Koreans are not to blame

Also posted at Antiracist Parent.

I'm sure I'm not the only adoptive parent of Asian children who is struggling to help their kids understand the Virginia Tech tragedy. Tech draws many students from the northern Virginia area (where I live), so Monday's events hit very close to home. My children were horrified by the murders, and their reactions have ranged from shock, fear, relief (when friends at Tech were found to have survived without injury), and sadness. I wonder, too, if they are feeling shame because the shooter was Korean. They say they aren't, but it worries me that this message may be reaching them.

Cho Seung Hui was a terribly disturbed young man. How he flew under the radar of family, physicians, and schools for so long, and how he evaded treatment while at college are questions that deserve our consideration. Their answers will likely point to disparities between white and minority access to mental health care, as well as the challenges faced by immigrant families in obtaining these services. And they may help us avoid similar tragedies in the future.

But it's Cho's Korean-ness that has flooded the airwaves. The news program that broadcast Cho's picture superimposed over a Korean flag is probably the worst example I've heard of - my husband watched it in disbelief the first day Cho's identity was released. I can see no point to that news clip outside of an effort to drag our minds to the conclusion that being Korean was an important factor in Cho's decision to arm himself and kill 32 innocent people.

My frustration with the focus on Cho's race and ethnicity has been intensified by the apologies and collective shame that are being expressed by some Koreans and Korean Americans. Washington State Senator Paull Shin issued a public apology for Cho’s actions, saying, “It hurts me deeply, knowing what happened to Korea and how much the U.S. helped,” drawing a illogical connection between the Korean War and this sick young man's action. The Korean Ambassador to the United States, Lee Tae-Shik, joined in, saying in his official statement, "This shocking tragedy gives the Korean community a reason to look itself over and repent, as well as reaching out to American society to form a closer relationship." Repent? For what?

I received such an apology myself – a formal statement from the director of our adoption agency's Korean affiliate. He voiced sadness and sympathy, but most of all shame that a Korean could have committed such a crime. And he apologized for Cho's actions. I heard another apology right here in my neighborhood, too, from the owner of a local restaurant. After voicing her apology for Cho's actions, she hastened to add that she was Chinese, not Korean. I'm still trying to get my head around that one.

Even now, as I write this, Alina Cho on CNN is covering this very issue. Every Korean and Korean American she interviews expresses shock and shame – sorrow, yes, but most of all shock and shame. I understand national pride, but to draw it to the point of taking on guilt for the actions of a person who clearly suffered from serious mental illness is too much.

Apologies and expressions of shame send a message that Koreans are responsible, Asians are responsible. They aren't. The only one who bears responsibility for the murders at Virginia Tech is Cho Seung Hui himself. As Adrian Hong of the Korean American Coalition DC Chapter said in this morning’s Washington Post, Koreans aren't to blame.

The Korean American Coalition DC Chapter has set up the Virginia Tech Memorial Fund in support of Virginia Tech Victims and their families. If you would like to contribute, and add your voice and action to a positive response from the Korean American community, please send checks to:

Korean American Coalition
Attn: VA Tech Memorial Fund

1001 Connecticut Ave NW Ste 730
Washington, DC 20036

For more information, email kacdc@kacdc.org.


Deb said…
I've been noticing the same thing: as much as the media seems to be playing up the shooter's ethnicity, the blogs I read from korean americans seem to be assuming some of the shame. Carol's post at Kimchi Mamas
helped me wrap my little brain around that . . . What happened was a terrible tragedy, but was the fault of one sick, broken individual. Perhaps your children don't feel the same degree of culpability because, having been raised as they were, they didn't internalize that sense of collective responsiblity?

I think that emphasizing Cho's ethnicity, or his antidepressant use, or any other single factor threatens to distract us from looking at things in their entirety. What stressors contributed to Mr. Cho's brokenness? Where were the gaps that allowed his pathology to escape effective notice? How was he able to obtain access to the weaponry that he used? What could have been done differently to protect the safety of the staff and students? There will be no single answer-- but I hope that this horrible act motivates us not just to look at what we could have done, but to change things so that we do so in the future.
Terra Trevor said…
Lately friends are telling me of some very disturbing incidents following the Virginia Tech shootings.

The mother of a young adult Asian son reports that her son came home from work saying the manager of his company said, "Aren't you dead?"

All the white employees all laughed at him.

Imagine being compared to a killer?

The day after the tragic shootings another friend's wife went to work and one of her friends at work (a white woman) asked her, "My husband wants to know which side of Korea you are from. From south Korea or north Korea?"

You get the picture?

She went to choir practice on Tuesday and experienced a very stunning thing. A member (female) made a comment about being her being "a Korean" and drove by her like a mad person - her car was only less than 20 inches away. Why would a church member who was previously friendly suddenly turn against her?

I'm not Asian. I'm half white, and I'm often mistaken for white, and in the last couple of days I've witnessed similar accounts and can report hearing and seeing similar deeply upsetting things. I'm offering only a glimpse because my mind is full of more episodes like this than I care to write about.

