Some things should be best left unsaid, some people would say. But in journalism, my belief is that it should be the other way around. The recent editorial, "Ugly foreigners," has created a lot of buzz, inadvertently opening a can of worms called, "racism." From foreigners, they feel, being lumped together, are insulted and racially discriminated against.
The editorial was about a tougher law against road rage and cited three cases involving people of different nationalities as perpetrators so it is somehow understandable that they feel they are being given a bum rap. There were a lot of online postings and emails to that effect.
On the other hand, there were Koreans and some foreigners who argue that criticism of the editorial for being racist is beside the point because the bottom line is that, Korean or foreigner, the law should be respected.
They said that some foreigners tend to link any cases of alleged discrimination with racism, a kneejerk reaction for a case that can easily be attributable to cultural differences. It is admitted that there is a stark undeniable case of black vs. white racism in the United States or ill treatment of gypsies in Europe.
But there are other less obvious cases that can depend on one's state of mind. Korean colleagues speaking their language can make a foreigner feel excluded and wonder whether he or she is being racially discriminated against.
Here are four of the emails sent to us in connection with the editorial. We want to share them with you, believing that opening up is better than closing down about this delicate issue in the age of globalization that makes national boundaries blurry and turns racial differences into just another feature that makes one person different from another. Korea is also at the crossroads of this global integration.
Of course, it is hard to deny that there is a long way to go to overcome the challenge of racial differences, when considering how a U.S. Republican presidential candidate is exploiting the differences to increase his political popularity.
Once again, the best solution to this type of fundamental challenge can be made by talking more about it rather than keeping mum. Lastly, we note that there are many times more people in the so-called silent majority on this issue. We invite them to write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are four of emails we received and they were edited to protect their privacy.
1. Foreign troublemakers
Koreans are way too lenient to foreigners. The foreigner's mentality is that they can get away with anything because the law is too lenient and they abuse drugs in South Korea. I once watched news about a fight in Itaewon where a policeman was trying to stop them but failed to do so.
When they're in South Korea, foreigners should uphold the laws of South Korea. South Korean authorities should also be strict to set an example that when they break the laws, you will be prosecuted. What makes Westerners think that Koreans are being racist when they're the ones who break the law. Historically, they're the most racist people and I've been discriminated in their nation because I was an Asian.
I fully stand by your article. As a university student, what shocked me the most was foreign professors can't speak Korean, when they've been here for more than four years. I asked my professors why they don't learn simple Korean. When they earn wages here, at least professors should learn simple Korean. And I once went to a convenience store where an owner told me that she was worried about foreign professor who drinks a lot. I've been abroad and I noticed how foreigners become law abiding citizens because laws there are stricter and people aren't nice.
E.S. Kim is a student in a college in Seoul.
2. Your ugly report
I am a Seoul citizen and have lived here for almost 20 years. I have driven in this city of yours (ours?) for at least half of this period, so I feel I am fairly eligible to comment on your report.
Your original report did group three incidents into a collective and implied, by the title, that all foreigners are ugly. As a foreigner here myself I was offended.
Furthermore, if your intention was educational, as you put it, then educate with the correct use of language. As a teacher, I have to think of how my words are received by young minds. As an editor, so must you. The choice of the adjective 'ugly' was indeed 'ugly'.
In addition, using another prejudiced article ' Ugly Koreans' does not support or justify your article in any form. It only reaffirmed most people's complaints of racism and bias. This is shameful journalism.
Editors of any major newspaper have a duty to present facts and tell stories as they are - not embellish or dramatize situations. If you wish to be educational in your reports, then educate - and leave bias, racism, slant, or slander where it belongs - in the tabloids.
Barrie Henderson comes from England and has lived and worked in Korea for almost 20 years, driven for nearly 10.
3. Ugly Koreans
How would you feel if an American newspaper publishes an article titled "Ugly Koreans." Could you justify it in any way? You are a racist person, saying racist things, and jumping at any chance to show your racism.
Do you have a teenage daughter? How would she feel, if I went up to her and called her an ugly Korean? There are so many more responsible ways you could have titled the article.What does ugly have to do with driving behavior? Racist! That's all I can call you.
I just want to say that your articles are so entertaining. I always post them to my Facebook page so my friends and family in the U.S. can understand how nationalistic and racist Korea is. Before I came to Korea, I thought it would be a progressive society, since Korea likes to promote itself as developed. However, per the tone and content of your articles, it is apparent that Korea is socially stunted. Again, great job of showing the rest of the world the worst side of Korea.