I literally just wrote a post about Racism in Korea where I mentioned that I hadn’t ‘really’ felt any racism… And now… Here we are.
I want to start off by saying that I’m not implying that all Koreans are racist, nor am I trying to sway your plan negatively if you’re considering coming over here. There are bad people everywhere and honestly, you can have a bad encounter just about anywhere.
In my previous post about racism in Korea I said: “In all honesty, I’ve had a relatively good experience here in South Korea. I have read reports online and heard stories from my friends that do make me a little anxious to mission around on my own.”
My experience didn’t happen on the streets, but rather in the workplace. The kindergarten year commences at the beginning of March; I was given my new babies and I was very excited about this class. They had already been in the English program for a year and could hold a basic conversation in English. This is always a plus, as first-years know absolutely nothing and those first few months can be a struggle. Before I could start the year, the parents were notified that I would be their children’s new teacher. My school sent out a letter introducing me and of course, mentioning where I was from. Here we go…
A parent called in a complete outrage after hearing that her child would be taught by an African. There were comments such as “she knows nothing” to “her sentence structure will be completely different because she can’t speak proper English.” I work at a private school and you need to pay a large amount of coin to send your kids here. This woman has received an education and has access to the Internet. And yet… such ignorance.
This happened several weeks ago and at the time, it filled me with astonishment more than rage. I couldn’t believe that people could (incorrectly) generalize without a hint of embarrassment. Korea is definitely in my top 5 in terms of ignorance when it comes to Africa. I get asked why I am white all the time and I don’t think the majority of Koreans educate themselves on what goes on in Africa.
I had to then meet these parents and prove my whiteness. A meeting was set up to settle any concerns; I was taken out of my classroom and paraded around in front of the parents to show off my blonde hair and white skin. I had to speak my ‘broken’ English to prove I could string a sentence together. To say I was mortified is an understatement. I felt like I had a disability and had to prove I had a brain between my ears. The parents have since SLIGHTLY calmed down, but they continue to question almost everything I do and it’s made me not want to walk into my classroom.
What I have learnt from this racist experience:
Racism sucks. I am not even a person of colour and I am beyond insulted on behalf of the beautiful people of colour on this planet. Being judged purely based on my (incorrectly assumed) skin tone and birthplace is hurtful. No other word comes to mind.
There is so much work to be done. Those that think equality is a thing of the past – educate yourself outside of the bubble you are living in.
We need to educate with love even if we don’t want to. It takes a lot for me to meet the moms in the hallways and smile politely when I know they think I have half the intelligence they do. To be looked down on but then have to return the ‘favour’ by giving them decency and looking at them respectfully.
How all of this made me feel
Absolutely horrendous. I joked around with my colleagues at the time to lighten the mood, making jokes about teaching the kids African songs and laughing at the parent’s ignorance on the matter. Inside, I felt personally attacked and judged so harshly. I still feel judgement. I can’t really do anything right in that classroom and the parents probably feel like their children aren’t getting the education they should be. It’s a horrible situation that I hope improves in the future.
EDIT: It’s been over a month since I wrote the above and I can say with all honesty, my situation has improved. The mother with the pitchfork has left. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing toxic energy leave my classroom and things have returned to a somewhat normal state again. I still have moments where I feel my ability gets called into question, but there are more good days than bad.
Am I happy this happened?
Yes. Being judged so harshly before I’ve even walked into the room gave me my first proper taste of racism. It made me understand it better. To have a slight indication of being judged by the colour of my skin. I’ve had my fair share of sexist encounters (which also suck, by the way) but there is something about the idea that people of colour being so harshly judged that broke my spirit.
Can this change? Honestly, will this change?