Perhaps this explains why so many Korean Americans interviewed in the media said that when they first heard the Virginia Tech shooter was Asian, they hoped and prayed that he wasn’t Korean. This worry may seem nonsensical, but it is the only logical response to a society that too often exploits the ethnicity of evildoers in the search for a scapegoat.
There has not yet been any publicized case of violence against Korean Americans in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, but discrimination often manifests itself in other ways. Some examples are blatant, such as conservative columnist Debbie Schlussel’s claim that the shooting was “yet another reason to stop letting in so many foreign students,” and the recently created Facebook group, “FUCK THAT ASIAN KID THAT SHOT UP VT.” Other examples are more subtle—that quiet Asian in the corner is no longer just weird, but also potentially dangerous.
This discrimination is based primarily on the ability to judge people based on their minority status. When white terrorists like Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kaczynski kill innocent people, it’s ridiculous to think that their ethnicity had anything to do with the despicable acts. But when the perpetrators are minorities or worse yet, foreigners, ethnicity suddenly becomes a much bigger deal.
Indeed, it’s interesting to note that people almost always focus on ethnicity instead of other unifying characteristics. The Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, for example, was a South Korean immigrant who grew up in Centreville, Virginia, and majored in English at Virginia Tech. Of course, no one thinks any less of English majors or Centreville residents after the shooting—after all, that would be utterly ridiculous. But somehow, some find directing their anger and frustration at innocent Korean Americans less ridiculous.
This absurd way of thinking may help explain why many Korean Americans expressed unfounded feelings of guilt after the tragedy. Korean Americans interviewed around the country said that they felt embarrassed and ashamed that the killer was “one of their own.” Some also felt the need to emphasize that Cho was essentially Americanized, having lived here as a permanent resident since he was eight.
Exactly how long Cho had lived in America, however, is irrelevant. Even if Seung-Hui Cho were a recent immigrant, implying that his actions represent Korea or the Korean American community in any way is simply racist. Koreans have no reason to apologize for what Cho did.
Of course, ethnicity and cultural background are important influences in shaping a person’s identity. For this reason, some Korean Americans worry that the Korean cultural stigma against openly discussing mental illness may explain why young Korean Americans are often reluctant to seek help for depression or other mental health problems.
But this aspect of Korean culture can hardly be used to explain the case of Seung-Hui Cho. It takes more than cultural stigma to make a person load and cock a gun.
In the wake of such a sickening tragedy as Virginia Tech, it’s tempting to pin the blame on whoever we can. In our grief, however, we must remember to divorce the murderer’s race from the murderer himself. These terrible incidents should be seen as they really are—isolated acts of evil committed by isolated people.
Jimmy Y. Li ’09, a Crimson editorial comper, is a neurobiology concentrator in Leverett House.