Ask a Korean! Wiki: Mixed Koreans?

Dear Korean,

As an 18 year old male of mixed Korean/British race, what is modern Korea's outlook to an "unpure" Korean?

Jonathan L.

Dear Jonathan,

The only answer that the Korean could give is: it wildly depends on the individual. In the 1950s and the following years, there definitely was a strong discrimination against mixed raced Koreans, because they were generally assumed to be the products of an American G.I. and an unchaste Korean mother. (Which, actually, was in general not too far off from the truth.) The decisive turning point happened in 2006, when Hines Ward, a biracial Korean American won the Super Bowl MVP trophy. As Koreans rushed to celebrate Ward, they also engaged in a national soul-searching about the treatment of biracial Koreans. Fast forward to 2011, and there is now a girl group with three out of five members being biracial poised to debut. The number of biracial Korean children is exploding, increasing by 92.8 percent in the last three years. Officially Korean government is encouraging multiculturalism, but individual attitudes are all over the place. If you are of mixed heritage, some Koreans might shun you. But some Koreans might find you interesting and easier to approach than 100 percent foreigners.

The Korean will give a caveat, however: race does not have THAT big of a place in Korean people's mind. A lot of foreigners (loosely defined, since people in Jonathan's situation are both Korean and foreigner) particularly Westerners, tend to overrate Korean racism. Pay close attention to the word choice here -- the opposite of "overrate" is "properly rate". As the Korean stated over and over again on this blog, racism in Koreans is real, and it is a serious issue. But at the same time, it is not as if it is the primary, or even secondary or tertiary concern in the minds of Koreans. Foreigners tend to overrate Korea's racism because they worry about it as if their race will be the sole determinant of how Koreans perceive them. They seriously send questions fearing for their safety in Korea, as if Koreans were the white slave owners of the antebellum South. Relax. There are many things that Koreans value over race. For example, regardless of race, Koreans will respect you if you went to an Ivy League school. Regardless of race, Koreans will respect you if you come from a good family, with parents engaged in respected professions. Again, racism in Korea is real, but its application is subtle -- it is not like anyone is facing a Jim Crow rule in Korea. How a non-Korean is treated in Korea depends a lot more factors than race alone.

Having said all that, the Korean will present this Wiki question for all the hapa Koreans. Do you live in Korea, or have you visited Korea recently? How was your impression of your life/stay in Korea? What kind of experiences did you have? The Korean would like to encourage a good, meaty discussion -- the Korean would love to supplement this post with well-written observations.

-EDIT 8/20/2011- To the idiots who keep claiming that the Korean is somehow trying to defend Korea's racism:

In addition to inviting a dialogue, characterizing racism in Korea as "real" and "serious," and linking to posts in which the reality and gravity of Korea's racism are discussed, the Korean bothered to put up an emailed comment that describes Korea's treatment of Amerasian people as "atrocity" and "ethnic cleansing." Yeah, that's some serious kimcheerleading right there.

Please, give only relevant comments to the post. This post is about biracial Koreans. Say something about how biracial Koreans are treated in Korea -- either your personal experience, or based on outside materials. As long as the comment is relevant, the Korean really does not care how harsh a word Korea's racism is characterized by. For once in Internet's history, let's try to have a focused, intelligent discussion.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at