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In Session: South Korea in the Era of #Black Lives Matter and its Precursors
3: Meeting Fanon in Seoul, 2020: The Construction of "heug-in" mobilities and immobilities in South Korea
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Republic of Korea
In 2020, the foreign population living and working in South Korea reached 2.5 million, and this demographic includes a growing minority of residents identified as heug-in (Black people) who are presumed to be of African heritage. While their presence in the country has motivated discussions on race, such discussions are often subsumed and ignored within the broader topic of multiculturalism in Korea. Informed by participant-observation as an African American living in the country intermittently since 1999, I use empirical data to build upon Chen’s argument in Asia as Method that processes of decolonization can foster perpetuation of the imperialist cultural imaginary. In South Korea, this imaginary has produced a ‘culturalism’ that sustains US-centric racist practices. The racialization of heug-in is often a case of race becoming culture. It leads to their conspicuous presence and absence in specific racialized spaces in the country and works against normalizing their acceptance everywhere.
This paper illuminates new perspectives on how heug-in lives matter in normalized spaces beyond racial stereotypes in Korea. The findings suggest a two-fold path. First, more focused discussions on heug-in/Korean relations outside of discourses on ‘foreigners’ (read ‘white,’ ‘Asian,’ or ‘non-heug-in mixed’ races) can drive a Fanonian turn towards addressing anti-Black racism outright. Second, attending to heug-in needs and normalizing their representation beyond stereotyped Black spaces can disrupt racial stereotypes and create new frames challenging US-centric racial preoccupations. Both paths might help to foster a society where ethnic Koreans and Korea’s heug-in population find common ground and a mutual sense of belonging.