"Wanted: ESL teacher. No experience necessary. Must be happy and
have a nice smile. Must also be female under 30 years of age with long
blond hair and big knockers. Don't bother sending resume. Just show
up wearing a mini-skirt."
"English as a Second Language Teacher wanted. 25 to 29 years old.
Must be young in appearance and enthusiastic. Must have all your
teeth. No facial hair or fat people. Send resume to..."
"Wanted: One ESL instructor. Must be young, under 25. Must be
beautiful, an Angelina Jolie look-a-like preferable. Must be white.
No black people or Filipinos."
Okay so these are fake ads. But not all of them are in the ESL world. In fact, racism and ageism abound in the TEFL business. Those who have been in this business longer than it takes to make a grilled-cheese sandwich already know that. And those who may not have been blessed by the hand of God, or good genes, also know that. If you find these silly ads at the top offensive, then you're not alone. Most of us do. Or we should. Just ask Gloria. Who's Gloria? Well, let's read her story from the January 21st 2007 edition of the Korea Times and find out.
Non-Whites Face Discrimination in English Job Market: No Rules on Race Discrimination in Schools.
By Park Chung-a
A 32 year-old American college graduate was refused a job as an English teacher in a private institute (hakwon) in Apkujong-dong, Southern Seoul, last week, allegedly for her mixed race heritage.
Her resume (minus photo) was accepted on the first round but she failed her interview. She said she was told by the interviewer, "I'm sorry but we only want to have white people. We want a native speaker that parents approve of."
It was the fifth time that she had been turned down from private language schools as well as public schools because of her skin color.
From the same article, Reporter Park writes,
Another 34 year-old black American male college graduate encountered the same embarrassment. He had more than 10 interviews for English teaching positions in language institutes and schools, only to hear that he could not be hired because he is not white.
"I was told repeatedly by recruiters that the schools would not hire black people. It's always the same story. I'm not prejudiced but.... it's the parents, it's the directors. Not only are they racist, but they lie about it and deny it, which I think is worse," he said wanting to remain anonymous.
Many hakwon recruitment notices on the Internet say that they have only white native-English teachers.
When parents and students come to hakwons for inquiry of consultations, hakwon owners deliberately seat white teachers beside their consultants at the front counters of their institutes, to show off that they have white people.
"I admit that there is a tendency to recruit only whites as teachers for our image. However, it's hard for us to make changes since it's the parents who prefer to have their children taught by white teachers. I know it's a shame but we can't help it," said the owner of an English-language institute in southern Seoul.
Now let's hear from Gloria herself, in her own words from an abridged version of a letter she wrote to the Korea Times dated January 11, 2007.
I would love to make a comment to your newspaper about a shocking experience that I had today. I got a phone call from a company that had viewed my mini resume, minus photo, on some Web site.
They had asked me to send my full resume with photo. No problem, I sent it. I then received an email from the director, or whoever she was, telling me THE COMPANY IS LOOKING FOR ONLY WHITE PEOPLE! (Bold type, hers.) What was even more degrading, is when this "person" had enough gall to tell me that Korea is a racist country and always will be, so I shouldn't take it personally and not to feel bad because the blacks have it worse here.
She closed her statement by saying, "I don't know why you came to Korea, but you should go back to America because Korea will not change, so you may continue to feel this kind of prejudice."
HELLO? WHAT? (Bold type, hers.) Although I'm not 100 percent white, (my mother is Korean and my father is German), I was born, raised, and educated all my life in America. So I was "surprised" to hear this comment. If Korea doesn't consider people with one foreign parent to be "white", nor are they "Korean", what do they consider them to be?
I actually came to Korea because I have always admired Korea and the Korean people, so I felt this was a great opportunity to come and get in touch with my "roots." But never have I been so ashamed to have Korean blood run through my veins as I was this afternoon!! Makes me feel totally sick to think that this country is trying to "westernize" itself through hip-hop, western fast foods, languages and cultures. KOREA, if you want to play with the big boys, YOU NEED TO GROW UP FIRST!!!! (Bold type and exclamation marks, hers.)
Obviously this kind of racism is not unique to Korea. All over Asia non-whites have always had trouble finding a job in a private language school and the public school system where looks tend to prevail over experience and merit. Poor and ignorant hiring practices among those in charge is only one the many problems facing the TESOL industry. Ageism is another. Japan is infamous for hiring mainly young teachers. Those over 40 years of age will have a lot of trouble finding work there. And last year when I was in Mexico, one school told me that they were only looking for teachers under 25. I wanted to ask how many of their teachers had pubic hair, but I though that that question may be too rude. It seems ironic that many Asian cultures, where older citizens were once revered for their wisdom and experience, are telling many older citizens of Western nations that their wisdom and experience is neither wanted nor needed.
