Seung Hui Cho

Well I thought about publishing a post, but then I read this post and realized that I could never have written something as succinctly or as glaringly true as what you’re about to read. She covers just about all the points that I had wanted to hit, and much better than anything I could have written. Thanks to the Women of Color Blog for publishing this post, I couldn’t have said it any better.
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http://brownfemipower.com/?p=1256

What May Come: Asian Americans and the Virginia Tech Shootings

Tamara K. Nopper
April 17, 2007

Like many, I was glued to the television news yesterday, keeping updated about the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech University. I was trying to deal with my own disgust and sadness, especially since my professional life as a graduate student and college instructor is tied to universities. And then the other shoe dropped. I found out from a friend that the news channel she was watching had reported the shooter as Asian. It has now been reported, after much confusion, that the shooter is Cho Seung-Hui, a South Korean immigrant and Virginia Tech student.

As an Asian American woman, I am keenly aware that Asians are about to become a popular media topic if not the victims of physical backlash. Rarely have we gotten as much attention in the past ten years, except, perhaps, during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Since then Asians are seldom seen in the media except when one of us wins a golfing match, Woody Allen has sex, or Angelina Jolie adopts a kid.

I am not looking forward to the onslaught of media attention. If history truly does have clues about what will come, there may be several different ways we as Asian Americans will be talked about.

One, we will watch white media pundits and perhaps even sociologists explain what they understand as an “Asian” way of being. They will talk about how Asian males presumably have fragile “egos” and therefore are culturally prone to engage in kamikaze style violence. These statements will be embedded with racist tropes about Japanese military fighters during WWII or the Viet Cong—the crazy, calculating, and hidden Asian man who will fight to the death over presumably nothing.

In the process, the white media might actually ask Asian Americans our perspectives for a change. We will probably be expected to apologize in some way for the behavior of another Asian—something whites never have to collectively do when one of theirs engages in (mass) violence, which is often. And then some of us might succumb to the Orientalist logic of the media by eagerly promoting Asian Americans as real Americans and therefore unlike Asians overseas who presumably engage in culturally reprehensible behavior. In other words, if we get to talk at all, Asian Americans will be expected to interpret, explain, and distance themselves from other Asians just to get airtime.

Or perhaps the media will take the color-blind approach instead of a strictly eugenic one. The media might try to whitewash the situation and treat Cho as just another alienated middle-class suburban kid. In some ways this is already happening—hence the constant referrals to the proximity of the shootings to the 8th anniversary of the Columbine killings. The media will repeat over and over words from a letter that Cho left behind speaking of “rich kids,” and “deceitful charlatans.” They will ask what’s going on in middle-class communities that encourage this type of violence. In the process they may never talk about the dirty little secret about middle-class assimilation: for non-whites, it does not always prevent racial alienation, rage, or depression. This may be surprising given that we are bombarded with constant images suggesting that racial harmony will exist once we are all middle-class. But for many of us who have achieved middle-class life, even if we may not openly admit it, alienation does not stop if you are not white.

But the white media, being as tricky as it is, may probably talk about Cho in ways that reflect a combination of both traditional eugenic and colorblind approaches. They will emphasize Cho’s ethnicity and economic background by wondering what would set off a hard-working, quiet, South Korean immigrant from a middle-class dry-cleaner-owning family. They will wonder why Cho would commit such acts of violence, which we expect from Middle Easterners and Muslims and those crazy Asians from overseas, but not from hard-working South Korean immigrants. They will promote Cho as “the model minority” who suddenly, for no reason, went crazy. Whereas eugenic approaches depicting Asians as crazy kamikazes or Viet Cong mercenaries emphasize Asian violence, the eugenic aspect of the model minority myth suggests that there is something about Asian Americans that makes them less prone to expressions of anger, rage, violence, or criminality. Indeed, we are not even seen as having legitimate reasons to have anger, let alone rage, hence the need to figure out what made this “quiet” student “snap.”

Given that the model minority myth is a white racist invention that elevates Asians over minority groups, Cho will be dissected as an anomaly among South Koreans who “are not prone” to violence—unlike Blacks who are racistly viewed as inherently violent or South Asians, Middle Easterners and Muslims who are viewed as potential terrorists. He will be talked about as acting “out of character” from the other “good South Koreans” who come here and quietly and dutifully work towards the American dream. Operating behind the scenes of course is a diplomatic relationship between the US and South Korea forged through bombs and military zones during the Korean War and expressed through the new free trade agreement negotiations between the countries. Indeed, even as South Korean diplomats express concern about racial backlash against Asians, they are quick to disown Cho in order to maintain the image of the respectable South Korean.

