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The Observers – Expatriates in South Korea accuse bars and nightclubs of racism and exclusion


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Expatriates and immigrants in South Korea have taken to TikTok to share videos they say reveal xenophobia and discrimination at nightclubs around the country. Our Observers told us that some clubs and venues systematically ban foreigners from entering, a policy which particularly impacts people of colour. 

Kirsten Keels is a Black American student living in Seoul. She has tried to raise attention about the discrimination that foreigners, particularly people of colour, face in South Korean nightclubs.  

I went to a pretty popular club in Gangnam two years ago. The bouncer, who looked at my friend, said, “Oh, there’s people in your group that can’t come in.” And the bouncer leans forward and he meets eyes with me and he looks me up and down and he says, “Dress code.” And I looked down and thought, “This isn’t right, we checked the dress code.”

But it was the fact that he had made eyes at me that I thought this is not just about the dress code. It seems very obvious that he doesn’t want us here. Or we’re not welcome here. I’m not welcome here. It’s pretty common to say, “There are too many foreigners” or “You can’t come in.” But then we see white individuals in the club who are being let in or let out.

Keels created a list of inclusive venues that are safe spaces for foreigners in South Korea hoping to enjoy the nightlife.

We created this list just to make it a bit easier for everyone involved. And also because we’re tired of seeing our communities and multiple other communities harmed.  We’re just recognising that we’re here, we’re not going anywhere. Our culture is valued here. We’re valued here. And discrimination and racism are not okay. 

According to our Observers, the places that refuse entry to foreigners are in the minority, but it’s hard to speak up against them on social media. Laws punishing defamation in South Korea are strict and can even lead to prison sentences. That means that people are hesitant to share the names of clubs that turned them away. 

There is no law to punish discriminatory practices in South Korea, be it on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

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