Rising Concerns: Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination in South Korea

Racism in South Korea manifests through negative attitudes and views related to race or ethnicity. These sentiments have historical roots ...

People in a street in Korea - Photo Pexels

South Korea, like many nations, grapples with pressing issues related to racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. These concerns reverberate across various groups, including Southeast Asians who have made South Korea their home. A 2020 survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea sheds light on the prevalence of racism within South Korean society, revealing significant insights:

Migrant Perspectives:

    • 68.4% of migrants acknowledged the existence of racism. These individuals, hailing from diverse backgrounds, have experienced firsthand the impact of discriminatory attitudes and behaviors.
    • Their voices amplify the urgency for change and highlight the challenges faced by those navigating a new cultural landscape.

Government Officials and Teachers:

    • 89.9% of government officials and teachers also recognized the presence of racism. As influential figures within society, their acknowledgment underscores the gravity of the issue.
    • Their awareness can drive policy changes, educational initiatives, and foster a more inclusive environment.


    • These statistics reveal that racism is not an isolated phenomenon but permeates various facets of South Korean life.
    • Acknowledgement is the first step toward dismantling discriminatory structures and fostering empathy.

The survey results serve as a wake-up call for collective action. Advocates, policymakers, and citizens must collaborate to address racism head-on. Education, awareness campaigns, and legal reforms are essential tools in this endeavor.

Perceptions of Superiority

Online discussions and articles have shed light on perceptions of superiority among some South Koreans. Notably, a TikTok video sparked controversy by claiming that Koreans “love to think they’re the superior Asian race.” The ensuing reactions were divided, reflecting the complexity of this issue. Additionally, a survey conducted by The Korea Herald involving 207 foreigners in Korea revealed intriguing insights. While 30.4% of respondents felt that South Koreans exhibited favoritism toward white people, a mere 1.4% believed that white individuals faced more discrimination than any other group.

Unpacking Racism in South Korea

Racism in South Korea manifests through negative attitudes and views related to race or ethnicity. These sentiments have historical roots and have been perpetuated through discriminatory laws, practices, and even acts of violence against foreigners and immigrants. Notably, South Korea lacks an anti-discrimination law, a gap highlighted by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2015. Despite growing awareness, progress remains slow due to a “lack of public consensus.”

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South Koreans ascribe a relatively higher value to race compared to other nations. This cultural perspective may inadvertently reinforce notions of racist superiority. Scholars posit that South Korea’s strong national identity, forged over centuries, contributes to this phenomenon. The legacy of Japanese colonialism further solidified ethnocentrism and ethno-nationalism as tools for reclaiming sovereignty.

As South Korea grapples with these complexities, there is a collective call for change. Advocates emphasize the need for robust anti-discrimination legislation, education, and open dialogue. Southeast Asians, too, play a vital role in shaping perceptions by sharing their stories and fostering understanding.

In conclusion, the perception of South Koreans looking down on Southeast Asians is multifaceted, but it is within our power to challenge stereotypes, promote empathy, and build bridges across cultures.