Whatever happens, Cho will become whoever the white media wants him to be and for whatever political platform it and legislators want to push. In the process, Asian Americans will, like other non-whites, be picked apart, dissected, and theorized by whites. As such, this is no different than any other day for Asian Americans. Only this time an Asian face will be on every television screen, internet search engine, and newspaper.

Tamara K. Nopper is an educator, writer, and activist living in Philadelphia. She can be reached at tnopper@yahoo.com

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6 Comments on “Seung Hui Cho

  1. As a fellow adoptee and Asian American, I feel compelled to comment on this article.

    I’m going to go through this paragraph by paragraph.

    1) “As an Asian American woman, I am keenly aware that Asians are about to become a popular media topic if not the victims of physical backlash. Rarely have we gotten as much attention in the past ten years, except, perhaps, during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Since then Asians are seldom seen in the media except when one of us wins a golfing match, Woody Allen has sex, or Angelina Jolie adopts a kid.”

    -Victims of a physical backlash? Wow, talk about hitting the ground running. That’s a bold claim. Can we expect cross-burnings and WWII-style internment camps as well? After all, because that was done in 1942, it could certainly be done today in 2007 (65 years later), seeing that nothing has changed at all. Also, the LA riots happened in 1992. It’s now 2007. That’s more than ten years ago.

    2) “I am not looking forward to the onslaught of media attention. If history truly does have clues about what will come, there may be several different ways we as Asian Americans will be talked about.

    One, we will watch white media pundits and perhaps even sociologists explain what they understand as an “Asian” way of being. They will talk about how Asian males presumably have fragile “egos” and therefore are culturally prone to engage in kamikaze style violence. These statements will be embedded with racist tropes about Japanese military fighters during WWII or the Viet Cong—the crazy, calculating, and hidden Asian man who will fight to the death over presumably nothing.”

    -Probably Asian media figures as well (or have you not seen them?) As far as the “Asian way of being” is concerned, yeah, maybe you’ll hear something like that on Fox, but I can guarantee you won’t hear it anywhere else. The kamikaze-style violence comment is cute. Do you really think white people associate us with Japanese Kamikaze pilots? As some sort of latent threat waiting to explode, to take over? Jesus. Embedded with racist tropes about crazed Japanese soldiers? Are you serious? You think some guy is going to get on CNN and say “Yeah, just like those dirty slants in the 40s, you just can’t trust them gooks.” Please. Give America (and yes, even white America) a little more credit than that. No one is going to claim that Asians are more prone to mass-killing. And no one is going to think that, whether they be black, brown, yellow, white, whatever…the proof is in the pudding, and there’s no pudding aside from this one (albeit horrible) incident.

    3) “In the process, the white media might actually ask Asian Americans our perspectives for a change. We will probably be expected to apologize in some way for the behavior of another Asian—something whites never have to collectively do when one of theirs engages in (mass) violence, which is often. And then some of us might succumb to the Orientalist logic of the media by eagerly promoting Asian Americans as real Americans and therefore unlike Asians overseas who presumably engage in culturally reprehensible behavior. In other words, if we get to talk at all, Asian Americans will be expected to interpret, explain, and distance themselves from other Asians just to get airtime.”

    -Fuck, I’m not a real American? Damn, I thought I at least had that one worked out. Sure, people ask me where my parents were from, and I get the “no, I mean, what are you REALLY?” shit once in a great while, but for the most part, no one cares. I speak “white” English, so everyone assumes that my parents were some sort of Asian and that’s I’m an American citizen (which [at least biologically] they were, and which I am). I’m not a WHITE American, that’s true, but I don’t think that this necessarily precludes the possibility of my being AN American. Also, I really don’t think that Asian Americans will have to distance themselves from Asians…this sort of thing doesn’t happen over there.

