Black in South Korea

What do Koreans Think of Black People?

I think that a lot of black teachers who are considering coming to South Korea would like to know what it’s like being black in South Korea. I know that several years ago, when I first thought about teaching in South Korea, I decided not to come because I thought there there was a lot of racism here. I actually thought that people would spit on me in the street! That’s so not true! I’m not saying that there is no racism here, but in a way, I don’t think that it’s much different than the racism in the U.S. Except, I am not afraid of being physically hurt here, by the police or the KKK!

Racism in South Korea

For example, a couple of days ago I went to a small Mom and Pop store near my school. I was trying to find something to drink and it took me forever to decide, especially when I picked up the chocolate that I wasn’t supposed to eat. Anyway, I decided to get this aloe drink that I really like. I pulled out my bank card, and the lady at the register shook her head no. Okay, so I started digging for cash. I knew that I had cash because I had change from an earlier purchase. My purse was full of books that I had taken home to plan my lessons. So, I had to search around a bit (my purse is also huge). I did start to panic, the “Where is it?” voice started crying out. Anyway, the woman takes my drink and says “no money.” She puts it back in the fridge.

I was frustrated to say the least. I didn’t know how much English she could speak, so I used simple words. I said, “I have money. You are not nice. That is rude.” There was another customer in the store, a middle-aged woman, laughing. I didn’t know who she was laughing at, but I assumed that she was laughing at me.

I walked out of the store, and of course I found the cash in my pocket! I had to let this lady know that black people do have money and that we are not trying to get something for nothing, or dispel whatever negativity she felt about my race, if only for a few minutes. So I went back and flashed the cash and said, “I have money, but never mind.” Now the other customer was laughing harder, and I walked out. The shopkeeper’s mouth formed an “O” but she was speechless.
I’ve had a woman move when I went to sit down next to her on the subway. Things like that happen.

Some Koreans Think That Black is Beautiful

I have also had Korean people pass by me and say “beautiful,” women mostly say it and one man. Women are ALWAYS trying to touch my hair. They try to sneak touches on the subway. They are curious, because they don’t know how my dreadlocks are formed. I suspect that they think that they are braids, but I don’t know because of the language barrier. I think that I’ve had more Korean people in four months tell me that my hair is beautiful (when it has not been done at the salon) than black women in Atlanta have told me in a year. Oh, and I have had Korean people try to take pictures of me in the street. I didn’t allow that. I don’t want to end up on some stranger’s site with the caption Black Foreigner.

Some Koreans Are Kind
When I first arrived to Korea, I got lost in the subway station. I was walking around, trying to figure out how to transfer. I was trying NOT to look lost. This woman must have noticed that I was walking around in circles, and she came up to me. She didn’t speak much English, maybe none! I pointed at the subway map and showed here where I was trying to go. She took me to an information kiosk and asked the men for help in Korean. Then, she walked me to the area where I needed to go, and that entailed taking an elevator and walking kinda far. I was so grateful because I wouldn’t have found my way if she had not helped me.

Another Korean woman stooped down and tied my shoe for me in the street. I was walking down the road. She pointed at my shoelace and then began tying it for me. On the bus, a Korean woman who was sitting, held my extremely heavy backpack for me while I stood. She didn’t give up her seat for me, but I REALLY did appreciate her holding that heavy bag. She just motioned for me to hand it to her, and I wasn’t going to do it, but I was curious to see what was going to happen. She just held it in her lap until a seat freed up for me to sit down.

I think that a lot of Koreans are curious about me and the know very little about black people. They think that since I’m black, I’m from Africa. They believe the stereotypes about black people, I think. Since I am a foreigner, and I don’t speak the language, it’s hard to tell what they really think. I don’t however, feel threatened or afraid at all. It’s not like having the KKK still around in the U.S.

If you have been to South Korea or if you are in SoKo, tell me your thoughts!

14 comments on “Black in South Korea

  1. Racism approach is not appreciatable in any race whether it is white or black. what I know is that most of the Koreans are moderate in their opinions and attitudes.

