Boost the Activists in Korea; Don’t Erase Them.

pro-refugee rally in Seoul

Photo credit: Moolrin

I was glad to see people in Korea acting in support of Black Lives Matter. However, the fact that they are doing something now was not enough for some people. A couple of Seoul-based foreigners questioned why Koreans are more vocal about racism in USA than they are about the racism right here at home. They specifically brought up Yemeni refugees that sought asylum in Korea in 2018, saying they never saw protests against racism and xenophobia then. Many more Seoul-based foreigners agreed with them.

I really appreciate the irony of a foreign person speaking about how Koreans are focusing more on racism overseas than racism at home while they are speaking about Korean racism instead of the racism in their home country. But all of that aside, saying that Koreans didn’t act against racism in 2018 (or at any time) simply isn’t true.

I remember the Korean activists who rushed to the airport on a weekend night because Jeju decided to deport eleven Yemeni people. They were frantically making calls to Ministry of Justice on their way to the airport to stop the deportation. This was before the story of Yemeni refugees even went to the news. When xenophobic Koreans were protesting against refugees, Koreans supportive of the refugees were rallying right beside them.

So I told them about the anti-xenophobia rallies that did happen in Korea. One person acknowledged it and thanked me, but the response of the other was, “Yes I was there actually.” So this person was not even mistaken, just straight up lying. And this is a journalist who works for one of the Hearst publications. I was dismayed but more importantly, I am concerned.

Yes, Koreans absolutely need to work harder to address discrimination right here. Xenophobia does run rampant in Korea and I am heartbroken whenever I see xenophobic rallies gain more crowd than anti-xenophobia rallies. When Jung Woo-sung, an award winning A-list actor, uses his platform to support refugees, the comment section is riddled with islamophobia and xenophobia. But if you want more fight against discrimination in Korea, you need to give more visibility to those who are already fighting. Pretending that no one is fighting against discrimination instead just shows that their intention was not to encourage more activism in Korea but to paint Koreans as racist and just be done with it.

We have fought against discrimination in Korea and we will continue to do so. We are fighting to be seen and heard. The very last thing we need is people, especially a so-called journalist with a following, deliberately burying our work.

If you want to support refugees and migrants in Korea, please consider making donations to Refugee Rights Center and Migrant World TV.

By Jihyun Kim

Jihyun Kim is the founder of The Koreanist. She is an undergraduate student at Konkuk University.

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