Ethnic identities questioned after Virginia Tech

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Ethnic identities questioned after Virginia Tech

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<b>Korean community reacts to blame and guilt following massacre</b>
April 24, 2007
By Aram Hur

In the aftermath of last week&#39;s Virginia Tech massacre, the national Korean-American community has reportedly suffered a backlash similar to that unleashed against Muslims in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, but Asian Americans on campus largely agree that they are being treated with respect and sympathy and credited the media&#39;s portrayal of the attack as objective and fair.

A number of Facebook groups, such as "Cho Seung-Hui does NOT represent Asians," are continuously amassing new members, while a YouTube post with the words "I belong in Korea" over
Cho&#39;s face is receiving hundreds of hits per day.
While the Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was South Korean, other ethnic groups have expressed empathy for Asians in the wake of last week&#39;s attack. Ahmed Ashraf &#39;07, vice president of the Muslim Student Awareness Network, said he had similar fears before the identity of the shooter was disclosed.

"I know that when I first heard about the Virginia Tech tragedy, I was very, very nervous about the gunman&#39;s background," Ashraf said in an email to the Daily. "If a Muslim student were involved in the massacre, it [would have] hit way too close to home."

Media coverage of the shootings has drawn an ambiguous reaction from Asian students and faculty members at the University.

"This shows that race and ethnicity is still a key source of collective identity in the United States," said Sociology Prof. Gi-Wook Shin. "Non-white ethnic groups and females can be self-conscious and extra careful precisely because they are still minorities in American politics of identity."

Others said they were pleased with the focus on Cho&#39;s mental state, rather than his ethnicity.

"The media has been pretty good at being neutral," said Kenny Kim &#39;08, co-president of the Korean Students Association. "As a member of the Asian-American community, I was inclined to think of the worst possible outcomes, but the discussion has now turned more to Cho&#39;s mental health than to his ethnic background."

"This, sadly, is not a new crime in America and is not seen in new terms now that the latest perpetrator is of Korean origin," Shin added. "Experts have compared him to the Columbine shooters, saying that he fits the same profile. This is a judgment about mental state and behavior patterns that have nothing to do with race or ethnicity."

In South Korea, reaction to the Blacksburg, Va. tragedy brought up deeper, cultural issues.

Shortly after the shooter&#39;s ethnicity was revealed, the South Korean government and media went into a frenzy, debating whether Cho&#39;s actions warranted an official national apology.

Such a phenomenon has raised discussion of collective guilt. Yet Kim emphasized the importance of a clear-cut distinction between guilt and shame.

"Koreans are a unique race," he said. "We often blur the lines between the nation and the people. Thus when we found out that the shooter was Korean, every Korean felt a bit of shame that one of &#39;us&#39; committed a horrible act."

"However, this is not to say we feel any guilt for what happened," he added. "The act that Cho committed is an isolated event and has no linkage with him being Korean or Korean American."

On campus, students and faculty said they have faith in the community&#39;s power to overcome the blame and guilt.

"This tragedy was not about Korean or Asian Americans, and I am sure the Stanford community is well aware of that," Shin said. "In a sense, Cho himself was a victim and we have social responsibility to make sure that this kind of tragedy won&#39;t happen again."


<b> Comments on this article:</b>

<b>Joe</b> - 4/24/07
Muslims were not the brunt of the 9/11 backlash. Ignorant Americans labelled all brown-skinned US CITIZENS as Muslim, and acted accordingly. East Indians, who are as far away from the middle east as the US is from Brazil, were killed in retaliation. Cabbies, convenience store owners, even an old man sitting on a park bench "had his turban ripped off his head and his face slapped" by two white females. The Korean community can have some solice knowing that Americans will ignorantly take their anger out on Chinese and Japanese CITIZENS of their country.

<b>a</b> - 4/24/07
I really don&#39;t fear any backlash against the Asian-American community, because Cho&#39;s actions do not fit with the stereotype of the quiet, polite Asian. People are always unwilling to throw away their stereotypes, so in this case, the preexisting stereotype will work against a development of hatred against the community. Whereas, if the shooter were Muslim, it would be a disaster for that community.

<b>Gary</b> - 4/24/07
Joe, why would Koreans take solice in the reprisal against other members of the Asian community? Next time, try to bring a point to your post.

<b>Zangief</b> - 4/24/07
The difference between the Korean response after Cho and the Muslim response after 9/11 is very telling.
Korean leaders *rushed* to decry and distance themselves from Cho.

Muslim leaders became terrorist apologists.

The sad thing is, even moderate Muslim leaders cannot learn from the Korean experience. Because, if a moderate Muslim leader speaks out against fundamentalist Islam, he will almost certainly be assassinated.