  2. Wow! I so envy the work you’re doing right now. I am a Korean fanatic and I want to teach English in Korea but I am so scared(not entirely at the whole chances of racism thing, but also just moving to a new country by myself period). I’m still 16 and I’m also Black but from South Africa. I’ve told my mom I want to do this and she seems pretty okay with it. I really want to do this but I have to get over my fears.
    Your blog has totally upped my confidence so thank you

  3. I have a friend from South Africa who is teaching. I met her during our orientation. You can do this if this is your dream! Just get the training that you need, and keep an open mind. I’m happy to share my experiences here!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

  4. I think people in Korea are rather silent so verbal rascist expressions would be very rare. Their culture is more gentle and open to different kinds of people.

  5. well wow it was great to read ur experience cos i was a bit scared but it looks like ders more negatvity towards blcks dan positivity, in korea i love korea never been der but am tryna go der in this time of mi life am blck italian not mixed but full and am kinda scared to go cos of de negative stuff ppl say aba dem about their behavior towards blcks in korea

  6. Actually, I’ve had a balance of positive and things that make me think (not necessarily negative). Everyone would have a different experience. Foreigners in general (white and black) are stared at. Korean people are curious. Some Korean people are uncomfortable with foreigners. Most Koreans don’t understand how to be politically correct or they don’t understand why or how they are offensive to black people. And yeah, there are people who are offensive on purpose and don’t care. It’s not all good. It’s not all bad. It just is what it is. It’s a mix. I have unusual hair, so I get attention even when I am not feeling like being bothered.I have experienced kindness here that I have NEVER experienced from strangers in the U.S. I actually like it here, and I am planning to stay or return when I go home to visit my family.

  7. I just recently came across your blog while web searching. I commend you and the other brothers and sisters from America who took a step of FAITH to broadening your horizons.

    After reading your blog, I was touched when you shared about the kind Koreans. Actually, from my experience, women will often help other women they don’t know. No strings attached! What a wonderful God send to you. Also, may the positive experiences you encounter become a precursor to quickly dispel any projected, negative ones hereafter. May you continually see those experiences through the eyes of your God given spiritual strength to rise higher and be stronger. The power you have inside you that took you to Korea is your ever present clout that will take you further. That power is No Fear! You bring to mind Maya Angelou during her travels, so rich and profound! Continually express your joy, because it’s a refresher to your strength! Be continually blessed!

  8. I can really relate to this post as a black female that has also lived in Korea (but only for a couple of months). I encourage more and more people of color to visit, study, teach in Korea. The more people of color there are who are able to dispel stereotypes and preconceived notions, the better. I absolutely loved my stay in Korea and have visited twice more since my initial study abroad. Racism is everywhere there’s no denying that, but if being afraid of racism in other countries is hindering you from visiting other countries then… it’s really going to be difficult to travel anywhere. I didn’t let my bad experiences overshadow the great ones and I’m happy that admin hasn’t either :D

  9. Am Black and just came to Korea. I wish to teach. Can you please email me the contacts where I can apply incase I want to teach. Kind regards

  10. wow this is the funniest offensive thing I have scene in a long time. I cannot believe that a women was walking behind a man expecting him to grow a tale. If nothing else that really made me laugh. Sad, but truly hilarious. I was reading a book about the Asian attraction towards hip hop culture. You have a variety of Asians who are trying to be black and tanning their skin to extreme measure. It really is sad to see people in such an identity crisis.
    .-= Modern Rugs´s last blog ..Southwest Area Rugs – Rugs in Timeless Tradition =-.

  11. hey
    I’m heading to south Korea august 22 and I’m super excited but also nervous. I will be teaching kindergarten in a suburb of Seoul (not totally sure what the city is called) and I’m so glad that you have a blog because as an African American who has never experienced any sort of racism I was really nervous about people staring and being mean or something. I’m only 21 so this will be my first time away from my parents aside from college and I’m trying to make this as seamless ad possible!!

  12. Really awesome post. I’m an African-American woman currently living and teaching English in Daegu, South Korea. I’ve been in Korea since July. This is my first time to Asia so it is all very new for me. I had a desire to come here so I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship and got it. It has been interesting. I haven’t experienced anything very negative (thank goodness) but I try to remember that for a lot of Koreans, I am the first African American woman that they have seen and interacted with. I have dreads too, so I know what you mean about people wanting to touch your hair! lol.

  13. Hi, I just wanted to say thanks so much for sharing your experience. I attend a University that plays host to a lot of Koreans and I feel nervous to be friends with them. I know a lot of Asian woman but not men. I know only a few. But the journal you endured is inspirational and I would love if you would continue you to tell of your stay their.

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