Monday, October 17, 2011

Korean gets turned away at sauna by another Korean

By now, you have likely heard the story of Gu Su-jin, a Korean of Uzbek origin who was refused service at a sauna in Busan. If you haven't, a Korean-language link is here with an English translation here.

Note, however, that this woman is not a foreign resident, but rather a Korean citizen. The headline in the Korean-language article is a quote from the owner of the sauna who perceived her as not being Korean, but she is a citizen. This is not a case of a foreign resident being treated badly, this is a case of one Korean treating another Korean badly.

The lazy conclusion to reach from this would be that Koreans are all a bunch of racist bastards who are so stupid as to think that you can get HIV from being in the water with somebody who has it. As an aside, before you catch aspersions on the intelligence of an entire country of people, make sure that you don't live in a country whose people have trouble finding it on a map or where a substantial minority doesn't subscribe to some other ludicrous belief.

This is one single incident pointing to an issue which is more significant than the discussions I've seen so far on English-language blogs. In ten years, about twenty to thirty percent of all children born in this country will be of a mixed-race background. As it stands, about fifteen percent of all marriages in this country are between a Korean and a non-Korean. It's very much possible that the Korea of 2040 or 2050, when the children of 2020 come to age, will be one where a substantial minority of the population is mixed-race.

This is an issue which I have discussed here and here previously. How this issue will be resolved, one way or the other, is of the utmost importance. You might say that the government has been caught flat-footed on this issue, though I don't know if it's the case.

Right now, it seems that multicultural families (다문화 가정) and "marriage immigrants" (결혼 이민자) are all the rage right now as the target of charitable endeavours. Along with this, many have used other well-publicized incidents of racism in Korea to call for a law against racism in this country as none exists. Put another way, you're well within your rights to refuse service to someone because of the colour of their skin and to even tell them that. Note that this goes both ways, so a business can be set up for non-Koreans exclusively, to the extent that it's a viable market.

However, as my friend Rob has noted, what this country needs are not so much laws as much as it needs people to start following existing laws. All the laws in the world, it's worth noting, are no substitute for widespread racial tolerance. A law against racism would go a long way, but that would do all the good of making it legal for women to smoke: just because it's legal doesn't mean that it doesn't carry a social stigma which negates the legality.

In the grand scheme of things, saunas are not that important. Gu, the woman refused entrance to the sauna, decided to make a stand here because she has a 7-year-old son. How will that boy do when he goes to school? Is he going to graduate from high school? Will he go to university? Will he be able to find work? The educational and employment outcomes of mixed-race Koreans are utterly, shockingly dismal. If twenty percent of Korean adults in 2045 are going to be mixed-race, they better be educated and able to find employment. If not, the consequences will be devastating.

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