Posted on May 25, 2005

Biracial People Face Discrimination in Korea

Kim Rahn, Korea Times (Seoul), May 20

In Korea, where everybody has black eyes, straight black hair and yellow skin, biracial Koreans face discrimination because of their appearance — they look different.

Moreover, they are treated differently, with indirect words and in indirect ways, people are reluctant to accept them as members of our society, only because they are biracial.

With an increasing number of Koreans marrying non-Koreans, the number of biracial people is growing. But the inhospitality and discrimination against their children have not changed with the times, and Korea is still a country where biracial people face difficulties.

There are no statistics indicating the exact number of biracial people in Korea. But a figure can be estimated from the number of people registered with the nation’s only biracial welfare agency, Pearl S. Buck International (PSBI), a foundation established by the Nobel laureate to assist children suffering racial discrimination.

According to the foundation’s registry, there are about 4,800 Amerasians — people born from Korean women and American men — mainly U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea, and 12,000 Kosians — people born from Koreans and other Asians, usually migrant workers.

The PSBI presumes the actual number of biracial people at as much as three to four times the registration figure. According to the Justice Ministry, the number of foreign spouses residing in Korea in February was 60,214.

Biracial people are more numerous now than in the past, and some of them are the object of envy for what is thought of as an exotic appearance.

“Feelings of envy toward biracial people are quite rare. And they are usually children born in nurturing families, with a father and mother where one of the parents is white. Those born from a black parent, or those living in a single parent home face many more problems, even outright hatred,” Lee Ji-young, a PSBI staff said.

The main reason for the discrimination they face is that they do not look “Korean.” Korea has long been a racially homogeneous nation.

The stereotype that many biracial people were born illegitimately aggravates the discrimination. After the 1950-53 Korean War, many biracial babies were born from prostitutes working around American military bases, and many people harbor these negative stereotypes.

“Many biracial people with poor parents have financial difficulties. They tend to stay in their hometowns, such as Tongduchon, a U.S. military base town north of Seoul,” Lee said.

Many biracial children do not attend school, or they fail to complete school, as they cannot adapt to the environment of being ostracized in the classroom and on the playground by classmates. A study showed 9.8 percent of them give up elementary school and 17.5 percent dropout during middle school.

“But if people support biracial children, they can get through school and they won’t drop out,” Lee said.

A nun volunteering at the Bethlehem childcare center for biracial children in northern Seoul said children who used to be bullied by classmates avoid people and throw up what they have eaten when they first enter the center.

She agreed with Lee’s claim, saying the children gradually open their minds and start smiling through psychological treatment and care.

“In Korea, not receiving an education invariably results in falling behind in society, resulting in continued financial difficulties in their lives,” Lee said.

As a result of a minimal education, they usually cannot get decent jobs, many of them being even unemployed. A majority of the employed biracial people work as day laborers, such as workers at construction sites.

About 44 percent of biracial people have experienced difficulties in getting jobs, 37 percent faced difficulties in dating, 29 percent have endured sexual harassment, according to research conducted last year by a civic group “Turebang,” following requests from the presidential National Human Rights Commission.

The research also showed more than 40 percent of biracial people have attempted suicide due to the discrimination and difficulties they faced. Such hardship also leads them to a life of crime.

However, no adequate support system exists for them. The government provided 20,000-30,000 won per month to biracial people derived from public donations until 1998.

“As the authorities do not have documents on biracial people, they consigned the distribution to PSBI,” Lee said.

But in 1999, the nation established a new law aimed at distributing donations in a transparent way, and the law banned the government from supporting one welfare agency for more than three years. Thus the government support has since been discontinued.

“The government should consider the characteristics of the welfare works, rather than set up regulations on support period,” Lee pointed out.

Individual support to biracial people is also lacking. “People think biracial people are able to work and get jobs if they are normal and healthy, unlike people with mental of physical challenges. So people do not donate much for biracial charities, not knowing the reality of the difficulties they face in getting jobs,” Lee said.

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