unpopular opinion continued?
As a white person applying to teach in Korea- I’ve been reading about this issue and heard from two friends of mine, one Australian of Vietnamese decent and Filipino girl who can’t get jobs in Korea. They are both excellent teachers. Unfortunately all blogs on teaching in Korea are mostly run by white people so no one has a good perspective on why this actually is. I’ve also talked to black and dark-skinned teachers and they have had a whole slew of problems directly related to their appearance. I think I had a related question at the beginning of this reply but I’ve completely forgotten it. Sorry…
note: i am a diasporic korean living in the US, so my experiences aren’t those of a korean living in korea. i can’t speak for all koreans and this is just a product of various conversations and experiences i’ve had with other diasporic koreans, my family (in both places), koreans in korea, and white people (in both places). i am not an “authentic” or “objective” source by any means, and especially not in the ways that white people often need POC to be for them to care. the parts on ethnic/racial discrimination towards minority groups in korea, though, is pretty much fact, i could give books/sources if people were curious.
your friends who are viet and pilipina probably can’t get jobs teaching english in korea because they aren’t white enough. black and dark-skinned teachers in korea probably have a shit time in korea because they aren’t white enough. all blogs on teaching in korea are probably mostly run by white people because…. they’re white, and not only have better access to teaching english in korea but also have more power in korea than other asians and people of color do.
korea is a place that has been deeply colonized by the US, even if it’s coded in the terms of “intervention,” “support,” and “partnership.” due to this, korea also has some terrifying racial logics that almost exactly mirror those of the US and other western or european countries. pilipin@ (and i believe other southeast asian) people are marginalized against and exploited because they aren’t the good, civilized, modernized kind of asian that koreans often imagine themselves to be. pilipin@ (and other asian and brown) migrants in korea are often relegated to the worst of the worst jobs, receive little or no protection from exploitation, live under the threat of deportation (ex: a number of migrant labor organizers and union leaders have been deported back to the PI to silence dissent), and so on. because they are racialized as being exploitable/expendable, their worth is incredibly devalued. how they are survielled, exploited and live under threat of deportation is parallel to how the US treats its own migrant worker population and the tactics used in the fight against “illegal immigrants.”
black and darker-skinned people are marginalized against in similar ways. i think that korean antiblackness is something that follows and reproduces white antiblackness… it can be pretty vile. i know less about its particulars in korea (more about it in korean american contexts) but i know it exists. especially towards mixed race black koreans because of associations with US soldiers and korean women sex workers post-korean war/US occupation (strong stigma of being borne of GI and prostitute).
english is the language of the colonizer, the language of those in power. english is the language of white people and white america. learning english is like a gateway towards accessing that mythical power of the colonizer, whiteness. even if a korean/an asian person/a non-asian person of color could speak and teach english JUST as well as a white person could, it’s still not as good as white people speaking it because english is seen as being the rightful property of white people. i feel like the mentality is like, oh, if an actual authentic white person can teach english to us, then why have a second-class non-white person teach it? so even bilingual koreans who probably have way more cultural competency are seen as less valuable than a monolingual white person, which… makes absolutely no sense and demonstrates some profound racism in the entire “teach english in korea!” system.
most white people who teach english would probably violently disagree with me. i recently read a piece by a native korean on how she, and many other koreans, disliked white monolingual english teachers in korea. not simply because they couldn’t speak korean, but because they demonstrated a complete lack of regard for korean culture, korean people, and korean land; as well as an unwillingness to engage respectfully. they would carry their white supremacist bullshit into korea, assuming that they could do whatever the fuck they wanted and have koreans still love them (as colonizers generally assume the colonized to be okay with being shat on constantly). this person was hella jumped on and attacked by white english teachers in korea who were unbelievably racist, hostile, defensive, rude, ignorant, and obnoxious to her.
a lot of white people don’t realize that they are not as welcome in korea as they would like to believe, and when they begin to sense this, they freak out because ~why on earth would the colonized be so ungrateful~, right? even if… in the past year alone koreans found loads of napalm buried by the US military in korean soil, have witnessed one of their most beautiful islands begin to be destructed by a US naval base, have had more korean women and girls raped by US troops, and have witnessed the undemocratic, exploitative, and destructive korea-US free trade agreement pass in closed chambers (resulting in koreans demonstrating by the thousands [ongoing]). yes, many koreans are in love with the fantasy of whiteness, but there is also anger and resentment that runs deep.
if you go to korea as a white person teaching english, you’ll probably end up having a fairly nice time… you’ll get to eat amazing street food from the pojangmachas that president lee, the beloved of american corporations, is trying to wipe out of seoul to “clean up” and modernize (aka westernize) the streets. maybe you’ll go to jeju island, a breathtakingly beautiful island that is in the process of being polluted and destroyed by the US and korean militaries. you can party in hongdae or sinchon, where some clubs have banned white military men from coming into due to rapes they perpetrated against korean women while in them. you can go out in itaewon and have a blast, where my family told me not to go to at night because that’s where the american soldiers “do bad things” (citing stories and myths of US troops mistaking korean women/girls for prostitutes and raping them — a problematic narrative that reifies the notion that sex workers can’t be raped because they’re sex workers, yet is one that is also inherently connected to the legacies of sexual violence and rapes perpetrated against korean women during and after the korean war by americans). if you’re a cis white woman, maybe you’ll be able to bond with some of the cis/straight/white men who are also teaching english in korea and make friends with them, as you may be oblivious to the ways in which many of them fetishize, exoticize, objectify, stalk, and harass korean women — whether or not you notice or care, though, your whiteness will protect you from such racialized threats, allowing for such bonds to occur.
if you don’t know any korean you might have a bit of a rough time finding your way around, but luckily there are translations for everything in english and many people will know at least a bit of english to meet your needs. if you do know korean, then koreans will be amazed and fawn over you for your “great korean!” even if it’s awful (while diasporic koreans who go back will be shit on for not having a perfect accent — and mixed race and korean adoptees will forever be given the side eye or shit talk whether or not they speak korean). if you are fluent in korean as a white person, then people might treat you with awe, wonder, and love, because it’s so great when white people think so highly of us that they want to learn our culture (it almost makes it feel like we’re equals!!! even though koreans are pressured to learn english as a requirement for being successful and white people don’t have to treat any second language like that).
like many white people teaching english in korea, you may feel free to let loose like you never did before at home with no accountability, which, i would imagine, could feel very nice. i also imagine that many white people teaching english in korea haven’t thought twice about any of these things because they have the luxury of not having to care about it or feel the repercussions. white people in korea are still given jobs and respect even when they lack common decency, knowledge of conversational korean language, humility, and respect for others; even when they may be much less qualified to do things like teach english than others. it’s no wonder that there is a general sense that a white person can party hard!!! and escape from the shitty US job market while actually offering very few qualifications or strong teaching abilities — because they can.
anyway, hope this can give you more insight on some of the things you brought up — and this is written generally at obnoxious, ignorant, and racist white people who teach english in korea (not you specifically as an attack). wrote this in a rush so my bad if this is written confusingly.