Stigma of the “black-haired foreigner”: Othering of international students amid a global pandemic

Elizabeth Baik
Authors and Affiliations:
Elizabeth Baik, Temple University
Minsoo Lee, Temple University
Munui Park, Temple University

With tenuous healthcare coverage and anxieties surrounding xenophobic attacks amid a global pandemic, international students of East Asian descent were compelled to seek safety, security, and support by returning to their home countries. Fueled by heightened vigilance against a deadly virus, communities within South Korea harbored resentment against the return of black-haired foreigners. In South Korea, the stigma-laden term “black-haired foreigner” narrowly refers to an individual who has dual or foreign citizenship but has a physical and emotional home in Korea. More broadly, the term also refers to international students who have been living abroad for an extended period of time and do not strictly adhere to the social and cultural norms in Korea. As the status of black-haired foreigners is, at the very least, indicative of socioeconomic mobility, the stigma intersects with issues of privilege and classism. The social zeal for higher education coupled with investment in human capital in Korea has influenced the formation of social classes based on one’s educational background (Shim, 2014). These international students walk a tightrope as they navigate social and psychological tensions involving multicultural identities that are not as easily identified as those across racial lines. Through the lens of relative valorization and civic ostracism of Claire Kim’s (1999) racial triangulation theory, a content analysis of Korean newspaper articles investigates how Korean international students have experienced vulnerability and ostracism in their home country. This study focuses on news articles published in March and April of 2020 immediately following the closure of university campuses worldwide.

About Authors

Elizabeth Baik

Affiliation/s: Temple University

Elizabeth Baik is a doctoral student at Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University.  She received her BA in Metropolitan Studies from New York University and MSW in Mental Health from University of Southern California.  Her research investigates ways in which media facilitate or deter social activism, inclusivity, and solidarity. Specifically, she studies effects of learned helplessness among audience in a media-saturated environment.

Minsoo Lee

Affiliation/s: Temple University

Minsoo Lee is a Media and Communication doctoral student at Temple University. She received her bachelor’s degree in Communication and Journalism at Kookmin University, Korea and master’s degrees in Cultural Anthropology at Kangwon National University, Korea and Anthropology at the New School for Social Research. Stemming from her interests in marriage migrants and domestic labor migrants in Asia, her academic interests lie at the intersection of gender, citizenship, and ethnicity and how such identities are represented in mass media.

Munui Park

Affiliation/s: Temple University

Munui Park is a doctoral student of Media and Communication program at Temple University. Her academic interests center on feminism, gender, and sexuality in mass media. As an international student/researcher, she has explored online media including film and K-pop fandom as places where women’s voices are expressed. More specifically, she has studied ways in which young feminists use various media to express and re/construct their identity resisting established gender structure, mostly focusing on Korean women’s cases.

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