Friday, July 13, 2007

Ethnic Bias Seen in South Korea Teacher Hiring

And here it is, racially biased hiring in English language schools in Korea, that side of ESL teaching that I don't have much negative experience with because I teach on the college and university level. Thanks for blogging it Joe, I've been so busy that I missed it.

I know it's here and Mike and I discussed it in our podcast titled Being Black in Korea.

Good for us ("us" being blacks) NPR took the topic on in this piece: Ethnic Bias Seen in South Korea Teacher Hiring.

It's only about 5 minutes long and cuts right to what the problem is: igonorance among Korean parents who have the power to pull their kids out of these schools, hagwons, should the teacher be black. Since these schools are motivated by profit they avoid hiring blacks or other minorities. White skin regardless of anything else is what's valued (and probably why I end up avoiding most foreigners's just not a diverse or very interesting crowd.)

This is the thing though. I've noticed that there are a lot more blacks coming here. Due to my blog and the podcast, I've gotten a few emails from other blacks asking questions. I know that I posted something on the most popular ESL forum in Korea and the answers I got from whites I knew just couldn't be true (as they were ALL negative and ALL completely over the top.) I took it upon myself to dig deeper. I ran net searches and found some black people and, wouldn't you know, their stories were completely different. It's due to the advice of other blacks here that I should come, that sealed my decision.

Which is why I stress in the podcast that blacks really must make an effort to speak to people who've lived it first-hand. The bias against blacks isn't just with Koreans. I think a lot of white teachers encourage it here either intentionally or out of ignorance, for various reasons. I mean let a white person tell it and Koreans have pitchforks, tar and feathers waiting for us here. There is racism in Korea, no doubt. I've touched on it and other bloggers in Korea have too, but it's not with the hate that comes with it back home.

I do think a steady stream of blacks who show up to work, do a great job, end up liked rather than hated opens the door for more of us. The fact is the demand is so high that there is no way it can all be filled with whites. Plus, I've noticed that whites sometimes have a harder time adjusting as it's usually their first time ever having to deal with racism and stereotyping directed at them. That loops back to one reason why they assume that it just MUST be harder for blacks. Instead, they don't recognize that blacks have dealt with racism their whole lives. It's not new for us. It's new for them.

When people ask me, I try to give them my perspective and point out that my situation is different and I have no first-hand experience with hagwons. Although I do have experience with an English camp that saw my resume first, extended the offer and when they saw my picture said "um, no thanks." Because I was working at big name university at the time, I thought it was more funny than problematic. I did let the lady have it because had she read my resume she would be able to tell by my extracurricular activities that I was most likely black. I was secretary of the Black Law Students Association in law school and I didn't edit it off my resume on purpose.

That points to another problem here, superficiality. The rankings of my alma maters completely blinded her to reading my resume in detail. Basically, I look great on paper. I know this works in my favor at times, especially on the college and university recruiting level, but it's still irksome in situations like this. There is really no excuse as that was right at the top along with other things like publications and honors from school. Had she just taken a minute to read it, she would have tossed it aside and not wasted my time. My habit, at the time, was to apply electronically which meant I provided a link to my photo.

I know it will anger some because I don't appear to aggressive on it (don't let my placid words here fool you), I'm an optimist and I think it's getting better because I'm seeing more people who look like me here. I also know that getting aggressive here will rarely get you the result you want. As they say, when in Rome...

Even though people over at Mike's blog tried to argue with me on the point, I'm still very much convinced that Koreans have a faster learning curve when it comes to racism. They get past it much more quickly that we give them credit for. I hope that continues.

Sphere: Related Content


  1. Racism in Korea comes from ignorance, instead of hate. It's one reason why Korean Americans are also discriminated against in the hiring game.

  2. Exactly, and igonorance can be overcome. That I see here pretty frequently. I'm seeing more ads for kyopos and know of kyopos who are starting to get hired now.

    I do think if Korea focused more on language than on superficial matters, like being white, they'd get better teachers. Plus, I've always thought having a kyopo would be the best of both worlds: someone who understands the native culture much better than a Westerner would and have the language skills and knowledge of Western culture.

