Mon, Jul 17, 2017 - Page 8 News List

South Korea’s first black model faces widespread racism

The nation has for years projected itself as modern, sophisticated and tech-savvy, whose pop culture has made waves across Asia. But behind the facade of an economic and cultural powerhouse lies a deeply-rooted racism

By Jung Ha-Won  /  AFP, SEOUL

Neighboring Japan has a similarly homogeneous population, Cho said, but a longer history of immigration and already has a number of biracial star fashion models. Even so, when half-black Ariana Miyamoto was picked as Miss Universe Japan in 2015 she faced open accusations of not being sufficiently Japanese to represent the country, in a stark demonstration of the limits of acceptance.


South Koreans have until recently been taught at school to take pride in the country’s “single ethnicity,” with one race and language enduring for centuries. A history of repeated invasions by powerful neighbors China and Japan has amplified the sense of victimhood and rampant ethnic nationalism, many analysts say.

In addition, according to Choi Hang-sub, sociology professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, Korea’s ultra-competitive culture “worships those with money and power and despises those without.”

“The rule also applies to foreigners,” he told AFP. “So white people from advanced nations are welcomed with open arms, and those perceived to have hailed from less developed nations are relentlessly looked down upon.” The South has a growing number of foreign or multiracial figures on TV and other public sphere — but almost all of them are Caucasians, whose looks are favored by many South Koreans as “beautiful.”

Commentators on social media, though, have warmed to Han. “He has such good aura around him,” said one. “I hope that our society will become more open to people like him.”

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