Rep. Andy Kim On State Department Racism: 'My Own Government Questioned My Loyalty'
Conversations about the State Department's discrimination against Asian American diplomats have reignited amid a nationwide reckoning with the country's deep-seated history of anti-Asian racism.
Over the weekend, Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat from New Jersey, spoke out on Twitter about being discriminated against for his ethnicity during his time as an adviser in the State Department.
I’ll never forget the feeling when I learned that my own government questioned my loyalty. Before Congress I worked in diplomacy at StateDept. I once received a letter banning me from working on Korea issues just because of my last name. I was stunned. (THREAD) #StopAsianHate pic.twitter.com/KADZ0UKjGg— Andy Kim (@AndyKimNJ) March 20, 2021
"I'll never forget the feeling when I learned that my own government questioned my loyalty," he wrote, referring to when he received an assignment restriction banning him from working on anything related to the Korean Peninsula.
According to the State Department's policy manual, assignment restrictions are used "to prevent potential targeting and harassment by foreign intelligence services as well as to lessen foreign influence and/or foreign preference security concerns."
A diplomat's family or contacts overseas could be enough reason for the State Department to keep them from serving in a particular country or working on issues related to it.
A spokesperson for the State Department told Politico last week that it does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age.
But Kim, who now serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tells NPR's All Things Considered that when he began to look into the issue, he learned that Asian Americans in particular seemed to be subject to this policy.
"I certainly knew people who were born in Brazil and worked on Brazil issues," says Kim, who was born in Boston and whose Korean parents immigrated to the U.S. "I know people who have German ancestry and German immigrants that are working on Germany issues."
Kim says that the problem isn't limited to just one administration.
Recently, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders working in national security and diplomacy signed a statement condemning the recent rise in hate crimes against the AAPI community. They note that America's focus on competing with China has led to "exacerbated suspicions, microaggressions, discrimination, and blatant accusations of disloyalty simply because of the way we look."
"No American should be asked to prove their loyalty, absent evidence to the contrary," the statement reads. "We as Asian-Americans are integral in combatting and securing America's collective cognitive security."
In his interview, Kim says he plans to use his position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to address this "structural, systemic problem" with a "structural, systemic solution."
He currently has a bill pending that would address diversity at the State Department through measures such as monitoring its abilities to recruit a diverse workforce and assessing the effectiveness of the department's anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.
"And this is not something that any single law or any single policy change is going to be able to fix alone," he adds. "It really requires a real, deep understanding and commitment to be able to fix."
Farah Eltohamy is NPR's Digital News intern.
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