society there are people here who are different. In fact, according to some sources about 1-2% of the population is a constant flux of incoming and outgoing foreigners. Most don’t stay long, but some do.
Be that as it may it’s incredibly easy for this small group to constantly revolve around each other. It’s nice to have friends, but in my experience I wonder if the foreigners are a little too willing to only get to know each other. It’s great that there is a community out there willing to discuss the difficulties of living in a foreign country and teaching. But sometimes I have to wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by not getting to know the locals.
And of course what happens after everyone’s had a few drinks and gotten through the small talk. Inevitably there is someone who says, “I did this today and this happened. Why do Koreans do that?” More often than not, there is at least some discussion about how horrible Korea and Koreans are based on one person’s experience with ONE person.
I find this incredibly frustrating. I know most foreigners are just trying to make sense of this place and work out who they are and where they fit in the scheme of things. But just because that one shop keeper wouldn’t sell me a head band, it doesn’t mean the woman next door won’t. (She did, money is money after all.) Sometimes it’s a person who’s an asshole, not an entire country. (Admittedly there are some systemic problems with racism.)
I suppose the point of all this is to remind myself and other foreigners that even on the days when a kid spits at you, the six year-old isn’t representative of every Korean. Korean, American, Canadian, South African, Sri Lankan, Russian and everyone else who calls this world home is human and some times people are complicated. I would like to think that every time a Korean person does something strange, different or weird I don’t automatically think, “All Koreans are like that.”
For more on anti-American Americans read here.