    4) “Or perhaps the media will take the color-blind approach instead of a strictly eugenic one. The media might try to whitewash the situation and treat Cho as just another alienated middle-class suburban kid. In some ways this is already happening—hence the constant referrals to the proximity of the shootings to the 8th anniversary of the Columbine killings. The media will repeat over and over words from a letter that Cho left behind speaking of “rich kids,” and “deceitful charlatans.” They will ask what’s going on in middle-class communities that encourage this type of violence. In the process they may never talk about the dirty little secret about middle-class assimilation: for non-whites, it does not always prevent racial alienation, rage, or depression. This may be surprising given that we are bombarded with constant images suggesting that racial harmony will exist once we are all middle-class. But for many of us who have achieved middle-class life, even if we may not openly admit it, alienation does not stop if you are not white.”

    -This is where I really started to laugh at this piece. “Or maybe the media won’t do what i just said at all. Maybe they’ll do the opposite. But they’ll STILL be fuckers for it!!!!!!” Give me a break! The author is basically saying “either they’ll make a big deal out of his being Asian, or they won’t!” No shit! Maybe they should be asking those questions; after all, I’m interested in hearing the answers. Why do kids with means turn nihilistic? Why are kids who are given opportunities squandering them? Oh, and by the looks of things (aka past school shootings), alienation, rage, and depression aren’t AT ALL cured by being middle-class. The Columbine kids were white, and they certainly felt alienated. Sure, maybe racial alienation played a part in this (in fact I’d be surprised if it didn’t play SOME part), but let’s not pretend that it was his non-whiteness that was the catalyst for the rampage.

    5) But the white media, being as tricky as it is, may probably talk about Cho in ways that reflect a combination of both traditional eugenic and colorblind approaches. They will emphasize Cho’s ethnicity and economic background by wondering what would set off a hard-working, quiet, South Korean immigrant from a middle-class dry-cleaner-owning family. They will wonder why Cho would commit such acts of violence, which we expect from Middle Easterners and Muslims and those crazy Asians from overseas, but not from hard-working South Korean immigrants. They will promote Cho as “the model minority” who suddenly, for no reason, went crazy. Whereas eugenic approaches depicting Asians as crazy kamikazes or Viet Cong mercenaries emphasize Asian violence, the eugenic aspect of the model minority myth suggests that there is something about Asian Americans that makes them less prone to expressions of anger, rage, violence, or criminality. Indeed, we are not even seen as having legitimate reasons to have anger, let alone rage, hence the need to figure out what made this “quiet” student “snap.”

    -Great first sentence of this paragraph, by the way. “Tricky as it is.” Please. They might note Cho’s ethnicity, simply because nearly all school shooters before this have been white. “They will wonder why Cho would commit such acts of violence, which we expect from Middle Easterners and Muslims and those crazy Asians from overseas, but not from hard-working South Korean immigrants.” What’s with the “crazy Asians from overseas”? Do white people think Asians in Asia are crazy? But she did hit on a good point here: is this guy had been Muslim, this would be a whole different–and probably VERY racially charged–story. But he wasn’t.
    -“They will promote Cho as “the model minority” who suddenly, for no reason, went crazy.” Actually, the media ISN’T doing this. This guy was batshit nuts, which is exactly what the media is saying. He didn’t just “snap,” he showed many warning signs and his deterioration looked to be a somewhat drawn out process. The media is asserting that he didn’t just “go” crazy, but that he WAS crazy, exactly like the Columbine kids were. This guy was trouble, and everyone knew it. He might have snapped, but he was bending for a long, long time.

    6) “Given that the model minority myth is a white racist invention that elevates Asians over minority groups, Cho will be dissected as an anomaly among South Koreans who “are not prone” to violence—unlike Blacks who are racistly viewed as inherently violent or South Asians, Middle Easterners and Muslims who are viewed as potential terrorists. He will be talked about as acting “out of character” from the other “good South Koreans” who come here and quietly and dutifully work towards the American dream. Operating behind the scenes of course is a diplomatic relationship between the US and South Korea forged through bombs and military zones during the Korean War and expressed through the new free trade agreement negotiations between the countries. Indeed, even as South Korean diplomats express concern about racial backlash against Asians, they are quick to disown Cho in order to maintain the image of the respectable South Korean.”

    -Again, the Muslim thing would have been a different issue. If he were black, well, it would be pointed out how nearly all other school shooters were white, but that’s not the sort of violence that white people expect of black people. They expect gang violence, drug-related violence, and generally more “average criminal” type stuff, not spree-killing.
    -“He will be talked about as acting “out of character” from the other “good South Koreans” who come here and quietly and dutifully work towards the American dream. ” If anyone says that in the mainstream media (non-Fox), I’ll give you $5. Seriously. No one is going to say “weird, Koreans aren’t usually that violent.” It’s just not going to happen.

