By Bae Ji-sook
A heated debate is mounting over the term ``blood purity'' as the United Nations advised the Korean government to refrain from using the term.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a UN-affiliated organization said in a report that ``the emphasis placed on the ethnic homogeneity of Korea may represent an obstacle to the promotion of understanding tolerance and friendship among the different ethnic and national groups living on its territory.'' It also asked the government to promote banning the usage of term ``pure blood'' and ``mixed-blood.''
The report advised Korea to include in its school textbooks and educational curricula information about the history and culture of the different ethnic and national groups living within its borders as well as human rights awareness programs to promote understanding among all racial, ethnic and national groups.
The UN advice rekindled debate here. Critics said the advice lacked an understanding of the particular Korean historical and cultural background, saying the term ``blood purity'' was not discriminatory.
They said that having long suffered the invasions of other countries' and colonization in the past, the people's will to retain their national identity is strong.
``If I am unfriendly to foreigners, it's not because I dislike them, but because I am shy or not accustomed to being with them,'' Lee Ji-hye, a 26 year-old office worker said. She said blood-purity is not a judgmental term, but is used to point out differences between Korean and non-Koreans.
Some said racism and discrimination exist everywhere and singling out Korea as racist is not fair.
However, others said the word itself reveals how people view things, and inspires discrimination, causing prejudice.
``What is blood purity? Is there such as thing as pure blood? If so, is mixed blood not pure but dirty?'' Kim Susan, a researcher of the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea (NHRC), said. To the question of whether ``mixed blood'' is just a term referring to people who are born from parents with different nationalities, she asked, ``If we just take them as `human,' we will never have to label them in such a way,'' she said.
``The blood purity issue is driving many foreigners away. They say Korea is a very closed country,'' Moon Ene-hyun, the organization spokesperson, said. Foreigners dating Koreans, foreigners trying to live in the territory but are not Korean nationals, all suffer from lingering prejudice and a sense of exclusionism. ``Some said Koreans should live with Koreans, and refused (to accept) my partner,'' a 26-year-old university student who has an American boyfriend, said.
A netizen (ID Darwit) offered these thoughts: ``The idea of blood purity can exist. But it is not right. Blood purity in Western countries is often White Supremacy, and in Korea, it is also just another form of racism,'' he said.
``Blood purity becoming a hot issue means that society is finally thinking about not only `us' but also others when the country has a million foreigners living in the territory,'' Prof. Nah Gan-chae of Chonnam National University said. But he noted that the differentiation does not become discrimination. ``We all know that it was us, who have suffered the most from other countries' blood purity policies throughout our history,'' he said.