I know that there has been a lot of media/blog coverage of the VT incident. I know there are a lot of people and families grieving and in a lot of pain. And for them I also grieve. This tragedy, unfortunately has unleashed quite a bit of anger and anguish that has been channelled through hurtful racialization and racist commentary. I do not mean to in any way minimize the atrocities that took place this past week. I just wish to look to how the media and mainstream America are channeling their anger and anguish onto many within the Korean and Asian American communities. There are many who feel this same sadness over the tragedy, yet on top of it they feel scared and intimidated. I’ve heard countless stories of how Korean and Asian American adults, children and families are scared of what this may mean for how they are viewed by the rest of America. There is absolutely no reason for the atrocities of Cho to polarize relations with the Korean and Asian American Communities. He acted upon his own volition, and this does not mean that all other Asians or Koreans are killers. I thought this much would be glaringly clear, yet articles like these, and testaments from many Asian Americans continue to flare up and are largely unaddressed on an institutional level.
We live within a society that is racially charged. While most of the country relegates race and racism issues to those residing within the restrictive White vs Black binary, there are obviously many other people of color who are also marginalized and suffer racism as well. Just this past week, Don Imus was batted around by the media for his careless remarks, and was taken off the air. What sort of consequences were there for those such as Rosie O’Donnell’s racist remarks? an apology, and a weak one at that.
People of color are continuously cast as the “racial other” in many current events and are even more so dehumanized in this sense. VT is no exception. Initial police encounters with those trapped inside the engineering building resulted in a Chinese American male being arrested, cuffed, and shown on the cover of the NY Times. It’s not as if any White male was arrested and cuffed during Columbine…
In a more recent article Koreans in Korea who share the name “Cho” are receiving so many hateful and racist comments from many Americans that their sites have been forced to shut down due to too many visits. Many in the U.S. with similar names are also being targeted for racist and xenophobic remarks. http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2874616
Many are scared. Parents are scared for the safety of their children on campuses, especially Asian American students at VT. If this sort of racist backlash is happening on the internet and in the blogosphere, what does this mean for physical encounters? Many Korean and Asian American organizations have received racist hate mail, and are having to publicly denounce the activity of Cho as if they bare some sort of obligation or involvement for being simply Asian American. I liken this sort of behavior to that of World War II when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I’ve seen many bloggers make this connection as well. As if there is a need to place blame on others of the same ethnicity…Are all Koreans somehow hot-wired to mother Korea and share the same thoughts including those of Cho’s?
Of course not, yet we saw this exact sort of sentiment during World War II as the justification for interning Japanese Americans on the basis of their alleged blood ties and loyalty to Japan. There is this perverse need to categorize and homogenize the acts of Asians, to be some sort of shared cultural experience. This same sort of “ownership” and racialized loyalty was also seen during the LA Riots when Korean stores and businesses were targeted and destroyed as a result of skewed media coverage and the fallacy that all Koreans were the same. What about Vincent Chin who was killed by several white automobile workers who assumed he was Japanese and that all Japanese were responsible for the deteriorating American car market and rising Japanese care market?
Much of America racializes events into blaming or creating some sort of ethnic responsibility for Asian Americans and people of color in general. I think it’s preposterous for those to think that racism has and will not result after the VT incident. It has, and will continue to occur so long as Americans rely upon homogenizingly limiting typecasting of Asian Americans, that result in placing collective blame.
What happened at VT is a tragedy and as we all grieve I urge you all to not vent your anger and anguish through racist and xenophobic epithets. How are we truly grieving and renouncing the acts of Cho, if we are in turn violently pointing a racist finger back at the many Korean and Asian Americans in this country?
I know there are many of you with quite a bit of anger and feel quite stirred by the number of blog postings and articles all over discussing this issue at length. If you would like to comment to this post please do so in a respectful manner. We need to continue to have ongoing discourse on these issues community to community without hate or generalized blaming or shaming.
(THE FOLLOWING ARE REMARKS WRITTEN BY NEWSWEEK WRITERS AND NOT BY THE AUTHOR OF THIS BLOG)
Korean-Americans Brace for Backlash
Korean-Americans fear that hatred toward the Virginia Tech killer will spill over into their community—and fuel negative typecasting.
Updated: 1:44 p.m. ET 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 said.
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.