by Robert Moorehead
The discussion of alleged racism in South Korea in The Diplomat sounded so similar to discussions of the same issue in Japan that I wanted to post a link to the article. I can’t comment on the prevalence of racism in South Korea, since I’ve never been there and have read little on the issue. However, the issue of English teachers complaining of racial discrimination is familiar to me.
Like the teachers in South Korea, in Japan I’ve had people avoid sitting next to me on the train or subway, I’ve been followed in stores, and I’ve been harassed by a train conductor who insisted that he had stopped me multiple times trying to evade paying my fare (did he think we all look alike?). English teachers have the same right to complain about mistreatment and to pursue positive social change. But these teachers also have a higher status than other foreigners who face far greater challenges. In both Japan and South Korea, foreign migrant workers toil in low-status and low-pay “3-D” (dirty, dangerous, difficult) jobs that native workers avoid. These workers are often on the margins of the society, lacking legal protections from discrimination.
So how to address both the concerns of the teachers and the foreign migrant workers? What’s behind the allegations of mistreatment, and how can we move forward?