|Picture by Gwydion M. Williams (flickr.com)|
The thing is that hardly any country in the West, especially my country of birth puts a sign up like in the picture to the right saying that we don't like people coming into our country. Not many people want to confess to having such an opinion, but many have it. Even if they don't consciously have it, it is my experience that a large number of people show it or are at least are uncomfortable with people from other countries - even people born in their own country but of a different race - without being aware of it and aren't honest with themselves about it. In fact, the whole discussion (or lack of one) about multi-culturalism in Western countries seems mired in dishonesty.
As I have written before, I can remember a time - just before I lived in England for a year with my wife - that I naively assured my wife that we wouldn't have so many issues with prejudice because England is so multi-cultural and used to all this stuff and she would just blend right in. Having had time to reflect on that year, however, and having a similar picture painted of Australia while my wife is staying there studying at the moment, the experience of comments on my blog, and the Western media generally, I have come to the conclusion that racial prejudice and discrimination is just as bad as in Korea, just in different less obvious and up-front ways.
I think there are some important areas where Western culture (let's focus on the country I know, the UK) trumps Korea in terms of treating people. To me it seems a fair amount of prejudice is enshrined in law in Korea and a level of distrust of non-Koreans is promulgated in the media, which it is not happening in the UK and the West generally. I also think that, while it is difficult to be accepted for who you are everywhere, there is a greater possibility of it happening in the West. I am not optimistic, for example, that my in-laws or work colleagues will ever want to really know my opinions and accept them, I will have to follow the Korean way to be truly respected. As much as they are mostly lovely people, it is extremely difficult to be myself with the vast majority of the Koreans I know. It is difficult in the West too, but one can have a greater success in the end.
However, there are ways in which many Western countries are worse, and the frustrating thing about it is that no-one considers themselves to be prejudiced and many think we have evolved beyond it. All the talk of equality hides a secret prejudice that I'm afraid, in my experience, most people had when I was with my wife in the UK.
There are, of course the fairly obvious racists and bigots among us, characterised by the BNP and the EDL in my fair country (apparently the UK has the claim to fame of housing the greatest number of organised fascist movements). But then there are those that think they treat all races and cultures fairly and equally, but fundamentally don't.
|Picture by Matt Neale (Flickr.com)|
It was always so interesting to me how people treated my wife in England (again I have posted about this before but it is worth re-airing). Almost everyone, including my friends, were kind of stunned and had strange expressions on their face when I first introduced her. Most of my friends (because they are a pretty fantastic bunch) got over this quite quickly and treated her like any other human being after a short while, but many others never were able to do this.
My wife really wanted to make English friends, but in one year in England it never really happened, the friends she did make were fellow immigrants to the country, which included Filipinos, Polish, and Hungarians. I liked her friends, they were genuine in a way very few of the English people around her weren't, and this meant that sometimes my wife argued with them, was annoyed with them and they got upset with her too, but they made-up in the end, like friends usually do.
Her English aquaintances were markedly different. Interactions with them were characterised by an inability to be straight with her; they would shower her with praise, say they would go out and never get back to her or actually do it. Clearly they acted as her protectors; she was perceived as vulnerable, weak, and (I dare to say) even stupid. I never liked the patronising way so many people were with her and I never understood it. It all felt so fake.
In multi-cultural Britain I could see, first-hand, that cultures and races generally did not mix. The vast majority of British people did not seem to have much inetrest in hanging around with people from another country unless they were thought of as from an equal - predominantly White - country. I had some experience of people coming from the US, Australia, or even the richer nations of Europe and I never experienced the same patronising manner with them.
Based on my experience, and in my opinion, the "uncool" foreigners were usually ready to be friends, but us Brits normally did not want much to do with them. It hasn't even been two months in Australia for my wife, but it seems as though the same pattern is occurring there too. The world of the foreigner appears to be completely separate to that of the natives. Us westerners seem to talk a good game when it comes to integration, anti-discrimination, and treating others fairly and equally, and although at least our laws dictate we do, the reality is that we rarely put it into practice and especially in our personal lives.
Rules and Regulations
But there is another story too, and this is the enforcement of laws and the confusion of rules and regulations that often serve as a convenient excuse to discriminate or at least make life difficult for foreign immigrants. We promise them a land where they will be treated equally under the law and a place where they will receive the same rights at work and in public as everybody else, but the situation is much cloudier than it appears.
