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South Korea: Skin discrimination [Opinion piece]

I love South Korea. I really do.

Just like my unlimited ‘golden’ list of foreign countries and cultures that I have grown to like and appreciate over the years, it is very well seated in my ‘Places to go’ list. Though South Korea I admit may hold a more important place in my heart.

It’s something about the culture, the language, and its different customs that I find fascinating-in a good way. In fact, so does an increasing number of people outside of South Korea and Asia, who feels the exact same way.

However, despite the smily eyes and the gentle approach I use to gaze at the things that I value and appreciate, i’m not oblivious to the events that happens around me. Call it my journalism instinct or logical sense, if there’s something that does not seem right with me, my reasoning sense is forced to take the lead by addressing whatever issue there is.

Earlier this week, i stumbled upon an article on the ‘Allkpop’ website, which stated that a man who lives in South Korea has been denied a teaching job – due to him being black.  The man, named Sean Jones, despite his qualifications, the experiences he has had in the field, and his understanding of Korean, has been denied a job because of his skin colour.

This comes after news, earlier this month, that an Irish woman was also denied a teaching position in South Korea because of her Irish background. As she uploaded a photo online, of the text she has received from the agency, it states, “I’m sorry to inform you that my client does not hire Irish people due to the alcoholism nature of your kind. Best of luck in the future.” She was placed in the far back because of a stereotype sometimes associated with Ireland and its seemingly ‘heavy’ drinking culture. Is this normal?


In Sean Jones’ situation, he also uploaded a picture online of the text he has received from one of the people recruiting: Hey Sean. Sorry they just told me they actually want a white teacher. Sean jones surprised, i believe, replied “Really? Can they do that?” Maybe he was as shocked as I was, reading this story.


A stereotype or general assumption, should never be used as a base when it comes to deciding on whether a candidate is suitable for a position, or not, especially from a company who deemed itself professional.

As a traveller myself, how sad would it be for foreigners if their qualifications, working experiences or even linguistic skills were overlooked on their CV, as the ‘Ethnicity:’ part becomes the only, and most important factor for recruiters.

Though these sorts of situations happens, why should this sort of headline here be overlooked, and feature in merely 1 or 2 news sites?  Or even worse, be considered ‘funny’ for some?

But perhaps what also bugs me is that I know that this sort of discrimination- or form of racism, is not something faced by all foreigners living in South Korea. It is not a sort of ‘malediction’ that awaits every single person who decides to visit or make a living in Korea.

If you’re often on the Youtube platform as I’am, you would find a number of videos of people that have moved to South Korea, sharing their amazingly positive experiences, on their move to the Asian country, which sometimes results as a stress-reliever in the hearts of those planning to visit, or live there too.

On South Korean television, especially variety shows which Korea is known for producing well across various channels, if you’re a regular viewer (or not) of their variety programs such as ‘Happy together’ , ‘Running Man’ and others, you will not fail to notice the number of ‘specials’ featuring foreigners instead of the usual, well-brushed Korean celebrities gracing the seats.


On an episode of ‘Happy together’ for example, a man originally from France, and Sam Otswiri, a Ghanaian who has settled in Korea were among the 4 foreign guests, living in Korea, as they shared jokes and anecdotes along with the hosts, on their lives and different topics while portraying their impeccable Korean skills.

But is this enough? Can this appearance make up for those who were refused seats in real life because of these exact criteria?

I’ve noticed, as someone who follow the culture closely, that Koreans tend to be very direct when it comes to delivering compliments to someone,  distinctive compliments such as, example: You’re pretty’, ‘You’ve got beautiful eyes’ , ‘You’re so tall’ ‘ You’ve got a beautiful nose’ , even to the point of making the ones receiving them overwhelmed and slightly uncomfortable. In their ‘directness’ that you sometimes feel and see through their shows, you would notice some of the experts in their field not hesitate to use rhetorical questions or sarcasm towards someone in order to make a point, which in return create laughter in their variety concept.

But was this once charming blunt approach, used in the wrongest way in Sean jones and Kate’s situations when they received a more than direct answer through text as to why they were not considered for a place in their fields?

But is there another side to this story?

Upon receiving his initial text message from the recruiter as to why he was refused a place:

Hey Sean. Sorry they just told me they actually want a white teacher. Sean told ‘the Korea observer’ :”This is telling students that black people are bad and white people are good. Why should white people get all the privileges?” He added, “White privilege is not right. We all deserve an equal chance.” He continued: “Even though they are adjusting to what parents want, they are responsible for giving the students a true view of what western culture is truly like.” 

Right. I believe It is important for South Korea to consider the hundreds, thousands, of foreigners around the world who accepts Korea as a country, and what the content in these stories could do to the Spanish girl in love with Korea, or the young Black- American, fan of KPOP who one day aims to live and promote the beauty of South Korea.

Thank you for reading.

[*first 2 pictures credit: Allkpop]


















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