It was a truly shocking comment.
A few weeks ago, I was in a store in Itaewon, a major shopping district for foreigners in Seoul, where two young Afro-Americans were engaged in somewhat negotiations with the Korean shopkeeper over the price of a pair of pants.
The process quickly became hostile, and the young men stormed out in disgust after the shopkeeper in question declared that he did not like ‘nigger money.’
The comment was shocking, as were the shopkeeper’s subsequent actions, where he looked at me (the only other customer in his store) and repeated his comment.
Apparently, he thought that because I was white, that I would somehow be impressed by his racist viewpoint.
Naturally, he was mistaken. Utterly disgusted, I got out of his store without making any purchases as quickly as I possibly could.
Racism still a reality
The above incident highlights a most unfortunate truth – racism is still a reality in modern business practices.
Another example – last year, a Korean teacher from a school located nearby where I lived asked if I new of any native English teachers who would be willing and available to teach at his school.
When I suggested a particular young South African woman, the immediate response of the teacher concerned was to enquire about her skin color, and he seemed somewhat relieved when I told him that her skin color was white.
Evidently, a white young lady would suit the needs of his school nicely. Dark skin, on the other hand, was not preferred.
Granted, the above examples relate only to the situation within South Korea, but unfortunately, I would bet that racist attitudes are still prevalent in business practices throughout many different countries.
The right to choose is no excuse for discrimination
Broadly speaking, I feel that businesses have a right to decide: (a) whom they serve; and (b) whom they are served by.
Business owners have a right to define their target clientele, and should, depending on the circumstances, feel as though they are well within their rights to refuse service to particular individual customers. They are also well within their rights, again within reason, to refuse to hire particular individuals as employees.
But this does not give them a right to practice mindless forms of discrimination, and the attitudes demonstrated in the above examples simply should not be considered to be acceptable in modern business practice.
When does a business have a right to discriminate?
Some would say never.
I would not entirely agree, but I would stress that any range of circumstances where any form of racial discrimination should be considered acceptable would be very, very narrow.
I would feel that it would be acceptable, for example, for a bar or nightclub that wishes to promote an ‘Asian night,’ to refuse admission to patrons of non-Asian background on the night in question.
Or how about an organization whose clientele consists primarily of members of religious communities? I would think that it would be somewhat understandable to some degree if such organizations demonstrated a preference in the hiring process for employees of a racial background which is similar to that of the main clientele.
In these types of examples, the decision to allow racial factors to influence behavior is based around genuine concerns with respect to the creation of an environment in which clientele feel most comfortable and at ease.
But mindless discrimination is not acceptable
But the type of situation to which this type of consideration would apply would be very limited indeed, and there is absolutely no room for the type of mindless discrimination displayed by the Korean shopkeeper mentioned at the beginning of this discussion.
Straightforward bias against individuals of a particular race or skin color should not be considered acceptable practice, and one would have hoped that the modern business environment would have been free from that ugly behavior by now.