On a recent television broadcast on the Korean TV show called Talking Street(말하는대로) on JTBC a popular foreigner named Sam Okyere, a former participant in Korea’s well-known Non-Summit( 비정상회담) show spoke openly to an audience of Koreans about his experience with discrimination in Korea as a black/dark-skinned individual.
While listening to Sam Okyere’s confession I started to reflect on personal moments I felt I was being discriminated against if not bluntly then subtly when I lived in Korea. The similarity and feelings of hurtness by being discriminated against is not only a memory for the two of us. It is a sad reality for many blacks & dark-skinned foreigners and expats who visit, study, or live in Korea.
Recognizing that there are only a few individuals out of the country’s entire population who discriminate against skin-color I wonder when will foreigners with darker-skin be viewed more openly and positively as their lighter-skin foreigner counterparts. This inner reflection thus led to my personal view of my acceptance in my Korean boyfriend’s life. As a foreigner and black/dark-skin female I know I attract more eye attention and more scrutiny than other women(i.e. Korean or lighter-skin). Dating a Korean native only elevates this more. Due to this all of my interactions and relations with Koreans during my life in Korea were cordial with low expectations of me being accepted into their personal/collectivist lives. However, my boyfriend was different.
My boyfriend saw beyond my racial background and viewed me as a woman whom he wanted to pursue a real relationship with. After one month of talking prior to dating, me and my boyfriend began a serious relationship that in my opinion was unique and rarely seen. Eventually us dating seriously brought to light more attention toward us than any regular Korean couple or skin-tone matching interracial couple would receive. Dating seriously also brought to light a few positive and negative views that our parents may or may not have about our relationship. Dating seriously additionally brought to light the importance in realizing what we truly wanted rather than desired through dating(note:*some Koreans & foreigners(male or female) in Korea date one another only for the experience rather than dating seriously).
Fast-forward 2+ years of dating and the world has not changed. The overall views of black/ dark-skinned individuals in Korea has not significantly changed. Additionally, me and my boyfriend’s relationship remains one that draws constant attention. Yet none of this matters so much to us. At least that’s what we would both like to say. Deep down it has affected:
- how we view our future lives together
- how we had planned & when we began to introduce each other to our families & friends
- our views on following with the norm or breaking away from it(*i.e. dating within our own races vs breaking invisible color/racial boundaries by dating).
Korea is my boyfriend’s home and Korea is my second home. Korea in our belief will one day welcome its growing diverse populace including black/dark-skinned individuals into its collectivist identity. It may take decades or even a new century, but I am sure it will take place. I just hope by that time black/ darker-skinned individuals are no longer viewed as different, but are a part of the group, are no more disrespected, but are cherished, and are no longer judged, but are appreciated. My boyfriend holds the same views and constantly reminds me that there are only a few individuals out of Korea’s entire population that discriminate against those who are black or possess darker-skin. As Sam Okyere stated in his interview on Talking Street, what hurt him the most were the Korean bystanders who silently watched him be discriminated against by a middle-aged Korean woman while riding the Seoul subway one day. The middle-aged Korean woman vilely told Sam to leave Korea & go back to his home country while also pointing at his friend and lambasting them about being friends with a black/ dark-skin individual. Not receiving any support or seeing any Korean bystander stand up & defend him or tell him that he was ‘welcomed in Korea‘ ultimately hurt Sam the most rather the woman’s comments. Experiencing such blatant discriminatory remarks and feeling singled-out would make any black/dark-skin individual feel hurt and alone, just as Sam had felt as he shared his experience.
Raising more awareness on the issue of discrimination and racism in Korea is certainly needed. I am glad that there are talk shows such as Talking Street that address real-life and modern-day stories such as Sam Okyere’s. Maybe there will be more black/dark-skin foreigners in Korea who like Sam may feel comfortable with addressing moments of discrimination they also have experienced. Similarly, maybe there will be some Koreans open to publicly sharing stories of speaking out against discrimination they themselves have witnessed, or some Koreans who might be proud to show open support to all skin-toned individuals(dark or light) who visit, study, or would like to live in Korea.
Discrimination can be found in all countries. Have you ever been bluntly or subtly discriminated against? If so, how did it affect your view of being accepted at that time? If not, were you ever a witness to discrimination?