Sunday, April 22, 2007

Some thoughts on the VT killings

Several people have asked me how I feel about the killings as a Korean.

I find the question quite irritating, because it seems to imply that the shooter's nationality had something to do with his diabolical rampage which claimed the lives of 32 innocent people, and I as a Korean have some insight into the mind of the murderer just because of the Korean ethnicity (not to mention the surname) the killer and I happen to share.

"How come nobody ever asks me about Jeffrey Dahmer and his appetite for human flesh even though he was white like me?" quipped my friend.

Dude, was that the best illustration you could come up with over dinner?

My Korean relatives are asking what it is about American culture that turned a normal looking Korean kid into a murderous killer? I find that question equally absurd as well, but somewhat understandable given America's culture of violence broadcast around the world. Columbine and Virgina Tech do not happen every day, I had to remind them. Besides, by all accounts the kid's troubles started long before he and his family moved to the United States.

But the killer's nationality could not escape my notice, I must admit. Oh no, another Columbine, I thought to myself upon learning of the killing spree while getting ready to go to work. But the initial reaction of mild sadness turned to utter disbelief and shock when the authorities disclosed his Korean nationality. Since then, I have obsessively read every news story I could get my hands on concerning the shooter which would not have been the case had he not been Korean.

So even though I find the questions arising from his ethnicity annoying, I myself cannot simply ignore that fact. It hit too close to home. And perhaps now is the time for Korean Americans to discuss and reflect on their insane drive for and obsession with academic achievement and materialistic success which I believe is just one of many serious cultural issues.

Although this comes as no consolation to the VT community, I was relieved that Cho's "manifesto," as incoherent and deplorable as it was, did not contain racial diatribes. That would have been the last thing the nation needed just a week after the Imus non-sense, and the killer's racial tirade would have added a whole new painful twist to the tragedy which we could do without.

According to my sister's acquaintance with close ties to the Korean Consulate, the Korean government mulled over a statement of apology to the American people, but the United States declined to accept it insisting that the killer's nationality had nothing to do with the tragic massacre. I thought that was a very nice gesture of goodwill from both sides.

Government leaders taking the high road - what a concept.


Last Friday, a truck hit a light pole in front of the office building and ran. A cop came to us and quizzed those who saw the whole thing unfold right in front of their eyes. The driver apparently got off the truck, and even asked for directions before hopping back on the road, which allowed the witnesses a very good look at him.

After the cop left the building, I whispered to the receptionist, "If the officer comes back and looks for a guy named Cho, I'm not here, OK?"

The receptionist is a very polished and prim young woman. But her loud laugh and snort shook the building and stunned everyone in the office. Her face turned beet red as she struggled to compose herself before answering the next phone call.

Never did I imagine this was how my surname would become a household name in America.

God bless America. God bless Virgina Tech. Go Hokies!


At April 23, 2007 6:01 AM, Blogger Mike Y said...

I must admit, David, I've had similar thoughts. And there just aren't too many Koreans in CO, not like the Bay Area.

But you're right, it's not ethnic. And no one can make sense of what has happened. I think his sister summed it up best when she said it was like the killer was someone she had never known.

Despite all that, I'm glad I'm not a young child now. Growing up it was easy to have labels attached and to be picked on for racial differences. I still recall numerous fights and being ganged up on. This is the kind of thing that immature minds could really grab hold of.

At April 23, 2007 10:54 AM, Blogger L-girl said...

"So even though I find the questions arising from his ethnicity annoying, I myself cannot simply ignore that fact. It hit too close to home."

I understand both thoughts.

My parents and grandparents were always like this when a Jewish person became famous for something negative, like organized crime, or a mass murder. They felt it reflected badly on Jews, that people would be scapegoated, etc. I could never understand it, but they could not be convinced otherwise.

I think there's a correlation between that mode of thinking and how long the ethnic group has been in the US, and how assimilated they are. The more recent their arrival, the more the feelings of discomfort and concern about scapegoating (and the greater the chance of real scapegoating).

In the case of Asian-Americans, because your ethnicity is visible, the assimilation can only go so far. You can't completely melt in.

You might consider, for your own sanity, pulling the plug on your obsession. It's unlikely there's anything left to learn. Give yourself a break.

At April 23, 2007 11:27 AM, Blogger David Cho said...

Heard Rush Limbaugh talking about why the shooter fell through the cracks and why the school did nothing despite his well known mental problems.

Because he was a minority and the school authorities were scared to death of doing anything. That was Limbaugh's answer.

If he has empirical data to support that notion, I am willing to hear, but he didn't provide any other than his usual vitriol directed at "liberals."

Geez, since Cho didn't spew out racial diatribes, Rush decides to step in and stir up his own knee jerk non-sense. What a gasbag.

At April 23, 2007 11:30 AM, Blogger Layla (aka Barbara) said...

Great post, David. I am glad you shared your thoughts on it. Its sad that the Korean govt. felt the need to apologize to us as a nation, what does that say about how they see us? It was a kind gesture and it the US would have accepted it, I may have thrown up.

At April 23, 2007 2:57 PM, Blogger San Nakji said...

Well said :) That's all I have to say...

At April 24, 2007 12:10 PM, Blogger Friar Tuck said...

I have been concerned about how all of this has been affecting you. Especially after how middle eastern and East Indian people were treated after 9-11. Thanks for sharing. Good to hear you are well.

At April 26, 2007 4:18 PM, Blogger wagamama said...

I'm glad you can laugh at yourself...that's important.

At May 10, 2007 2:18 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

And if you ever find it difficult to laugh at yourself, that's why I'm here.

But seriously, a thoughtful post. Thank you.

At May 12, 2007 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very unlike the Hmong incident when the Hmong shot all those hunters and the lady.
My heart goes out to Koreans esp. if in a Rodney King Riot situation.
Many Koreans armed themselves tp protect themselves and businesses and homes from crazy looters. 55 people died but I'd bet not many Koreans. Poor Reginald Denny got dragged out of his deisel truck, beaten, hit with brick from Terrence (football) Jones. The man was on the edge of death almost died because he would not drive his truck over the cars to escape the murderous mob. Sorry but if they come for me in big diesel truck I'm driving away...people can get out of their cars if I have to squash a few to escape. Better squashed cars stuck in traffic tha a DEAD me! Of course. a bunch of kids staying in a car would get me killed.


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