My name is Joyce Kim. I'm an Asian-American. I'm a Korean-American. I'm an American. American. "With liberty and justice for all" were the words I said in school every day for 12 years.
Yet, recent events have made me question this allegiance that I pledged to this country. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. There are countless more names that can be added to this list. How many more lives? Why does it seem like some lives matter more than others? Why does it seem that the color of your skin determines whether or not you are subject to discrimination, prejudice, and police brutality?
I've thought about how my own identity plays into this dynamic. As painted by the media and based on the statuses that I see from my friends, some suggest that this is a White-Black issue. When I asked my dad whether or not the grand jury decisions of Eric Garner or Michael Ferguson have been featured in the Korean-American newspapers in Dallas, he said, "They briefly mention it, but it's not a big news topic. This seems like a White-Black issue, I feel that we as Asian-Americans are removed from this." I couldn't help but respond, "Wow Dad, this means that some people don't even know about the national events that are happening."
That's funny, I thought. On one hand, I feel such pain for the lives that were unjustly taken. I feel anger for the injustice that my black brothers and sisters have to face on a daily basis. I know that I've never been told, "Oh, you probably don't belong at a place like Penn-it's too difficult for you." I know that I don't feel like I have to dress or act a certain way to avoid suspicion from the authorities.
Yet, because of my own Asian-American identity, I ask, where is my place in this advocacy?
Another aspect of my identity I call into question is serving as student body president of an Ivy League university. Recent national events have been controversial at my school. As a result, I cannot, and will not attempt to speak on behalf of the students at the University of Pennsylvania. What I can do though, is offer my own observations.
My observations are that in the past 3.5 years since I first started college, this has been one of the most heightened levels of activism I've seen across different communities on an issue spurred by national events. In these past two weeks, I've watched hundreds of students voice why they believe black lives matter. Students have marched through campus to protest the Ferguson decision and have painted their necks with red handprints to show they can't breathe. My observations are that many students recognize the injustice in race determining how someone is being treated by another who is supposed to uphold justice. My observations are that students from all walks of life and identities are coming together to voice that black lives matter too.
Some may ask about the privilege I possess as an Ivy League student and the implications of activism that calls into question this very concept. But then I'd say, numbers speak. Regardless of our identities, what is irrefutable are the sheer number of bodies that are coming together to protest this injustice. I believe that these bodies, comprised of black people and their allies, can come together to change the racism that is the antithesis of liberty and justice for all.
As Langston Hughes once wrote, "I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen...Tomorrow, I'll be at the table. When company comes. Nobody'll dare say to me,"Eat in the kitchen." It's time for people to stop telling our darker brothers to go eat in the kitchen. It's time for our darker brothers to be at the table, so that we can all sing America.