    Beats me why Koreans are so slow to see that too.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Finally! Someone touched on the instigation factor. While I don't doubt that racism exists in Korea, I cannot help but feel that the white teachers somewhat encourage the negative attitudes. This is why I personally prefer to create my own experiences rather than live it secondhand through another person. I believe more blacks NEED to venture outside and see what the world beyond America is like. The experience can be both rewarding and trying.

  4. Yes, well, that "instigation" factor is what stuck out to me. Like I said, let some whites tell it and coming to Korea is like going to some areas of the south in the 1950s with a broken down car almost out of gas and no money in your pocket to get out of town before dark.

    I'm sure, however, a lot have fallen for it, but something struck me as odd in all their testimony. If it was THAT bad, then why were they here? From there I did my own research and found out blacks to tell me their experiences directly.

    You're right, blacks need to do so much more and traveling and living abroad is one of them.

  5. Good blog ExpatJane and I do agree blacks do need to travel more and not just to Korea but Ghana, Kenya and other places as well. The only true way we can change is through education. It seems Koreans have no problem embracing hip-hop culture but when it comes to blacks as a whole there seems to be a problem.

    I do agree Koreans need to stop with the white is right mentality and understand being white doesnt make you intelligent. I dont know why thats so hard for some people to understand. It is probably why whites feel so superior when they come to Korea and feel they can speak negatively about blacks.

    Unfortunately some Koreans actually believe that nonsense and therefore display their own ignorance and racism. Just my opinion. Thanks

  6. Maybe my point was lost, but the point was that we need to travel. Just travel to wherever you want to go regardless of what other people have to say about it (unless, that is, you're going somewhere inherently dangerous.) Korea definitely isn't for everyone and I'd never say it was. Explore. Go see Africa, Asia, Australia and even Antarctica, if you can find a way onto it ;-)

    Hip-hop culture is easy to embrace when you water it down to baggy clothes and clever rhymes. It's much more difficult to embrace when you actually tie it back to the culture it came from. There is this sterile and artificial divide and it's faker than fake. It's easy to take R&B, b-ball or anything like that and then strip it down and market it. That's what we have here and it's interesting to observe.

    I've blogged about my run-ins with YT on this blog. On that point, I've said more than enough. It's annoying for sure but awfully funny when they scurry away with their verbal tails tucked between their legs. I don't suffer fools for long. My B.S. meter is finely tuned.

  7. Expat Jane
    Could not agree with you more about everything you said especially about hip hop and YT.On the point about YT, they cant stand it when you check em ,it's hilarious to see their expressions! Are you familiar with any of the R&B artists like Epik High or Drunken Tiger or Insooni or Tasha from the former group Uptown. Yeah now South Korea is embracing breakdancing and calling it its own. I am like okay whatever.

  8. LOL, well, it's funny to see but I'd rather not have to go there. I never had to deal with stuff like that until I came here which makes me realize that, for the most part, I'm damn lucky to have been born in raised in California. Not that we don't have our problems, we break out in riots every few years in my hometown, but still, I guess they ARE more sophisticated 'cause I don't have to deal with the conflicts I've had here. Korea is seriously ignorant YT central. It's like they all converge here and populate the bars.

    As for the hip-hop and other stuff, if Koreans think it's their own, speaking of ignorant...well, that's beyond stupid too. I do appreciate that things can be taken and augmented. Like rock 'n roll is something that was started with black American music but it's evolved into so many divisions and types that it's its own thing now.

    I remember traveling over to Busan after I first arrived and seeing a bunch of kids breakdancing at the top of Busan Tower. I didn't feel they were "stealing". I did when I heard a certain Korean performer was claiming he created his moves on his own.

    I was in a Subway sandwich shop and I heard some old hip-hop song and the girls were wondering who it was and they limited their choices to Korean artists. I thought that was funny because it was an American hip-hop song (can't remember who). Their reply was it sounded just like this or that Korean artist. My reply was "where do you think they got it from?"

    It's the bold face lies that get me, but it ties back to culture on some level. Giving credit where credit is due, unless, of course, you stand to gain by complimenting an elder isn't something that's done here for the most part. Interesting isn't it?

    However, there are artist that do the right thing. I think Se7en has been pursuing duets with artists back home as well as Rain. I'm not sure about everyone else. I figure if you go back to the source and collaborate, I'll give you a pass.

    The others I've heard of, but I'll leave them to my students to get into ;)


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.