The most damning indictment of equal rights under the law is argued in this post by Nick Cohen in the spectator, from which I take the following quotes:
"Women, gays, secularists, liberals and socialists from ethnic minorities ought to be able to turn to British liberals and leftists for support against the patriarchal men, who seek to control them. Rather than fraternal greetings, they find indifference and hostility. The mainstream of liberal-left opinion in the universities, media, civil service, and Labour and Liberal Democrat parties has convinced itself that it is culturally imperialist to demand that members of minorities should enjoy the same freedoms as the rest of us."
"This is why there has not been one prosecution for female genital mutilation [in the UK]. This is why, when [a] 15-year-old white schoolgirl runs off to France with a teacher, the story leads the news, but when the parents of a Pakistani girl pull their daughter from class and force her to marry an old man —that is, when they organise her abduction and rape— liberal society stays silent. I should not need to add that multiculturalists who deny rights to people on the grounds of their ethnicity are every bit as racist as the white supremacists they profess to oppose."Basically, the rights of the truly vulnerable are ignored because we must be nice to ethnic and cultural minorities. This is the odd treatment of my wife blown-up to a larger scale to the point that it really is an injustice of huge proportions and not just an annoying and upsetting foible about British culture. If we really were for this equality game, if we really didn't discriminate, we would treat everyone the same under the law, but this does not happen. This all begins with the inability to treat people of different culture and often of different race in the same manner we would treat anyone else. They are weak, they need our protection, so we can't say anything they might not like because we are not racists. Hypocrisy defined.
These issues are not only present in major parts of the law and justice system, they also make their way into policies of employers. They have to meet their quotas for hiring people of different cultural backgrounds, for example, just like the South African cricket team used to have to pick at least a couple of Black players in their starting eleven. Again, this is not equal treatment. This positive discrimination causes resentment among the masses and is patronising to individuals in minorities who may want to get where they want to go on merit alone.
Personal Experience with Onerous Rules and Regulations that Effect People from Overseas
This starts with the small matter of the change in marriage visa regulations, which means I cannot live in England with my wife right now, part of the reason we are planning a move to Australia. It seems as though now the UK only accept people with money. At least I had not been living in the UK with children because that would have meant deportation for my wife, with children apparently only really needing one parent to look after them according to UK immigration law. While I lived in the UK with my wife, we didn't earn anywhere near the amount required now, but we were not allowed to claim a penny off the state anyway. She was not a burden on the tax paying public at all.
Before I even moved back to England for a year with my wife in 2010, we immediately encountered overly-complicated regulations with the the delivery of some of my wife's clothes from Korea. The post office in the UK refused to deliver them unless my mother (we sent them to my mother to be there for when we arrived) paid about 250 pounds to customs because they assumed the contents were all new goods we bought abroad. Of course they were just my wife's clothes, but they refused to open the boxes and check and said they would have to send it all back to Korea if we didn't pay and we had to claim the money back when we got to England. Claiming the money back was one long and difficult process, as you might expect, but I began to be suspicious when I read the documents we had to fill in. As an Englishman of generally good language ability and vocabulary in English, I could not really understand them. The way they were written was crazy, it read like something produced from the post-modernism generator with too many overly obscure and long words thrown into the mix. When you consider who is most likely to have personal stuff sent from another country into the UK, there was no way non-native speakers could successfully fill out these forms to get their money back, perhaps this was the plan all along.
Even when businesses serve customers, there can be some strange regulations that make their way through the equality laws. To demonstrate this, a little anecdote from the UK involving my wife; one night my wife (23 at the time) decided to pop-out to our local Coop mini-market for a bottle of wine. The legal age for drinking in the UK is 18, but my wife realised that people often thought she looked young (there was also a drive to ask anyone who looked under 28 at the time to avoid mistakes) so she brought her passport with her. She was refused the ability to buy the wine because her passport was not an EU passport, and it was company policy that they would only accept EU identity documents. A little miffed, she came back and told me to help her buy the wine, as she had a stressful day and wanted some wine to help her unwind. So we both showed up, me with my British passport (about 31 I was at the time) and our marriage certificate just to make sure. However, that wasn't enough as we were still refused service based on the grounds that I could be buying alcohol for her and she could be under-age. I actually couldn't believe how much of a jobsworth the manger of the store was being, rigidly sticking to the rules, but then I asked her, "so you are telling me that anyone who is staying in this country that is not a resident of the EU, who might look under the age of 28 (the rule for asking for ID), cannot purchase any alcohol at Coop stores?" The answer came back as yes. Stunned, I just starred at the woman, said "You must be joking" and left without the wine. My wife was furious.
