Comment: Racism, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and the Need for Perseverance
Dr. Jim Yong Kim
It is truly sad that at this moment in the twenty-first century, Asian Americans are still referred to as “Chinamen.”
On March 3rd, Generic Good Morning Message, a popular email listserv at Dartmouth, included a commentary on the recent election of Dr. Jim Yong Kim as the first Asian American president of an Ivy League institution. Intended to be satirical, the piece included such lines as “Chinaman Jim Yong Kim,” “Unless ‘Jim Yong Kim’ means ‘I love Freedom’ in Chinese, I don't want anything to do with him. Dartmouth is America, not Panda Garden Rice Village Restaurant,” and “Y'all get ready for an Asianification under the guise of diversity under the actual Malaysian-invasion leadership instituted under the guise of diversity. It's a slippery slope we are on.” The full text of the email is available on the Angry Asian Man blog.
A Korean-born Korean American, Dr. Kim was, prior to his Dartmouth appointment, Chair of the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Director of the Francois Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, Professor of Medicine and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and chief of the Division of Social Medicine and Health Inequalities at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a major Harvard teaching hospital. This was preceded by a stint as Director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS department.
His many honors include a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in 2003, inclusion on the list of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2005, and recognition as one of America’s 25 Best Leaders by US News & World Report in 2006.
Dr. Kim, in an email to the Dartmouth community, wrote about diversity, and his hope that the student who wrote the commentary would learn from the experience. In less measured terms, however, what the writer did was extraordinarily offensive, and should be tangibly punished for his or her actions. The writer should perform, at the very least, a significant period of community service on behalf of the Asian American community.
This recent event underlines why an organization such as KAC is so necessary. Until it is commonplace and the norm for Korean Americans and/or Asian Americans to hold positions of leadership in major political offices, elite universities, and Fortune 500 companies, we will not be free from such racist and ignorant remarks.
Instances and acts of hatred and racism are why we at KAC continue to press on to empower our community through greater civic participation in mainstream society to continuously demonstrate that we, too, are Americans. That Korean Americans and Asian Americans are not conditional citizens. That our presence in the United States extends more than a century into the past. That in this nation of immigrants, our successes, as well as our failures, should be recognized as American successes and failures. That racist sentiment – cloaked in sarcasm, muted by ignorance, expressed in anger – should not, and will not, be tolerated.