<b>Joe</b> - 4/24/07
Gary, I guess my point is that if there is a backlash, it will not just affect Koreans, as 9/11 did not just affect Muslims. Thus, fewer Korean-Americans will be terrorized by the caucasian Americans, just as fewer Muslims were (partly because Muslim men do not wear turbans like Osama, and so it&#39;s harder to pick them out, and partly becaue Americans want to live in ignorant bliss, believing that they&#39;re patriots when they terrorize recent immigrants, ignoring that unless they are Native Americans, they are relatively recent immigrants as well)

<b>Wang</b> - 4/24/07
Joe are you suggesting that caucasian americans are now terrorizing Koreans? Give me a break. Koreans feel collective shame becauses if this crime was committed in Korea, Koreans know that they would hunt down any white person and hang them. Just look at how Koreans acted in 2002 when two young girls accidentaly got run over by a "tank". Koreans attacked every foreigner they could get their hands on.

Don&#39;t start painting koreans as victims of some kind of terrorism in the USA.

<b>Joe</b> - 4/24/07

Wang - no, I&#39;m not saying that the whites are terrorizing Koreans. I said *if* there&#39;s a backlash, it won&#39;t affect just Koreans. Who knows what will happen. Who knows what Koreans would have done if it happened to them at home.

I did say, however, that caucasians in the US *are* terrorizing brown-skinned Americans, and that is unjust. Those are the recent immigrants I refered to. East Indians had nothing to do with 9/11, but just because they kinda sorta almost look like arabs, they&#39;re walking around with targets on their backs.

All I&#39;m saying is that the author shouldn&#39;t have said that Muslim-americans faced the backlash after 9/11. That gives undeserved credit to the American people, whose ignorace and hate is causing suffering not just to Muslims, but to anyone who looks remotely similar to them.

<b>question....</b> - 4/24/07
why is it okay to make blanket statements about a certain group acting violently, but not others? do caucasians (or &#39;americans&#39;, as some posters have curiously chosen to use the term interchangeably) need to start facebook groups telling others, &#39;not all white people are violent bigots&#39;? yes there are some quite ignorant whites who have done horrible things to innocent people, with racism as the primary motivation. however, i would argue that most (or at least a significant enough majority of) whites do not see this the virginia tech massacre in terms of racial identity, and it has been those who are preemptively trying to avoid a backlash that have framed the issue as such (i do not say this to deny the injustices of the certain amount of backlash that has been felt).

just as it is wrong to blame koreans or korean culture because of the actions of one person who shared their national identity, it should not be tolerable to make judgments upon all americans (and/or whites) and their culture because of the comparatively few violent bigots who happen to share their ethnic/national identity. yes, there are deep-seated racist tendencies in american culture, discrimination was once the status quo, and racism is still a huge problem that demands everyone&#39;s attention. nevertheless, i would argue that many posters have shown the same sort of prejudices that they fear by painting an entire group according to actions of some individuals. this is unnecessary; it would not be thoughtlessly denying the injustices committed upon the victims to show care when naming the aggressors.

yes, the effect of some white people being mislabeled as bigots due to blanket statements is a far lesser injustice than members of minority groups experiencing violence as result of racism. this, however, is not a complaint of "reverse-racism"; what i mean is that by casting all members of a group as victims and those of another as the aggressors, many people are reinforcing the social roles of various ethnic groups that lead to prejudice. i&#39;m not demanding that all people who rightly rail against prejudice adopt PC language...i just mean they often are just cementing the &#39;us vs. them&#39; mentality that buttresses an ideological atmosphere that leads to such injustices. yes, there are historical precedents that lead people to speak in blanket terms...but by allowing their speech to be informed by the past in such a manner, i would argue that they are merely perpetuating it.

<b>citizen</b> - 4/25/07
Wang. The case of the 2 girls involved alcohol and reckless driving and the 2 perpetrators got away scot free by an all american jury. It also followed several rapes and violent crimes that were committed by the military (which again went unpunished). No foreigner was killed as a result of the anger. The military folks got the "evil eye" and that&#39;s about it. You&#39;re way out of line in bringing up these examples. you are just full of hate and want to get something ugly started.

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Original Source: <a href="http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2007/4/24/ethnicIdentitiesQuestionedAfterVirginiaTech"> Stanford Daily - April 24, 2007</a>

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Aram Hur

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2007-06-13

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Aram Hur, "Ethnic identities questioned after Virginia Tech," in The April 16 Archive, Item #511, http://april16archive.org/items/show/511 (accessed November 24, 2014).