Home > Racial Discrimination > Don’t judge me by my skin, judge me by my actions.

Don’t judge me by my skin, judge me by my actions.

Sat. July 25 2010

By Jay Oh


Mr. Bonojit Hussain. From Yonhap News by Kim Eun-jung (ejkim@yna.co.kr)

A year ago Bonojit Hussain was a research professor at Sung Kong Hoe University riding the bus with a friend when he was verbally assaulted by a Korean man who used racism and expletives without any provocation. A year has passed, and Mr. Hussain is now back in India, but within that year Mr. Hussain began a campaign to end racial abuse and intolerance with the hopes of promoting self-reflection and understanding for the Korean community.

The incident, which has been extensively covered by the media, began when a Mr. Park began to hurl racial insults at Mr. Hussain and his colleague Ms. Hahn Ji-seon. During this incident Mr. Hussain was called a “filthy Arab” and a “black bastard” amongst a slew of other racial epithets. We at the Human Rights Monitor spoke with Mr. Hussain a year after the incident to look back and reflect upon a formative and changing year.

Were there any other incidents of police discrimination that day?

Well, when I handed them my ID card, they could not believe I was a research professor. They thought because I was South Asian that I was automatically a migrant worker and so they had to verify my card for a whole hour. They failed to separate me and Ms. Hahn from Mr. Park and they did not intervene as he chased and goaded us around the station. Also, while Mr. Park was screaming at us in the station, the police did nothing to stop him. All they said was something like, “Mr. Park you look like an educated man, why do you abuse the poor foreigner.” What is worse is that the whole time Ms. Hahn was visibly upset at the poor handling of Mr. Park. When she began to cry because Mr. Park would not leave us alone, they told her to shut up. Finally when I told the police it was a case of racial discrimination the policeman in charge said, “There is no racism in Korea.”

You are the first foreigner in Korean history to ever have a case in the criminal court. How did the legal system work for you?

The prosecutor’s office was surprisingly polite, I think because at the time my case had been publicized in the media pretty heavily. I was surprised at how there was no general anti-racism bill. I had to register under a personal insult case. They even brought Mr. Park for interrogation as well, who was very apologetic, he withdrew his case against me and pleaded with me to withdraw mine as well. However I realized that this was not up to me. There are 1.1 million migrants in Korea most of whom cannot speak up and fight against racism, so I decided to continue my case and try and get Koreans to see my landmark case and reflect upon the treatment of migrants

Tell me a bit about the campaign and what changes you are hoping for Korea.

We have tried to focus on fighting discrimination through seminars and workshops. We are trying to get the issue out into the open forums and push the issue of necessary change. Some people may be saying the wrong things without even knowing it, I recall a spokesperson from the ministry of justice, as he was giving statistics, he was using words like purity of blood, mixed blood, black, and brown… this kind of language is unacceptable from state agencies. I can understand Mr. Park abusing me on a bus, but the police department is a prominent agency of the state. If a state institution discriminates and is racially biased, that is a serious problem.  That means the state itself is unaware of racism on an institutional basis in Korea.

There are detractors online who say that your campaign is a violation of freedom of speech and expression. What are your thoughts on that?

I think there is a very thin line between freedom of speech and hate speech. We have to recognize that freedom of speech cannot mean that you are free to say abusive things to anyone. Many people use censorship and freedom of expression too conveniently to meet their own goals. There has to be a mechanism of stopping these groups from propagating hate on the basis of identity. You’re free to give your opinion as an individual, and then there may be debate. But if somebody in the subway just gets up and starts screaming hate speech at someone, I don’t think that’s freedom of speech. To me that man has gone beyond freedom of speech and violated my rights of being a human being. That man would have violated my human dignity. So that cannot be defended in the name of freedom of speech.

What are your final hopes for the campaign and for Korea?

Well the anti-racism bill is a start, but it’s only the beginning. We have thousands of laws which make no difference. A law in itself must give birth to critical self reflection, debate and discussion within the society. Specifically to Korea I feel there has to be more of an opening up to the East.  Most Koreans I’ve interacted during my three years have exposure to the world, but only to the west. They have no idea about many things in India, Indonesia or Thailand, despite many migrant workers coming from those countries. To an average person in Korea, the image of India was of the views ascribed by the British in the 1920s! Korea as a society needs to learn. An ordinary Korean knows what album is being released in the U.S but they are myopic to the rest of the world. This is something else the campaign is working upon, to broaden the horizons of Korean society.

Bonojit Hussain is formerly a Research Professor at SungKongHoe University, Seoul. He was also concurrently programme officer at the Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives. He has been a political activist in India for over a decade where he has been involved in progressive students’ movement and social movements working on developmental and environmental issues, informal sector workers’ rights, and university democratization.

Categories: Racial Discrimination
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