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[Reporter’s Notebook] Time to uncover discrimination around us

This image shows a scene from “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” (ENA)
This image shows a scene from “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” (ENA)
Cable channel ENA’s hit legal drama series “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” offers a glimpse of what it might be like to work with a person who has autism spectrum disorder.

The main character is an autistic genius named Woo Young-woo (played by Park Eun-bin), who, after graduating from a top law school with honors thanks to her photographic memory, embarked on a career as an attorney at a big law firm.

The series follows the rookie lawyer as she tackles one case after another with her unusual perspective and thought processes. Slowly she is accepted by the people around her, including colleagues and clients, eventually becoming an extraordinary attorney.

The drama’s depiction of autism has been controversial. Some say that the show romanticizes the reality facing most people with autism. That is a fair point to make.

What caught my attention in the drama, however, was how it depicts Woo as a harbinger for change, making people around her realize the prejudices and discriminatory habits they didn’t know they had.

Most people, including myself, have very limited experience with people with disabilities, including autism. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2.63 million people in Korea are living with disabilities as of 2020, about 5.1 percent of the population.

People generally want equality and are against discrimination. We want a just society for all, including disabled people or other minority groups. But in reality, we don’t know how challenging everyday life is for others.

According to Kim Ji-hye, a multicultural studies professor at Gangneung-Wonju National University, the privileges that members of majority groups enjoy are so natural and comfortable that many don’t even notice they have them.

For example, people don’t regard their access to intercity buses as a privilege until they find out wheelchair users can’t ride them because the vehicles are not equipped with wheelchair-boarding systems.

Many who can get married do not consider it a privilege until faced with same-sex couples who cannot push for equal legal rights.

“The surest way to acknowledge our privilege is when that privilege is taken away; when you are no longer part of a privileged group, and you face uncomfortable situations unlike before,” Kim says in her book “Benevolent Discriminator (unofficial translation).”

Even if people become aware of inequality, we tend to lean towards the status quo.

We do not need to “feel bad” for disabled people or “feel guilty” about not doing something to help them. We need to hear them out to learn about the inequalities we don’t realize exist, whether they relate to gender, race, sexuality, ability, power or position. Decisions on how to structure a fairer society can be made later, but the first step is always the same - we must listen to marginalized groups.

According to Kim, people in marginalized groups have to work harder than those who belong to privileged groups to gain trust and express themselves.

The boundary between “us and them” exists in multiple layers according to numerous classification criteria and categories. Individuals belong to several groups at the same time, and while one group you belong to faces discrimination, another group you are part of enjoys privileges. The story you ignore can often be your story to tell.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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