Facing Racism in South Korea: Ostracized as a Black Woman

Facing Racism in South Korea: Ostracized as a Black Woman

pink pangea foreign correspondentI have never felt blacker than being here in South Korea. I know foreigners here all buck upon the same problems or issues, but I think living in a very rural town has put me in a very special circumstance. This past week was my last week at school, and as I was leaving I didn’t feel emotional or sad. In fact, I literally felt like holding up my two fingers and saying “deuces.”

When I first arrived at my school, I didn’t really get a warm welcome. There was no tour of the school, no one talked to me at teacher dinners. I had to figure everything out on my own. My new co-teacher blamed my old co-teacher for being too busy with her own kids to do that stuff with me.

When I first arrived at my school, I didn’t really get a warm welcome. There was no tour of the school, no one talked to me at teacher dinners.

The only time I ever spoke is when I taught classes. I can understand that there is a language barrier, however most of them know enough English to at least have a basic conversation. At first I chucked it up to me being a foreigner, however my white and Asian counterparts didn’t have these issues. They were hanging out with their co-workers, grabbing coffees, and going to dinners together. It really made me feel sad.

I think this was a big part of why I decided against renewing my contract, because I can’t continue to work somewhere that I don’t feel welcome and where I am offending people with my presence.

Teacher dinners are a big deal here in South Korea–they happen roughly twice a month. All the teachers and staff at the school gather together to eat and drink together. There is a particular way in which you drink with people. If you want to have a shot with someone, you take your shot glass over and have that person fill it up and then you take the shot. You then give them that same shot glass and fill up the glass, and then they shoot it back. With me, that wasn’t the case. They never shared a glass with me. It was as if my germs or lips were infected.

In Korea, everything is very communal and that is how they show respect and friendship. I got the message loud and clear. I have even had someone not eat from the area that I ate from with my chopsticks. If anyone has ever been to a Korean meal – it’s all sharing and communal – you have to leave any fears of germs at the door. So for them to pick around where I ate really hurt.

No one ever shared a glass with me. It was as if my germs or lips were infected.

Another instance of my non-acceptance was an incident in the “secret tea room.” When you arrive in Korea, they tell you that when you get your first paycheck that you should buy something really nice for your principal and the teachers. So I decided to get the teachers a cake from the local bakery. I arrived at school and informed my co-teacher that I wanted to share this cake with everyone. She said, “Fine, Danielle. Come to the second floor at 10:40 in the room off the stairs.”

Of course I was given no tour so I had no way of knowing where this room was. But I found it, and I was so happy to walk in and give my cake to my co-teacher. All of the teachers were in there eating and drinking coffee when I handed my co-teacher the cake. She said, “Thank you! Goodbye!” She didn’t ask me to stay or if I wanted some of the cake I bought. Again, Koreans are generally people who share, so I was just so shocked. Since that day, only one month into my contract, I’ve called that room on the second floor the “secret tea room.” I was never invited.

With all of those incidents, I just chalked it up to them maybe just not liking me. I hoped and prayed that it had nothing to do with my race. This past week my replacement arrived. I met her at my going away dinner: she is white, blue eyed and from Ireland. What more could they ask for. In her first week, she has been given a tour of the school, she has gone on a hike with the teachers and she has been invited to the “secret tea room.”

It amazes me that in 2014, I still have to prove myself and fight harder to be accepted. I can no longer blame this on rural ignorance. It is blatant racism in South Korea, and once again white privilege has won over.

About Danielle Fraser

Danielle FraserDanielle Fraser is currently teaching English in South Korea. She is taking some time off from her regular profession to nurture her passions for traveling, photography and writing.

4 thoughts on “Facing Racism in South Korea: Ostracized as a Black Woman

  1. Avatar
    Arielle Gabriel
    February 21, 2017
    Reply

    I am looking for you elsewhere in case this does not get through…I am the author of a book called Yellow Racism, As Large As White Racism, and I just posted a reference to this page at my Pinterest, with a top title of my same name…The bit about the white teacher is just so typical, so gratuitously nasty, but this also happens with young teachers being preferred to middle aged, and males to women, in China…

    I have many social media, and my book focuses mostly on dark skin as the centre point of Asian racism, though racism to other groups as well, other Asians, and sometimes white, though darker people are the real victims.

    They are never held accountable.

  2. Avatar
    Amanda Penson
    June 12, 2016
    Reply

    Do you mind sharing the school, city or area you were teaching in?

  3. Avatar
    Diana Martinez
    December 6, 2014
    Reply

    oh sweetheart I feel so bad for you. I’m very sorry to break the news you but East and South Asians only want to associate with either white or their own ethnic group. From my experience whites and Asians sometimes like eachother professionally and in very rare cases sexually and romantically. Yes interracial relationships is still rare more so than white-Latino. Those most powerful in those racial groups respect eachother as superpowers but they know theyll still in competition for supremacy. Those people in those countries have been homogeneous for so long, its just normal to discriminate against anyone with darker skin. You can blame imperialism for that. My boyfriend is white and he prefers the company of Latinos and Blacks than ANY Asian. He hates them because of what you said and more importantly because of the human rights and animal rights issue over there. I’m a lighter skinned Latina with long straight black hair. I could pass for Asian if it werent for my large brown eyes. If I had “chinky eyes” he wouldnt go for me. You couldnt believe the racism I swear I felt by whites for being Latina or closer to Asian in appearance. AWFUL! Yes I was ostracized a lot in the workplace and was treated like the outsider. Socially not so much. I’m from CT by the way. I’m actually quite fussy with friends. I know you want to befriend other non-blacks but you have to accept the fact not everyone will like you back. If it brings you any comfort at all, sometimes I wish I was a single independent career-minded black woman. I personally think their lives are so cool compared to my mundane hiatus from school focusing on family at the moment

  4. Avatar
    Trish
    October 13, 2014
    Reply

    Danielle, you are one strong woman. As a fellow black woman, I empathise with you. I too have and currently am experiencing the same thing but in Europe. It is sad and really gets me down most of the time. I love the experience of working here but the people get me down so much that I can’t wait to leave. You are still going strong and inspire women like me to keep going and not be afraid of going to new places and experiencing new cultures.

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