Xenophobia Abroad

I couldn’t point out why it bothered me so much. My second-week teaching in Korea and my province announced a mandate requiring all foreigners to get a covid test due to the rising cases. Yes, you read that right, only Foreigners have to get tested, and by rising cases, they meant forty. FORTY new infections in the two weeks after a month-long holiday when schools weren’t in session.

Its discrimination. I had mentally prepared for this because I had heard two things about Koreans before coming here. The first is that they are incredibly kind; the second is that many Koreans are xenophobic.

Xenophobia the fear of the foreign. Most Americans ‘suffer’ from this.

Like in the US, many Koreans blame the Chinese for Covid. I think Covid has made the xenophobic atmosphere here worse. Although the Korean government requires a 14-day quarantine and 3 covid tests before you can move around freely in

Korea after traveling overseas, many Koreans are still infuriated that foreigners can enter the country and bring in Covid. Koreans fear of covid was further validated by reports of foreigners escaping quarantine, so they took to the streets and protested outside of some of the quarantine facilities.

For me, it came as no surprise that my provincial government decided to participate in this mass testing of foreigners. I knew I should be upset, but I wasn’t.

I couldn’t quite figure out why. My head kept telling me it’s just a covid test, and the fear of covid is valid. While my heart was whispering, discrimination is discrimination, and it’s wrong. I am worried that my privilege of not getting tested again, since I had just entered the country, is coloring my view of the situation.

So I asked myself why it bothers me so much that so many foreigners were talking about filing complaints with the UN and not renewing their contracts over a covid test. Logically I know discrimination and racism come from fear. I knew I would feel different if this was mandatory testing for HIV or something else. I knew that this selective testing is systematic racism and could lead to worse things if left unchecked. So, why was my reaction so compliant.

The answer came to me when I was stopped by a security guard at a grocery store. He was making sure that everyone was getting their temperature taken before they enter. He stopped me well before I was at the entrance, and he had just let someone who was Korean go in without checking their temperature. At this moment, I realized that those people who were planning on not renewing their contracts next year because of this mass testing of foreigners were primarily white and had never experienced discrimination on this level.

I was judging them on their whiteness, wondering:

Did they even vote this past election?

Did they even post in solidarity when Breonna Taylor died or George Floyd or the countless others Black Americans were murdered by police?

Do they really care about discrimination and racism?

All these questions and feelings had been bubbling under the surface for me as I read their Facebook comments.

Maybe I’ll be more empathetic towards them in several months. But for now, all I can ask is;

Are they going to leave after being discriminated against and go back to their privileged lives where they are in power and turn a blind eye when discrimination happens to others?

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