[Editorial] Racist slurs against foreign-born athletes reveal embarrassing truth about S. Korean society

Posted on : 2020-01-17 18:07 KST Modified on : 2020-01-17 18:07 KST
US-born South Korean basketball players Ricardo Ratliffe (left) and Brandon Brown during the 2019 KBL playoffs. (provided by the KBL)
US-born South Korean basketball players Ricardo Ratliffe (left) and Brandon Brown during the 2019 KBL playoffs. (provided by the KBL)

On Jan. 16, two black basketball players spoke up about the racism they’ve faced in South Korea. Ricardo Ratliffe, who plays for the Jeonju KCC Egis under the Korean name “Ra Gun-ah,” said he’s been told on social media that he ought to “go back” to his own country and has even been subjected to racial slurs, including the Korean equivalent of the N-word. Brandon Brown, with the Anyang KCG, said he’s heard people wish terrible things about him, such as hoping that he gets in a car accident.

It’s only too easy to imagine how painful such discriminatory and hateful language must be for these two players. But they’re hardly the only ones who have to deal with this sort of racism. It’s time that Koreans develop a more mature civic awareness, grounded in universal human rights.

Born in the US, Ratliffe joined South Korea’s professional basketball league in 2012. Since gaining dual nationality through “special naturalization” as a Korean in January 2018, he’s been the star center on the national team.

“Korea is my love. When I first came here, I received such a warm welcome. I’ll have to repay the favor by winning a medal in an international competition,” he was quoted as saying after being naturalized.

Some criticism is to be expected when fans don’t like how a game turns out. But racial slurs are unacceptable, regardless of the circumstances.

Racism is something that Koreans fall victim to while overseas. Son Heung-min, a South Korean footballer who plays in the UK, has faced racist insults from European fans on several occasions; last year, the South Korean women’s volleyball team was mocked by its opponents, who tugged at the corners of their eyes in a degrading parody of Asians. Korean-Japanese are hurt by the anti-Korean remarks of the Japanese right wing. It’s time for all Koreans to reflect on why we get so angry whenever we hear this sort of news, while doing those very things to people who find themselves in a comparable position in Korean society.

The severity of racism in Korean society is an embarrassing but undeniable fact. In all honesty, Koreans seem to be friendly to foreigners of European descent, but frosty to those of non-Caucasian heritage. In December 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination warned that racism in South Korea is serious enough that it could lead to a national crisis. Our country has already become a multicultural society, in which people from a number of countries live side by side. These racist remarks are one eye-opening example of the pain suffered by many children in multicultural families.

The athletic community needs to look closely into whether foreign-born athletes competing in various sports are suffering for similar reasons. We hope this incident will serve as an opportunity for us to reflect upon and tackle the discrimination in our society.

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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