Meet Peris Kagiri, a Kenyan model in South Korea. Peris did not expect her life to turn out as it did. In fact, she did not expect to become a model at all, much less in South Korea where the population is almost wholly Korean—the country is very homogeneous and the foreigners are mostly from other Asian countries as well as Americans, most of whom go to teach English. Peris is one of these Americans.
Peris emigrated from Kenya with her family while she was a child and they settled in the United States. She left the United States to study abroad in South Korea for a semester and this is where her modeling journey begun. She received offers to model due to her tall stature and looks. Because she did not have the visa for that kind of work, she could not take up the offers. She eventually went back to the United States to finish her studies. As soon as she was done, she went back to South Korea to model.
Her journey has not been without challenges, especially being a black foreigner in South Korea—anti-black racism is prevalent amongst not just white communities, but other non-black communities as well, including Asian and Latino communities. Being in South Korea, a country with fewer black people than Kenya or the United States, Peris stuck out like a sore thumb. She would get racist remarks from people from time to time, and they would excuse it on not knowing better on account of their country being homogeneous.
Being dark-skinned, she also experienced colourism as well—like many communities, Koreans believe the lighter you are, the more beautiful and better off you are. This belief is used to deny people opportunities such as employment. In an industry where looks are heavily emphasized, such as the modelling industry, this is especially apparent. Black people are at the bottom of this racial hierarchy, with dark-skinned black people being at the lowest rung of the ladder. Nonetheless, Peris stuck it out. Now, she's the first black model to ever shoot a wedding dress photoshoot in South Korea.
"This was such a blessing. To be able to show how exquisite and expensive black skin looks in a wedding dress was extraordinary," the model says.
Peris has a YouTube channel where she regularly talks about her struggles and successes as a black model/person in South Korea. She can be heard talking regularly in her mother-tongue, Kikuyu, in many of her videos.