My son and adult daughter were adopted from Korea, yet I don't want this fact to take center stage because I know I would be equally raving upset even if our family did not have Korean blended into our mix.

My thoughts are centering on something else. Mainly, what can I do?

I believe those of us of white descent carry a responsibility - we must address our fellow members of the white race and make a standpoint letting them know it is NOT OK when they make these type of comments and actions, we must speak out to those who degrade Asians, and any race targeted. My husband and I have done this often in the past and we are prepared to meet more in the coming days.

Maya Angelou says it best, "We had come so far from where we started, and weren't nearly approaching where we had to be, but we were on the road to becoming better." Let us all work together toward better.
atlasien said…
Many different Asian cultures have a sense of collective responsibility.

I think many Asian-Americans (and especially Korean-Americans) are currently feeling a strain between an individualist and collectivist ethic.

I feel no need to apologize for the actions of a mass murderer because he shares my racial background. Many others feel the same way. Other Asians and Asian-Americans feel differently... I wish those others would not apologize, but that's my personal preference. I can understand that collective responsibility motivates them to do so, so I can't blame them, although it does happen to be frustrating.
Mom2One/Judy said…
Oh my. I really haven't seen the news about this -- just a small amount on the internet. But I figured there would be some backlash against Koreans or, more likely Asians in general. For them to apologize for his actions -- OK, maybe it is cultural that they have a sense of cultural responsibility, like Atlasien says, but you have a good point, Margie -- that here, that reinforces the belief that Asians are a violent people.

It's no one's fault but Cho's. Very tragically.
Ryan said…
I, too, am sickened that many American's are pointing the racial finger. As an adoptive mother of a beautiful KOREAN baby, I worry that a few hurtfull comments will be thrown our direction. So far we haven't had a problem.

I have seen in the news, groups of people from Korea holding signs apoligizing for Cho's actions. I've read statments where Korean's have said that they feel shame and humility. It makes me SO SAD to think that South Korea feels the need to bear the weight of this tragedy. As was stated before, it was ONE MAN who was VERY mentally unstable. He could have been any race... it just so happens that he was Korean. I don't understand how ANYONE can justify in their minds that because of one Korean's actions, ALL Koreans are to blame??!!

I could go on and on. I'm just heartbroken. Heartbroken for the families of the victims, for Cho's family, and for all of the Korean's everywhere who are dealing with racist comments and thoughts directed at them.

Michelle said…
As a Korean AND an American, I can understand both sides. You see, for Koreans, the collective sentiments of both pride and shame come hand in hand. The fact that our whole nation can react with such remorse and responsiblity is what keeps the majority in line. It is rare to see such an act of violence against the masses, and understandibly, IMHO, it is this consequence that would prevent many from snapping like Cho did. OTOH, I also see it as an act of one deranged and marginalized individual who holds the sole responsiblity, and his nationality/ethnicity has nothing to do with it. But he happens to have grown up from a family similar to mine with similar goals of achieving the dream of educating the children through hard work and perseverance despite the many hardships. And they happen to be Korean like mine. It hits too close to home for me. And thus I am sitting on the fence again....as usual.
zoe said…
I agree, Margie...if my son were older I would be very concerned about his processing of these statements. I've wondered this: The concept of feeling collective shame/guilt aside, aren't these messages also possibly a sad result of what has been sown here for so long - racism and prejudice? If a group is *already* likely to be considered - on the basis of race - to be 'associated' with an individual who commits a heinous crime, what other viable response does society truly allow? It's a very precarious position, I imagine, and with few other options that the prejudiced society will accept. It's not right, but it is definitely more an indictment of our own collective state than of those who have been put into the position of trying to ensure some sense of peace by apologizing for that which they really shouldn't. :(
cavatica said…
Unfortunately I think it is human nature to catagorize. For Cho we are noticing his Koreaness and his mental health problems. This hasn't been good for other Koreans or people with mental illness - both of whom are primarily nonviolent. Nice post. Thanks.

May I link to your blog on my blogroll?
Margie said…
Thanks for the comment, Cavatica, and yes, please link!
Kahlan said…
Exactly what I've been thinking and could not express in words.
PamConnell said…
We adopted through Eastern. Is there a link to Dr. Kim's comments? I haven't seen them. I admire him so much, I wish he hadn't apologized.

Would you mind if I link to this blog from mine at families.com?
deb said…
Delurking to weigh in on this topic.
After I heard about the shootings, my first thought was, "Please let the shooter be a white male."
Because whenever anything horrible like this happens (it is happens far too often in this country) if the shooter is NOT a white male, then the wheels of racism start turning evermore swiftly.
I do not recall massive apologies or backlash against white males after Timothy McVeigh and his cohort did their violence.
We have so far to travel....
Margie said…
Deb, that's exactly what I thought - when have we ever connected white male, or western European ancestry, to something like this?

Pam, thank you for commenting, and feel free to link. I will look for your blog, too - could you email me its link?

I can then send you a copy of Dr. Kim's comments. You might also find the newsletter on the ASIA-CHSFS website.

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