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MVP Ward Visit Exposes Korean Racism
Government considers creating new policy to help multicultural families
Terence Mitchell (terence)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-04-06 15:30 (KST)   
Ward being granted Honorary Citizenship by Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak earlier in the week.
©2006 Kwon W.S.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' Hines Ward, voted the most valued player (MVP) in American football's Super Bowl last month, arrived in Seoul on a 10-day trip around the peninsula and has used the media attention to focus on the much-neglected issue of racist attitudes here toward people of mixed ethnic background.

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Born in Seoul to a U.S. soldier and his Korean wife, his family moved to the United States when he was one year old. There, his parents, like the majority of GI-Korean couples in the 1970s, divorced shortly afterwards.

At a news conference held on Tuesday, Ward maintained that growing up half-Korean in the U.S. had not been easy.

"I've overcome a lot, been teased a lot by American kids about my being half-Korean," he said. Ward is scheduled Saturday to meet and talk with biracial children about discrimination and bullying and to try and give them some encouragement for the future.

It is well publicized here that children born to non-Korean parents, particularly Filipinos and Vietnamese, experience teasing and bullying due to their different color. Koreans are educated from a young age that anyone not of Korean blood is a "foreigner," while children of mixed descent are generally referred to as "half-bloods."

"It is said that biracial people in Korea are discriminated against. I hope that I can help to change those biases," Ward said.

The MVP footballer also explained that he is presently involved in discussions that could lead to the establishment a foundation like the Pearl S. Buck International (PSBI), which could help children of mixed race.

After the news conference, Ward and Kim Young-hee, his mother, met with President Roh Moo-hyun and first lady Kwon Yang-suk at the Blue House. Referring to the level of racism in Korea toward children on mixed descent, President Roh commented, "I wonder if Mr. Ward would have had as much success if he had been raised here."

According to the PSBI, there are over 35,000 people of half-Korean descent living here, mainly owing to a recent influx of Southeast Asians who came here originally seeking work but are now married to Koreans.

In North Jeolla province alone, there are over 750 students from international marriages attending elementary or middle school. Because of problems related to racial discrimination, however, the dropout rate from middle school for children having such backgrounds is almost 18 percent, resulting in a disproportionate level of unemployment and poverty.

The controversy highlighted by Ward's visit has also led to changes in government policy, and it was reported Friday that from now on young men of mixed race born after 1986 would be allowed to join the military, though as yet there have been no applications made.

During a hearing on the issue of racial discrimination in the National Assembly held last week, Kim Chung-whan of the Grand National Party argued that more educational and financial aid was required to give such families a way out of the poverty trap.

Rep. Kim also pointed out that any bill designed to help Koreans of multicultural descent would have to include a provision "prohibiting racial discrimination against people of mixed-race'' as well as for the establishment of a special committee charged with creating new policies to help people of biracial descent and their families.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Terence Mitchell

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