Outline: AIDS, politics of accusation, and racially bound female bodies in the Korean American public discourse

Medical Anthropology
March 3, 2005
Yongho Kim

My paper aims to make the claim that geographically and racially imagined narratives within the Korean American community (in particular New York City) that portray the AIDS/HIV epidemic as originating from outside the ehtno-nationally defined core of the Korean American community have contributed to the ongoing process of binding female bodies racially, both in terms of simple mobility between neighborhoods of color and the formation of interracial couples. Unlike previous papers, I plan to start the research process with a specific agenda/hypothesis in mind.

In the interest of avoiding the mindless blah blah and introspective speculation that often hits academia when it comes to theorizing with marginal populations (especially the researcher’s own), I intend to give primary focus to newspaper analysis of local markets and statistical data provided by health organizations, tracking AIDS coverage in four major newspapers – the Korean Times, the U.S. offices of Chosun Daily News, Donga Daily News and One People.

By the proposed hypothesis I understand the imagination of the Korean American female body as one where various discourses imposing performative roles of: a “good woman” and “cuteness”, defensive paternalistic nationalism (fear of the darkening of the skin) and anti-imperial essentialism (a counternarrative to modernist conceptions of progress and development) contend with each other. The flesh and skin of the female body is grounds for proxy battles for these sometimes diametrical ideologies. This is expressed by the social conventions/impositions of what is “a real korean woman” (as opposed to a white woman), the bitter criticism of those who engage in the (literal) darkening of kin through marriage/courtship, ideas of hygiene and custom. The close family and economic ties that connect peninsular and immigrant (first, second and subsequent generations thereof) populations imply the bidirectional propagation of dominant discourses back and forth between the U.S. and the peninsula.

AIDS is constructed in the popular imagination in Southern Korea as belonging to Africa, and in the context of the U.S., to the black population. This rhetoric is prevalent regardless of their respective political orientations, be it the fascist Chosun Daily News, or the One People, a progressive newspaper with a national liberationary tilt. ( 20 Years Since Discovery of AIDS: AIDS Realities of Southern Korea, Chosun Daily News [AIDS발견 20년: 한국의 AIDS 실태] and A Black Continent ridden by Poverty: Special Edition, One People [가난에 떠는 ‘검은 대륙’ : 특집 : 한겨레21])

These two imagined and embodied discourses on authenticity and black/brown health weave closely together to create a society where mobility is bound for female bodies and trespassing individuals are singled out for national, cultural, and medical criticism.

As I have no previous background in Asian American Studies nor Women’s and Gender Studies, my examination of current explanatory models offered in the literature for such social phenomena will be sketchy, which I will try to complement by studying how immigrant ties are manifested in claims and disclaims to authenticity in the korean immigrant community in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I have better previous training via a series of courses in Latin American Studies.

Tentative Bibliography

Briggs, Charles L. and Clara Martini-Briggs
2003 Stories in the Times of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare. University of California Press.

Cohen, Cathy J.
1999 The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics. University of Chicago Press.

Courtis, Corina
2000 Constructions of otherness: everyday discourses on the korean immigration to Buenos Aires. [Construcciones de alteridad: discursos cotidianos sobre la inmigración coreana en Buenos Aires.] Buenos Aires, Argentina: Eudeba.

Guy, Donna J.
1991 Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Farmer, Paul
1992 AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame. University of California Press.

Kinsella, Sharon
1995 Cuties in Japan. In Women, Media and Consumption in Japan. Edited by Lisa Skov and Brian Moeran. Honolulu: University Hawaii Press.

Sheller, Mimi
2003 Consuming the Caribbean: From Arawaks to Zombies. Routledge.



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5 responses to “Outline: AIDS, politics of accusation, and racially bound female bodies in the Korean American public discourse”

  1. * 철자 교정에 도움되시길 빌며:
    – 첫 문단 네번째 줄 “ehtnonationaly” 오타로 보입니다.
    – 세번째 문단 11번째 줄 “in the (literal) darkening of kin” 에서, 혹 skin을 쓰시려다 s가 빠진 것은 아닌지요.
    – ‘-cal’로 끝나는 형용사는 부사가 될 때 ly를 붙이지 않나요?
    ex. geographically, racially, ethnonationally

    흥미롭게 잘 읽었습니다. 제겐 매우 재미있고 관심가는 주제여서, 다음 페이퍼가 기대되는군요. ^^;

  2. 이미 제출한 제안서이지만 (페이퍼가 아닙니다, 4월 말에 제출할 페이퍼에 대한 첫 진도 보고서 -outline & proposal-입니다) 고쳤습니다.

    – 말씀하신대로 ly 가 아니라 lly 이군요. 가끔 가다 lly 가 아니고 ly 인 단어들이 있는데 항상 헷갈립니다

    – kin 은 인류학에서 혈족, 피로 이어지는 관계를 칭합니다.

    – ethno-nationally (대쉬를 넣었습니다.) 는 “민족국가적으로”를 의미합니다.

    관심을 가져주셔서 감사합니다. 눈치 채셨나요? 미디어몹 없이는 감도 못 잡을 주제였습니다. 예를 들면 참고 서적 중 킨셀라는 유유(여기에 한자)님의 귀여움에 대한 글에서 가져온 것이구요, defensive paternalistic nationalism – 여성을 “소유”로 보고 타 인종 남성이 침범하는 것에 대해 반응하는 것을 얼버무려서 번역했습니다 – 은 노바리님이 써오신 일련의 글에서 따온것이지요.

  3. HappyCow

    페이퍼 기대가 많이 되는데요… =) I wish I can type Korean well, but looks like a good paper proposal. Anthro is just so amazing; I am such a novice in that field (taking my first anthro class this semester) but I love it! =) Also taking that class at Wellesley College, so if you need 자료 with gender/women issues and etc., let me know!

  4. 이거, 괜히 부담되네요 -.- 제대로 못 쓰면 어떡하지.. oh, since you have offered to help, what are some major ethnic korean american newspapers (english or korean language, doesn’t matter, but targeted to korean americans/korean immigrants) in the east coast?

    (btw, i lived in cerritos during the summer of 2001)

  5. prof comment:

    ok. I look forward to your paper – I think I’ll learn a lot.
    I wonder if female bodies everywhere aren’t “racially bound”

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