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!