[Letter to the Editor] Ignorance is no excuse for racism

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Apr 15, 2019 - 17:20
  • Updated : Apr 15, 2019 - 17:20

After reading the article “Racism still haunts club scene” in the April 10 edition of The Korea Herald, I felt the need to voice my opinion.

To any progressive open-minded person, racism in whatever form is unacceptable. One difference here in South Korea is that many people are not open-minded and the country is less progressive than most foreigners would like it to be. This isn’t meant to be a slight, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful -- it’s just reality.

In Western nations, the fight against racism was brought to national attention through decades of grassroots struggle. However, with less than 4 percent of the population here not being of Korean descent and 61 percent of those non-Koreans being from China, Thailand or Vietnam, it’s very difficult to have a grassroots movement against racism.

Unfortunately for us, the only way to tackle this problem is from the top down. Laws need to be made to hold individuals and companies accountable for racist policies, and the only way to do that is to shed light on what’s really happening, which is why I commend The Korea Herald for putting this story on the front page.

As a longtime resident of Korea, I have been refused services that are offered to locals and turned down for housing and bank loans only because I’m not Korean. With no fear of legal reprisal, the reason is told to me matter-of-factly: because I’m a foreigner. One bank manager even wrote “foreigner” on a piece of paper and circled it while telling me that I met all of the standards but … I wasn’t Korean.

Imagine a person in the United States being turned down for a service that was offered on television just because of the color or his/her skin. Well, when I inquired on the phone (in Korean) about renting a Bodyfriend massage chair, something that was offered on a home shopping network, I was given the address of a showroom near me for a free trial. However, when I got there, the manager told me that not renting to foreigners is a company policy. Of course, I called the company, but they refused to speak to me since I wasn’t a previous customer -- kind of a Catch-22 situation.

These snubs don’t get me down. In fact, they motivate me to fight for change. In The Korea Herald article, professor Park Kyung-tae said that it’s not that the majority of Koreans are racist, they just don’t know any better due to a lack of experience with other cultures and races. Well, that may be true, but ignorance of what is right should not be an excuse to let the practice continue.

The lack of legal protection against racism without accountability helps perpetuate these acts of racism.

Just for additional information, as the secretary for foreign investment, I was the first foreign civil servant in Korea in Gyeonggi Province. Gov. Lim Chang-yeol wanted me on his team and pushed to have the law changed. I was the first to be hired under the new law. Seoul followed two years later and now the whole country allows foreigners to be civil servants.

From Michael J. Meyers
Freelance translator
Yongin, Gyeonggi Province