An interesting social phenomenon is happening here in South Korea and I wonder if it's happening anywhere else. Two people come to mind, two people that are openly celebrated in Korean society: Hines Ward, the wide-receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who is half-Korean and half African-American, and Sandra Oh, the Emmy award winning Canadian-born actress to Korean parents. Oh currently stars in the TV series Grey's Anatomy. That the accomplishments of these sports heroes and entertainment celebrities are celebrated in a society that still views half-Koreans as little more than circus freaks seems to be a wonderful step forward. Or is it?
Is it the Korean-ness of these people that have made them the stars they are today? Or the westernization? Is it only the Korean aspects of their race that the Koreans are celebrating in relation to Hines Ward and Sandra Oh, or do they see how a certain amount of westernization may have contributed to their stardom and overall success? And what of Tiger Woods, who is half-Thai and half African-American? Same question: Do the Thais see Tiger's Thai-ness as the only contributing factor that has made him the world's greatest golfer? Or does his Americanization have something to do with it as well? These are important questions seeing that more people are travelling than ever before, and that more people are marrying and having children with those of another culture and race.
The reason that the accomplishments of Hines Ward, Sandra Oh, and, for that matter, Tiger Woods is celebrated in Korea and Thailand can be related to the very fact that they are successful. They have nothing more to prove, (at least in the minds of those who celebrate them.) They have already proven their worth regardless of what society they happen to live and work. Call it the "Hines Ward Effect."
Back to Gloria and the not-so-unique problems she and others are facing when trying to find teaching jobs in Asia. Gloria, and others like her, do have a special talent. They can teach English as a Second Language. But since half-Koreans or half-Thais or half-anyone is still viewed as barely half-human, and since these well-intended teachers haven't proven themselves, (at least in the eyes of those wishing to hire them), then they are really screwed, especially in a society that elevates sports figures and entertainers to an almost God-like status. That's certainly a huge hurdle to overcome.
Let's go back to the article from the Korea Times on January 21st, 2007.
According to the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, there are no regulations that enable authorities to punish employees of schools or hakwons for discriminating against people based on skin color in employment.
An official from the National Human Rights Commission of Korea said since this case is not a criminal lawsuit, the victims of such discrimination, or a third party who knows of such discrimination on behalf of the affected person, can file a complaint with the commission.
But who knows if a complaint of this nature will be taken seriously enough to warrant any punishment for those who discriminate against non-white English teachers. What is really shocking is the fact that in many Asian societies, this kind of racism is not even seen as a crime, but as a minor inconvenience. Something to be understood and accepted as "just the way things are over here."
Yes racism still exists in America and other Western nations. But there's a difference. Back home, racism is random and viewed primarily within the act itself. Back home we separate the racist act from the racist person; we classify the racist acts mainly for sociological and prosecutable purposes. We punish the racist person and prosecute the racist act.
Here in many parts of Asia, there is no classification of racist acts because no distinction is made between the racist act and the racist person. Therefore, racism here is not seen as random acts committed by a few bad apples. Racism here is systemic. It effects and infects the entire population of a homogeneous nation. It is also seen as part of their history and thus, in their blood. Since we in the West are not as intimately tied to our history as an Asian nation that considers itself to be homogeneous or "pure blooded", systemic racism will continue to be a huge obstacle to overcome for those foreigners living and working in this part of the world.
At the risk of putting a theological spin on this, Christianity tells us to hate the sin, love the sinner. Here we are told to accept the sin, understand the sinner. Remember what Gloria was told by a representative of the school about Korea being a racist country and that it will never change? And this was a Korean talking. So as a foreigner, who am I to disagree?
In the end, this part of the world may change. Very slowly and gradually, it is changing. Not because it wants to, but because it has to. If countries in this part of the world want to remain competitive, it will have to become more accommodating to other races and people.
Racism on any level can never be entirely stamped out. What people in this part of the world must do is begin to separate the racist act from the racist person if only for legal and prosecutable purposes. Perhaps the best that we can do is to help Asian nations move from systemic racism to systematic, or random acts of racism so that, once and for all, we can understand what causes racism and where it comes from. Only then can teachers like Gloria get the justice they deserve.