Jeffrey Lieberman, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, was suspended on Wednesday after making a “racist and sexist” comment about a black Sudanese model.
The Columbia University chair of psychiatry was ousted on Wednesday after he apologized for tweeting a “racist and sexist” comment that called the black model “a freak of nature.”
Jeffrey Lieberman responded to a tweet on Monday by falsely naming Sudanese model Nyakim Gatwech, 29, as the holder of the “Guinness World Record” for the darkest-skinned person on Earth, which Guinness does not track.
“Whether a work of art or a freak of nature, she is a beautiful sight,” Lieberman tweeted about Gatweh, known as the “Queen of Darkness.”
Following the backlash for the comment, Lieberman deleted the tweet and issued an apology, saying “My sincere apologies for any offense and indiscretion caused.” Living and learning.’
He then emailed colleagues Tuesday saying he was “deeply ashamed” of the tweets and the “racist and sexist” remark, according to the New York Times.
“Apologizing from me to the black community, to women and to all of you is not enough,” Lieberman wrote in an email. “I’ve hurt a lot of people and I’m starting to see that there’s a lot of personal change ahead to make and to win back your trust over time.”
In a statement from Columbia University, Lieberman was removed not only from his position as chair of the psychiatry department, but also from his position as chief psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Wednesday. The university said the decision is final.
Lieberman responded to a tweet on Monday by falsely calling Sudanese model Nyakim Gatwech the “Guinness World Record” for the darkest-skinned person on Earth.
Lieberman deleted the tweet after the backlash and apologized for “any offense”.
Nyakim Gatwech, 29, is a Sudanese model known as the “Queen of Darkness”. She is pictured at a California fashion show on July 24th.
Lieberman also resigned as executive director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute on Tuesday, with new acting director Thomas Smith condemning Lieberman’s actions.
“We condemn the racism and sexism reflected in Dr. Lieberman’s tweet and acknowledge and share the pain, sadness, confusion and disturbing emotions you may be experiencing,” Smith said in a statement.
Gatwech said Lieberman’s tweet drew negative attention to her, saying she had repeatedly had to contend with claims that she had the darkest skin in the world.
“Unfortunately, I believe this has negatively impacted my Instagram account,” she wrote on Instagram regarding the issue.
“I have worked very hard to create my page and use it as a platform to promote self-acceptance, body positivity and of course partnership with my brand, but this is about loving yourself above all else.”
“I don’t buy followers, and for those who think otherwise, I don’t need to make up lies for the sake of likes … I like my dark skin and my nickname “Queen of Darkness”, but I never said that I am the darkest person on earth .
Gatwech said Lieberman’s tweet drew negative attention to her. She said that she has been working hard on her modeling career and she likes her nickname “Queen of Darkness”.
The model said that she repeatedly had to refute the claims that her skin is the darkest in the world, and that she does not want the lies to spread.
Gatwech responded to Lieberman’s tweet on her Instagram page.
Lieberman’s comments were heavily criticized prior to his suspension as many criticized the doctor for his rude comment and called for him to be fired.
Dr. Daniel Block, a fellow psychiatrist, tweeted that Lieberman’s comments were bad enough on their own, but made worse given his prestigious position.
“It is inconceivable that someone would publish this anywhere – this is nothing but an insult and propaganda of racism,” Block wrote. “The fact that it was a psychiatrist with such power and authority makes things even worse. Apologies are no longer enough, they are just words.”
A Twitter user under the pseudonym Nicole Luongo agreed that such comments are alarming for someone in Lieberman’s position.
“The fact that he is a psychiatrist is extremely important here,” Lungo wrote. “If he expressed these views during the meeting, any reaction that was not restrained, measured and polite would be pathological.
“By virtue of his profession, he has the right to make a diagnosis and thus control the narrative.”
Another Twitter user named Ashley wrote, “If you don’t fire this man,” tagging the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry.
Lieberman’s tweet drew backlash on Twitter as many called it inappropriate and called for him to be fired from Columbia University.
Jeremy Vandiver, another Twitter user, also criticized Lieberman’s apology, noting, “He only apologized for ‘any offense’, not his comment.”
Another Twitter user with the pseudonym Erika also criticized Lieberman, writing, “He has no business being a department chair OR teaching students. And I said that to the acting dean much earlier today.
Robert Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who worked with Lieberman for decades, told the Times that it was an “unfortunate” episode, adding that it “really highlights how deep and pervasive some of our own unconscious biases can be.”
“I think this incident speaks to the need to always be vigilant in our awareness of our own unconscious biases,” Klitzman said.