Newsweek Article on VT Shooting

Thanks for the heads up on this one from the Asian Americans for Political Awareness Listserver


By Jessica Bennett and Noelle Chun
Updated: 12:44 p.m. CT April 18, 2007

April 18, 2007 – The bodies had barely been removed when the racial
epithets started pouring in. Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old
identified as the killer of 32 on the Virginia Tech campus, may have
lived in the state since his elementary school days, but to the
bigots in the blogosphere it was his origins in Korea that mattered
most. “Koreans are the most hotheaded and macho of East Asians,”
wrote one unnamed commentator on the Sepia Mutiny blog. “They are
also sick and tired of losing their Korean girlfriends to white men
with an Asian fetish.”

The vitriol of comments like these has shocked America’s Korean
community, leaving it braced for a backlash and scrambling to
control the damage caused by distorted stereotypes. In South Korea—
where government officials feared that the incident could further
sour relations with Washington—the foreign ministry issued a
statement saying that it hoped the tragedy would not provoke “racial
prejudice or confrontation.” Inside the United States, social-
network users set up online forums with names like “Don’t Hate
Koreans Because of Cho Seung-Hui” and “Cho Seung-Hui Does NOT
Represent Asians.” Some spoke of launching a fund-raising drive for
the families of those who died in the most deadly school shooting in
U.S. history. But many fear these measures won’t be enough to blunt
the hatred. “In the wake of 9/11, we saw so many racially charged
incidents that I don’t think it’s out of the question to suspect
this [prejudice] will happen,” says Aimee Baldillo, a spokeswoman
for the Asian American Justice Center, a Washington-based civil-
rights group. “The lesson we learned then was that individuals are
going to get targeted on the basis of a perceived race or ethnicity
with connection to a suspect.”

An estimated 1.4 million people of Korean descent live in the United
States. Badillo says her organization has already received reports—
still unconfirmed—of several crimes of retribution against the
community. Online, chat rooms throbbed with hate. “Take that s–t
back to your own nation,” declared one participant on the social
networking site Facebook. Not all the comments were negative: 23-
year-old student and tech consultant Eugene Kim told NEWSWEEK that
about half of the online commentators on Faceook “are saying how an
individual shouldn’t be generalized to the entire Asian community.”
Others, however, were making remarks like “This guy [Cho] comes to
our country on a visa; he’s not even a citizen.” Kim, himself an
ethnic Korean, says he has already been the butt of several
jokes: “One guy at work said, ‘You guys better be real nice to Kim.
Make sure he doesn’t get stressed out so he doesn’t come in and
shoot everyone.'”

Other Asians in the United States also experienced mixed emotions
when it was confirmed that Cho was indeed Korean. Vietnamese-
American writer Andrew Lam says he had held his breath waiting to
learn the killer’s identity, hoping his community wouldn’t shoulder
collective blame for the acts of an individual. “Let it be some
other Asian!” was the prayer among many Asian-American communities,
Lam says. Other Asians meanwhile, said they fear a spillover effect
would extend beyond Koreans. “The things that some of you are saying
scare the s—t out of me,” wrote one Facebook contributor. “I know
you all remember the stories of [turbaned] Sikhs getting beaten up
after 9/11. Can we show some sense for once?”

Korean-related Web sites, meanwhile, came under intense scrutiny.
The site for the national Korean American Student Association, which
carried forum postings from alumni expressing support for Virginia
Tech, on Tuesday morning went offline with no explanation by the
afternoon. At Virginia Tech itself, the Korean Student Association
site was shut down; a message in Korean said it had been closed
temporarily because of too much server activity. Seung-Woo Lee, the
head of the Virginia Tech association, told NEWSWEEK he had received
calls from many of the several hundred ethnic Korean students on
campus telling him they felt “horrified and scared.” Several parents
had already come to their campus to take their children home, he

Cho was clearly a troubled young man, whose motives for the rampage
may never be known. But scholars like Hugo Schwyzer, a history and
gender studies professor at Pasadena City College in Los Angeles-
where 35 percent of the college population is of Asian descent—says
he expects to see some “classically damaging” typecasts of Asian
males as socially awkward and introverted, as more information about
Cho emerges. Fears are running particularly high in Los Angeles,
home to one of the nation’s largest Korean-American communities.
Many residents there remember the violence during the Rodney King
race riots that ravaged the city 15 years ago, and fear the
possibility of becoming targets again. “We were once the hatred
target of black Americans,” says L.A. businessman Kim Yong Gi. “I
hope we don’t become the target of all Americans this time.”

“The Korean community as a whole is in shock,” says John Cho, the
Los Angeles-based assistant editor of the Korean Times (and no
relation to the gunman). “Something like this has never happened to
us.” Cho is especially sensitive to concerns about stereotyping—and
the pressures facing young men like Cho. “When you first move here,
it is a challenge to learn English, to make friends. In Korea, we
are all taught to act as part of a group, to be part of bigger
group. But here, people are taught to be individuals and to shine on
an individual basis. That’s culturally hard for us.” One of the
additional pressures facing Koreans, Cho notes, is the belief that
members of the group achieve disproportionately high success
rates. “The Korean community is known for overachieving,” says Cho.
Maybe [the killer] had pressures on him that he couldn’t settle
because he wasn’t in [his home] community.” Cho’s newspaper is among
the institutions trying to counter negative perceptions of the
community. But even as Cho tries to explain the typecasting, he is
aware of the irony. “What’s worrying is that if a white person had
done this,” he muses, “no one would call up the white community and
ask if they were going to be stereotyped.”

With BJ Lee in Seoul, Tara Weingarten in Los Angeles and Lynn
Waddell in Blacksburg, Va.



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