Moving Forward

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.

-Gang Shik
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(THE FOLLOWING ARE REMARKS WRITTEN BY NEWSWEEK WRITERS AND NOT BY THE AUTHOR OF THIS BLOG)

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18178194/site/newsweek/

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.

WEB EXCLUSIVE

By Jessica Bennett and Noelle Chun

Newsweek

 

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.

 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18178194/site/newsweek/

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3 Comments on “Moving Forward

  1. Yeah, I knew this article was going to pop up on here. Knew it. OK, let’s take a look.

    First off, I don’t blame the Korean community for being concerned. I think a certain amount of concern is warranted, as let’s face, it, there are some crazy people of all colors out there (people that believe in the RAHOWA, stuff like that) that might take this as the start of some race war between Koreans and whoever else. So yeah, it’s important to discuss this sort of thing in order to figure out what to do when the loonies come a-knocking.

    But as with my post yesterday, let’s not make this into something it isn’t. Have there been threats? Oh, I’m sure there have been. But it’s important to consider where the threats are coming from. Let’s take a look:

    “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.”

    -WOW, stuff like that coming from “one unnamed commentator on the Sepia Mutiny blog” really carries a lot of weight. I mean, Jesus, what if that one unnamed commentator is a Supreme Court Justice? Could be, you never know!

    “Take that s–t back to your own nation,” declared one participant on the social networking site Facebook.”

    -WOW, someone on facebook!!! Damn!!! Did you ever see all the white power groups on facebook? I don’t know if they still exist, but they certainly did. I think it raelly came about when…yeah, when HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS were allowed to be members. Please. These are a bunch of ignorant 13 year olds that are trying to get reactions out of people by saying “shocking” things. They are not a threat.

    The threats are coming from groups of little kids and idiots, not anyone with real power in this country. But I WILL tell you what group might react with some near-unanimous scorn and rejection of Korean Americans….

    Other Asians. Seriously, other Asians are the only people who KNOW the Korean stereotype of being overly-macho, misogynistic, fight pickers. The rest of America (white, black, hispanic, etc.) just assumes Koreans are, for the most part, like other Asians: they tend to do well in school, be successful, and just generally mind their own business. Trust me, when I’m hanging around with both white people and Asian people, when the whole Korean-macho thing gets brought up, white people are almost ALWAYS in the dark as to the existence of that stereotype.

    As a fellow Asian guy (well, racially at least) I think that what we REALLY need to focus on is the prejudice WITHIN the Asian community that might develop from this, not between the Korean community and the non-Asian elements of this country. I think that Viet, Japanese, and Chinese Americans might try to distance themselves from Korean Americans because they might assume that they’ll be seen as guilty by association. Therefore they’ll attempt to make the differences between Korean Americans and other groups of Asian Americans more pronounced.

    There needs to be some serious dialogue between the Korean American communities and other Asian American communities. First, it needs to be said that this is NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT going to result in widespread anti-Korean/Asian sentiments from the larger American community. Sure there will be a few extreme racist nutjobs that are trying to garner support for their race war they want to start, but these people are idiots and no one will stand with them.

    And PLEASE stop making these “post-911” statements. Middle Easterners are a COMPLETELY different story: they are of a different religion (one that many Americans assume to be inherently violent), a different culture that had been ruthlessly attacked in the years leading up to 9/11 (and still is), and are more generally perceived to be completely different from Asian Americans. If a Muslim had done this, well…shit, I’d be behind you 100%. But it wasn’t a Muslim. Stop drawing parallels that aren’t there. When a Muslim person commits a crime (especially a murder), many Americans assume that it was because he/she is a Muslim. When an Asian person commits a crime, NO ONE assumes it was because he is Asian (THOUGH THIS WAS NOT THE CASE 60 YEARS AGO, WHICH I ABSOLUTELY ADMIT).

    On a side note, a think some of you people need to MEET some white/non-Asian people. I don’t mean to offend anyone with this, but hear me out. My friend breakdown is pretty much a solid 50/50 of Asian and non-Asian. Once you actually socialize with people who aren’t of the same race as you, you realize that we really aren’t all that different, and that the hatred that a group assumes to be on the receiving end of isn’t actually there.

  2. Man, you KADs are always so much trouble. What’s wrong with you?

    Viet Adoptee, maybe you should open up your own blog seeing as how you like to voice your opinion so much. There’s a shortage of Viet Adoptee bloggers in blogsphere anyway.

    I can agree with you on some points, others not.

    “The threats are coming from groups of little kids and idiots, not anyone with real power in this country. But I WILL tell you what group might react with some near-unanimous scorn and rejection of Korean Americans….”

    The fact that threats would come from “little kids” should be the first sign that something is wrong. Where are they learning this? Even thought the framework for racism maybe be inborn, racism itself is something learned.

