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Pet Sins December 2000

Non-Korean accused of racism for speaking Korean

I work in the US office of a multinational company. My work environment consists of many people who have just arrived from other countries. Coworkers routinely pick up foreign words from each other.

I happened to run into [a Korean coworker] again after not seeing him for a few months. He used to joke with me and called me somewhat insulting names in Korean, like "chicken". Since he was obviously kidding, I did not take offense, and returned his humor by addressing him in Korean.

So this time, I called him "Sir" in Korean. He appeared upset, said, "Don't call me that." I immediately apologized. I said I was sorry, that I didn't realize it upset him. He told me "Don't speak Korean. You only speak Korean to Koreans, this is discrimination." I said I was sorry again.

I explained that I did not intend it; that it is common for other people in the office to speak to coworkers in their native languages. He said, "Maybe it is OK for them, but it is not OK for me."

I apologized again. He continued shouting: "I warn you! You better watch out! Nowadays you're not doing too well!"

I asked him to clarify what he meant by "You're not doing to well? since he did not work directly with me and did not have any reason to judge my work. I asked him, "is it my work?" He said, "No, it is not your work. I am warning you! Don't pick on Koreans. All of us don't like you."

I apologized again and asked him to please tell me how to rectify the situation, because I did not have any altercations with any other Korean coworker other than him.

He did not acknowledge my apologies. He then shouted, "Get out of my office, now! Get out!"

I was afraid to report the incident to management because, as described above, [the Korean coworker] seems to want to involve his entire ethnic community in the workplace in this personal grievance, and I had no wish of alienating a whole group of coworkers.

Another factor that caused me to fear for my safety: Another employee, a young white male, was promoted into a position the Korean man (in his late 30s) had turned down himself. The 20-something male had told me about how this Korean coworker, now his subordinate, had been misrepresenting the white male's work in front of his manager. I feared a similar backlash of lies. I did not want to defend myself against unfounded accusations, not knowing whether managers will believe me or not.

I was personally very hurt and insulted by the accusation of discrimination. He was the one that started joking with me in Korean, using demeaning language. I took it lightly since I thought he was kidding. Then when I call him "sir", the rules instantly change and he took it as a serious insult, a racial one at that, and threatens to get all the Koreans in the group against me.

After that incident, I was afraid to have personal conversations with anybody of any race in the workplace.


Comment from 'W.'
This kind of intimidation tactic in the workplace is probably more common than we think. One of my friends was similarly baselessly accused of being a "racist" by one of her coworkers, an ethnic minority. The minority person had committed a violation of workplace regulations, and my friend happened to witness it. My friend didn't report the offender to the supervisor, and actually had no intention of doing so. But the offender, in order to intimidate my friend into silence, accused her of "racism" and started a campaign of harassment against her by trying to recruit the offender's other minority friends in the workplace to join in verbal harassment and other acts of hostility towards my friend. The accusation of racism was hollow and unsupported, merely a scare tactic designed to give the offender the 'upper hand'.

Comment from 'S., white woman'
I have done church-related social work in many Asian communities, and I've found the Koreans and Japanese are the most racist. The Southeast Asians are a lot better. Sometimes, it is the people who keep accusing others of racism who are the most racist themselves. There was a church gathering in which all 3 congregations - American, Ukrainian and Korean -- sharing the same building had dinner together. The Ukrainians and Americans mingled freely while the Koreans kept to their own table the whole evening.

Comment from 'M., Chinese woman '
Calling someone racist for this is rather uncomprehensible to me. In Chinatown, African American men, strangers, would approach me and make small talk in Chinese. They used only simple sentences. But with a non-native speaker, you can't judge what they say the same way you judge a native speaker. These African American men did not act in any way that made me uncomfortable or disrespected. I always appreciated that they were making the effort to meet me on my turf.

Of course, following the perverted reasoning of that Korean man, I can accuse these African Americans of "discrimination"against me. After all, they wouldn't be speaking Chinese to another African American. Of course they only speak Chinese to Chinese. So, that's discrimination.

If I'd accused the African American who was trying to speak Chinese to me of discrimination, I'm in fact saying that he is not allowed to speak Chinese because he is black, and isn't this obvious I'm the one being racist instead?

That Korean man is a twisted racist trying to hide his own hate and bigotry by projecting it onto others. We don't need such pathetic people in this world. Such people just bring the sorry state of interracial relations even lower.