    7) Whatever happens, Cho will become whoever the white media wants him to be and for whatever political platform it and legislators want to push. In the process, Asian Americans will, like other non-whites, be picked apart, dissected, and theorized by whites. As such, this is no different than any other day for Asian Americans. Only this time an Asian face will be on every television screen, internet search engine, and newspaper.

    -Doomed!!! Doomed, I say!!! Every figure that is brought under the scrutinizing lense of the media is made into what they want him/her to be (especially if that person is dead and can’t speak for him/herself). I don’t think this is going to result in some new theorization of Asians; this guy was, first and foremost, absolutely fucking bonkers, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before his Asian-ness was brought into consideration.

    Seriously. Racism is a big problem in this country, one that needs to be addressed. I am feminized by Hollywood, cast as a studious little robot by college professors (and a lot of students…I go to college in California!), hated by a good part of the black community for my success which is interpreted as complicity with the white community, you name it. And damn, I’m an adoptee, which makes stuff even more difficult! There’s a lot that needs to be changed, sure. I’m with you on that one. But crying wolf all the time DOESN’T HELP THE CAUSE! If one mobilizes around race in EVERY INSTANCE, even when race plays an insignificant role, the rest of this country is going to turn its head. The media isn’t going to attack his being Asian. But the way this author sets it up, even if they DON’T, they’re still acting inappropriately! This is going to garner the response we’ve all heard too many times: “Then what is it you people WANT?”

    We want people to listen. The way this country is set up, we have to choose our battles. This is a stupid thing to mobilize around, and I’m sad to see that such a big deal is made out of it on this blog. When the media DOESN’T do what the author says it will do (which is, as I mentioned, going to be difficult, since there is really no route the media sources can take that this author wouldn’t perceive to be unabashedly racist), this writer is going to look like an idiot. We have to work with the rest of society if we are going to get people on our side. Attacks at every turn aren’t going to help.

    Come on people. We need to be strategic about this. Let’s choose our battles wisely.

  2. I respectfully disagree with the comment written above. Although incidents such as the Japanese Internment and 1992 Riots occured awhile ago, the same sort of racial profiling have still been prevelant. If you read articles in relevance to the Virginia Tech incident, you’ll see that other Asian males were arrested simply because they are Asian and male. If a white person commits a crime like this, you can bet that law enforcement would not profile every white person on campus. In addition, it’s irresponsible to brush off the Japanese Internment as part of the past just because it happened during WWII. If you have ever watch the film “Lest We Forget”, you can see that there are striking similarities between the profiling of Japanese Americans during WWII and the profiling, detention and deportation of Arab, South Asians and Muslims of Middle Eastern/South Asian decent.

    Already, there have been racially targeted incidents. You can read an article about it. This is not as simple as we would like to believe. Everytime there is a person of color’s face on a crime, the group that is of that background, or perceived as being of that background, always gets just a bit more marginalized.

    And after the whole “ching chong” incident of Rosie O’Donnell, I wouldn’t be surprised if public figures make racial slurs at Asians/Asian Americans. But this time, the public will find a racist reason to justify it simply because the man behind the shooting has been racialized and casted as an “alien” when he is a permanent resident of the United States and have been here since his early childhood. Already, he has been refered to as a “loner,” “quiet” and “socially-awkward” – all stereotypes that have been used to describe Asian/Asian Americans.

    I think the questions we need to ask are: Why is crime always race-focused when committed by a person of color? Why does racial identity trump all other identities when the crime is committed by a POC but not for a white person?

    I don’t think this is a simple matter of “crying wolf.” These issues need to raised to bring awareness to the racialization of the whole incident – especially because the media tends to put multiple spins on cases such as this one.

  3. “Although incidents such as the Japanese Internment and 1992 Riots occured awhile ago, the same sort of racial profiling have still been prevelant.”

    -Oh wait, I’m not denying this. The same sort of racial profiling HAS indeed been prevalent. Just look at people of Middle Eastern descent at the airport! But we aren’t talking about prejudices against Middle Easterners here, we’re talking about Asians. And the “same sort” of racial profiling is NOT prevalent for Asian Americans. Is there racial profiling? You bet! People assume I’m good at math all the time, which I’m not. That’s racial profiling. but no one expects me to be the yellow menace that will sabotage factories for the greatness of Japan. Come on. Different.

