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 here...it'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.

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