To summarise things then, my wife had to work the 120 hours without pay, despite the fact she worked in England for 11 months as a carer when she lived there with me and despite the fact she was a fully-qualified nurse in Korea. She also had to work these hours - inflexibly - on 5 days a week (not at weekends) and in the morning and early afternoon. So at what time do you think most students study? While my wife is studying nursing then, she cannot complete those 120 hours (and remember, they are not paying for this). I find myself suspecting that this is not just an unfortunate coincidence. Also rather conveniently, the course doesn't allow many placements to be completed in the vacations from the universities, so my wife has to go to her placement on the opposite side of the city to her university. This is madness and the motives for all this nonsense are genuinely suspect. It works against foreign students and the lack of transparency before one actually pays for the course works against immigrants generally. This all means it could take months to become a carer, this could drastically affect those who are on a budget and need to work.
Annecdotes these maybe, but it is an example of how needlessly stupid the rules and regulations of the West have become and how easily they can be used to discriminate against people - consciously or unconsciously or even by accident - by virtue of being over-complicated and burdened by bureacracy.
Moments of Clarity
I suspect many immigrants, to the UK especially, know to avoid the guaranteed time and place where people can be relied upon to be honest with them about just how they feel about their presence in the country; in the UK at least, it is the High Street of any town and city on a Friday and Saturday night. I have written before about how Mr Hyde tends to show his face on the issue of prejudice when drinking gets involved. During the day Dr Jekyll walks around showing-off his principles of equality, human rights and fairness, then after a few beers this often goes out the window. Of course not everyone behaves in this way, but I can tell you from experience that a significant few always do, so reliably so that you can almost set your watch to the time that they will start, based on the average time it takes to become successfully inebriated enough to laugh-off all those equality principles as nonsense.
Media Madness Shows-up General Ignorance
This famous gaff, in a country with a huge Far-East Asian population showed-up just how ignorant many are of the people from different cultures living inside their own country. One of the big reasons why multi-culturalism is not working is that we are not all together, we are not one people all under than same roof in the same country; we are a selection of islands within the same country where a large number of people never interact, have no knowledge of each other and yet when asked whether they support the principle of living in a multi-cultural society, simply say, "yes, of course, why wouldn't I?", despite the fact they have no idea who they are living alongside. Perhaps one should find out before giving it one's full endorsement and especially if they then criticise those fiercely who voice opposition against the idea.
In summary then, this is not a pro-immigration post. I actually don't think unrestricted, or even high levels of immigration at this point in time is at all a good idea (although I would love for there to be a time when we could live in a world without borders). Why? Because no one is ready for it. Even among those who profess to be open-minded about other cultures and in favour of multi-culturalism, most seem to have no idea about how to truly see people of other races and cultures as equals. The buzz word of the moment in the UK is "tolerance", we should all tolerate each other (I can't believe people don't see how bad this sounds). Well, this misses the point entirely, tolerance is just a way of saying, put up with stuff we don't like or even hate without any understanding, a recipe for disaster as far as I can see.
Korea has a more open lack of confidence and worries about becoming a country that accepts people of different cultures and races. Many of us foreigners living in Korea often become upset down to the laws, media reporting, and general behaviours that result because of this, but at least they are being honest about it. Korea has a general feeling of distrust, fear, and a lack of understanding of things non-Korean and they wear it on their sleeve. There is at least something admirable about this compared to cultures that believe the same things yet hide it away under a coat of "tolerance", odd behaviour, and laws, rules and regulations that are not followed for all or are simply too bureaucratic for non-natives to figure out.
Until tolerance is replaced by understanding in the West, multi-culturalism will not work, it will go on creating problem after problem and the hypocrisy of Western prejudice shows we have a long way to go to get to grips with people from other cultures and races. We are not nearly as morally superior to countries like Korea as we would like to think we are in this department and we still have plenty of work to do. Owning-up to our ignorance and being honest with ourselves and others is the first step on a long road ahead.