    And please let me remind you that Muslims are not only “Middle Easterners” but consist of all races. Not all “Middle Easterners” are Muslims and not all Muslims are “Middle Easterners”. There are many Asian Muslims out there including people from Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Vietnam.

    It’s not that I think the backlash from the VT Shooting would reach the same proportions, but as a Muslim and an Asian, I can’t help but seem similarities in the way it’s being reported.

    For me, it’s not about someone thinking a person committs a crime because they are Asian, but about the racial undertones that are coming to the surface in the aftermath.

    Anyway,

    “On a side note, a think some of you people need to MEET some white/non-Asian people. I don’t mean to offend anyone with this, but hear me out. My friend breakdown is pretty much a solid 50/50 of Asian and non-Asian. Once you actually socialize with people who aren’t of the same race as you, you realize that we really aren’t all that different, and that the hatred that a group assumes to be on the receiving end of isn’t actually there.”

    That is a rather condescending presumption. How do you know that many of “those people” you speak of don’t already associate with white people. Just because they might associate with “white people,” doesn’t mean that we have to be silent or blind to racism.

    Gang Shik, my apologies for the long comment.

    Signing off…

  3. “Viet Adoptee, maybe you should open up your own blog seeing as how you like to voice your opinion so much. ”

    -ooo, that had a bit of an edge to it 🙂

    “The fact that threats would come from “little kids” should be the first sign that something is wrong. Where are they learning this? Even thought the framework for racism maybe be inborn, racism itself is something learned. ”

    -I’m going to disagree with you on the assertion that the framework for racism may be inborn. I’ve heard that argument many a time, and I don’t buy it. People mobilize difference around what they perceive to be important: it could be height, eye color, hair color, you name it. Racial categories were created because they were useful, because they served a certain agenda. Now prejudice and inter-group conflict, that might be inborn (and it probably is). But I don’t buy the inborn framework for racism argument.

    -Being a “racist” is one of the top things people in this country DON’T want to be perceived as. It carries a huge, huge social stigma. Have you ever seen how a Republican (or a Democrat, for that matter) reacts when he/she is called a racist? People get really, really pissed. And that’s why these kids adopt the label: it’s their way of saying “fuck society,” of taking the most taboo subjects and making them seem like nothing. It’s playing tough guy. These kids act racist because they know that racism is seen as such a terrible thing. It’s also why kids make anti-gay jokes, rape jokes, that sort of thing….it’s testing the limits. Immature posturing.

    “And please let me remind you that Muslims are not only “Middle Easterners” but consist of all races. ”

    -Which is an important thing to remember, of course. But I am talking about how these groups are perceived by mainstream America/the media. How do you think Muslims are generally depicted? As Indonesians? No, they’re portrayed as Iranians, Iraqis, Afghanis, etc. BUT, you still have a point, because if it did happen to be an Asian Muslim that carried this thing out, their ethnicity would be a huge, HUGE focus point. Then this country (more specifically I’m referring to the media sources in this country) would probably start some sort of INVESTIGATIVE REPORT into RADICAL ISLAM IN ASIA or some shit like that. You bet. Islam trumps all in America.

    “For me, it’s not about someone thinking a person committs a crime because they are Asian, but about the racial undertones that are coming to the surface in the aftermath.”

    -Yeah, maybe not for you, but that is the position that a lot of people are accusing the media of holding, and that’s what I’m addressing. Also, I’m asserting that a lot of the racial undertones that people are “seeing” aren’t actually there. I myself am looking pretty hard for them, and I can’t find them. Every time you see something reported that COULD be racist, instead of saying “OH MY GOD CAN YOU BELIEVE…” try asking yourself, “am I seeing something that isn’t there? Am I manufacturing a mirage?” We really need to do this, because when we make accusations, there needs to be some substance behind them or they’ll fall to pieces under criticism. Now, I’m all for pointing out instances of institutionalized racism (which I think this blog has generally been quite good about in the past), but stuff like this threatens to deligitimize something that is totally legitimate.

    “That is a rather condescending presumption. How do you know that many of “those people” you speak of don’t already associate with white people. Just because they might associate with “white people,” doesn’t mean that we have to be silent or blind to racism.”

    -Hey, but I said I didn’t mean to offend anyone!! 🙂 I’m not assuming they don’t, but I know many don’t, am I’m suggesting that those individuals should. They should associate with all types of people. It has always been my belief that the best way to cure a racist person is to find some way to have them make friends with someone who is not of their own race. Then the rigid racist fortifications that that individual has built up crumbles, as cases of “exceptions” are nothing but cracks in the dam that will eventually lead to the destruction of the walls of prejudice. Now, institutionalized racism is something completely different, as has to be attacked with a different approach, but I’m talking about prejudice of individuals here. A ton of my Asian friends were more or less petrified of black people when we started college, but then, during my soph year when I introduced a black woman (and then, later, 2 black men) into our circle of friends, you could almost feel that fear dissipate day by day, until all the jokes and insecurities just faded away.

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