    “If you read articles in relevance to the Virginia Tech incident, you’ll see that other Asian males were arrested simply because they are Asian and male.”

    -I read about ONE Asian male who was DETAINED by the police, which, if you know anything about the law, is VERY DIFFERENT from being ARRESTED by them. And hey, who knows, maybe a white (or black, or hispanic) student (who thinks all Asians look the same) pointed at the kid and said “HEY!!!! THAT’S HIM!! THAT’S THE SHOOTER!!!” Of course the cops are going to detain that guy! Arrest, no, but detain, sure. But that doesn’t make the cops racist of profiling…it would just made that student ignorant (which maybe isn’t his fault…maybe he’d never MET an Asian person before [I mean, let’s be serious, West Virginia is pretty close to Virginia…maybe that hypothetical white student was from a place like that!]). But seriously, I don’t people are getting arrested BECAUSE they are Asian…then it’s ACLU time, and I’ll back you all the way to the Supreme Court on that one!!!

    “If a white person commits a crime like this, you can bet that law enforcement would not profile every white person on campus.”

    -No kidding!!! But if this had happened in Korea at a school where white people made up, say, 7% of the school population (Asians make up 7% of Blacksburg), you better BELIEVE that, in the frenzy, the police might DETAIN (again, not arrest) a white guy that is running by when it was reported that the shooter was white (and see my comment above: maybe some white student said “HEY!!! THAT’S HIM!” We won’t know, but let’s not jump to conclusions here!)

    “In addition, it’s irresponsible to brush off the Japanese Internment as part of the past just because it happened during WWII. If you have ever watch the film “Lest We Forget”, you can see that there are striking similarities between the profiling of Japanese Americans during WWII and the profiling, detention and deportation of Arab, South Asians and Muslims of Middle Eastern/South Asian decent.”

    -I’m not brushing it off. See the point I made earlier, which this statement supports.

    “Already, there have been racially targeted incidents. You can read an article about it.”

    -I commented on this elsewhere in this blog. Please see that post.

    “And after the whole “ching chong” incident of Rosie O’Donnell…”

    -Will someone please tell me about this?? I haven’t heard about this one. Sounds pretty bad, though, I’m with you on that.

    “Already, he has been refered to as a “loner,” “quiet” and “socially-awkward” – all stereotypes that have been used to describe Asian/Asian Americans.”

    -Hahaha, hold on a second…these words were also used to describe the Columbine shooters, who were NOT Asian! Also, it is very clear from reading eyewitness accounts that this guy WAS indeed all three of those things. Just because there is a stereotype of Asians being quiet loners who are socially awkward DOESN’T MEAN that Asians CAN’T BE quiet loners who are socially awkward!!!! I know a bunch who are, and a bunch who aren’t…I also know a bunch of white people who are, and a bunch who aren’t. Come on now!

    “Why does racial identity trump all other identities when the crime is committed by a POC but not for a white person?”

    -Hahaha, it DOESN’T!! That’s exactly what I’m saying!!! The media is depicting this guy as a crazy stalker lunatic, and yes, a crazy stalker lunatic who HAPPENS TO BE KOREAN! THEY AREN’T THE ONES focusing on his Korean roots, YOU ARE. Sure they mention it, but think about it like this: if all school shooters before this had been Korean, and BAM, this one was a white guy, don’t you think that the media would take note of that?

    Respectfully Yours,

    Viet Adoptee

  4. Gang Shik, I tried. I really did, but what a mess. I even asked one of my sisters-in-arms to check it out. She concurred.

    I will say that I think Cynical hit the nail on the head.

  5. Hm.

    This is quite crazy.
    Which is worse, the incident,
    Or the damn pundits. :/

    Water now stirred,
    The world makes many new motions
    That still sound the same. 😦

  6. To the Fellow Vietnamese Adoptee – your comments have sparked great curosity and was wondering if you would care to elaborate offline via email for more clarifications to your reactions. If so, feel free to email me directly at adkphoto@hotmail.com.

    Since I am a visual person, my one immediate reaction was the photographs of Cho Seung-Hui that have been plastered all over the internet. The ones of him holding the gun towards the camera look all too perfectly staged (his eye and the target view finder are lined up perfectly) to be only self portraits (though with the world of digital you can take as many until you are blue in the face), which makes me wonder if someone else did take the fotos, then why didn’t they say something? It is all too sad how society is taught to ignore all the warning signs until it’s too late…

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