Asian Americans represent one of the fastest growing racial groups in the United States. Often, these racial groups are marred by several stereotypes. In particular, Koreans, who are the focus group of this study, are thought of as martial arts experts, geeks, and technical experts on top of being generally hard working. Additionally, Koreans tend to be labeled as foreigners and having poor command of English. For Korean women, typecasts of being submissive and promiscuous are notable from Hollywood films. While some of the stereotypes may be closer to the truth, most of them are either fallacies or absurd.
The majority of Korean stereotypes originate from the television and film industry that has not only helped gain insights into the Korean culture but also played a significant role in popularizing the labels. For example, movie casts of Korean origin tend to be portrayed as Taekwondo experts and Kung Fu fighters, a fact that has led to a belief that all Koreans possess martial arts expertise.
Additionally, commercial advertisements on technological advancement and knowledge will mainly feature individuals of Asian origin. This, on the other hand, reflects upon Koreans as knowledgeable, hardworking, and technologically gifted. More often, Koreans will be portrayed as perpetual foreigners with questions of the original place of origin likely to come up in conversations. As such, this racial group is perceived as having a poor command of English.
TK, a Korean blogger, who has lived in the US since the age of 16 years acknowledges that its surprising how people are sparingly informed about Koreans. In particular, the blogger notes of his mastery of the English language that even left his teachers shocked. Despite having immigrated into the US at an early age, TK argues that he often encounters people who use poorly spoken English when initiating conversations with him.
Through his blog, TK, rebukes this stereotype noting that "saying he came without knowing English" is an exaggeration since Koreans received regular English lessons in Korean public schools before they come to the U.S. (The Korean). In addition to living in an environment that was not conducive to English learning, he confers that "The Koreans obviously feel pretty comfortable in English, and he rarely has a difficult time expressing any concept in English. He also agrees that Koreans are hardworking, an attribute that has seen this group labeled a workaholic group. However, he clarifies that there is a difference between being hardworking and being workaholic.
TKs views are shared by King Kyong who notes that a majority of Koreans begin to learn English as early as Kindergarten. This is evidenced by his fluency in English through his YouTube channel. Kyong asserts that the stereotype that Koreans cant speak English is false. As such, many Koreans living abroad as well as in South Korea are comfortable expressing any concept in English. With regards to martial arts, Kyong acknowledges that while a majority of Koreans are Taekwondo and Kung Fu students, not all possess these skills. In particular, through administering a simple survey on five Korean university students, one of them admitted to not having any martial arts skills.
Bowman (918) agrees that a majority of Koreans possess martial arts skills such as Taekwondo, Hapkido, and Kumdo. Taekwondo is an important part of the Korean culture and was introduced in the early 1940's. Koreans of all genders begin learning it at an early age (Bowman 918). In a face to face interview with Seo-Yeon, a BSc Social Policy major at the University of Maryland admits of being proud of her Korean roots. Seo-Yeon, however, notes that typecasts associated with the Korean culture has mainly affected her interactions with other people who perceive her to have a poor command of the English language, and of loose morals.
While Seo-Yeon agrees that some of the stereotypes may be true, others are false and are likely to anger people of this racial origin. For example, Seo-Yeon acknowledges that Koreans are generally hardworking an attribute that is instilled in the minds of young Koreans through standardized paths to success and tolerance as a social merit. On the other hand, she disagrees that Koreans eat dog meat noting that "while it might have been true for older generations, a majority of Koreans regard dogs as pets, not food."
The stereotype of being a workaholic is common among all Koreans who agree that they put in extra effort in everything they do. According to Olson (1), Koreans rank among the hardest-working populations where on average individual works over 44.6 hours every week. Noting of Lee, a civil servant working in the ministry of agriculture and fisheries, and who works for six and half hours every day, six days in a week, and with only three days of vacation every year, Olson argues that this work ethic is entrenched in the Korean culture. According to Mun (1), the workaholic nature of Koreans stems from the call to diligence through the Saemaul (or New Community) movement in the 1970s (23) that led to the development of a reputation for hard work and in particular, the need to mobilize the uneducated masses who were typically lazy, propelled the government to put in measures such as provisions for people to work throughout the night.
According to Mun (22), the hardworking nature of Koreans also stems from early socialization where children are taught cooperation, respect for elders, and patriarchal obedience. This is justified by Lees observation that Koreans always watch what the senior boss thinks of their behavior (Olson 1). More importantly, the fear of failure tends to push Koreans into putting extra effort in their work. The notion of "too-big-to-fail" that existed in the country's industrial sector not only saw executives and general employees increase their output, but also laid down the foundations of diligence that is evident today.
Jeong, Hong, and Park (14) trace the history of Taekwondo to 2300 years ago where martial arts were a way of life within the Korean society. In particular, the 24th king of Silla, the smallest and weakest kingdom, sought for ways to protect his people from the other kingdoms by teaching his warriors foot and hand combat tactics. With the term Taekwondo created from the fusion of different sources, the martial art is highly regarded within the Korean society due to its principles of loyalty, obedience, honor, faith, perseverance, and justice. More importantly, with taekwondo heralding martial arts within in the Asian culture, the establishment of schools and training manuals has made this sport popular among Koreans. In a similar way to other sports, the general likability of taekwondo among men and women thus contributes to the stereotyping of Koreans as taekwondo experts.
Accurate stereotypes play a critical role in helping an individual have an insight on other peoples culture. On the other hand, false stereotypes and unfair judgments about individuals or groups have a negative impact on these relationships. With Korean stereotypes constantly reproduced by cinema and network television, a few such as hardworking and expertise in martial works are notably accurate. However, a majority of Korean typecasts tend to be far from the truth.
Bowman, P. Making Martial Arts History Matter. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 2016, 33(9): 915-933.
Jeong Deok Ahn, Suk-ho Hong &Yeong-Kil Park. The Historical and Culturally Identity of Taekwondo as a Traditional Korean Martial Art. The International Journal of the Historyof Sport, 2009, 26 (11).
Kyong, K. Korean Stereotypes. YouTube. YouTube, 6 Sept 2015. 12 Oct. 2017.
Mun, H. The strategy for Korea's economic success. 2016.
Olson, P. The World's Hardest-Working Countries.Forbes.21 Mar. 2008. Web. 12 Oct. 2017.
The Korean. The Korean's English Acquisition, and the Best Method to Master a Foreign Language, Guaranteed. Web blog post. AskKorean.14 Jan. 2010. Web. 12 Oct. 2017.
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