I'm all posted out on this; I feel I've said pretty much what I need to say, laid it all out on the blog. I am glad to have started this conversation, and I look forward to engaging you in the comments section to the previous posts related to the issue of this terrible incident.
I'll use this blog entry to follow the conversation to its conclusion, as this blog or this writer appears in mainstream media. Sort of an index of the end of the conversation, if you will.
I'm going to split this post, which I normally don't do, because the list might get long and annoying. Feel free to look at it if you'd like.
"Instant prejudice: Korea and Virginia Tech"
Conservative commentator Debbie Schlussel's first reaction to the news that an "Asian" was responsible for the Virginia Tech massacre was to declare that a "Paki" was likely responsible. After being confronted with irrefutable evidence of her nearly criminal idiocy, she amended her analysis: "Even if it does not turn out that the shooter is Muslim, this is a demonstration to Muslim jihadists all over that it is extremely easy to shoot and kill multiple American college students."
Schlussel's racism, albeit appalling, is also instructional. Individual prejudices inform our comprehension of any new tragedy much faster than facts. For most of the American punditocracy, the Virginia Tech shootings have ignited an instananeous flare-up of the always smoldering gun-control/right-to-keep-and-bear-arms ideological brushfire. But if Schlussel could jump even farther -- to the immediate assumption that the shootings were a manifestation of jihad, imagine what the reaction has been in the Korean neighborhood of the Internet.
Robert Koehler's excellent Korea-focused blog, the Marmot's Hole offers a way in. There, you can learn that the Korean government is worried what the news will mean for Korea's international reputation, and whether the killings will cast a pall on the almost signed-sealed-and-delivered Korean-U.S. free-trade agreement. In Koehler's comments area and on other English-language Korea-focused blogs, the battle is already raging over the truth-or-raciscm quotient of a stereotype that holds that Korean males are excessively prone to violent jealous rages. One blogger, demonstrating with embarrassing panache exactly why some people should not be given the keys to the Internet, has even declared that the calm efficiency with which Cho Seung-hui murdered so many people "immediately suggested someone with a level of rigorous military training that only South Korean males can generally be expected to have."
Facts are useful in such situations: CNN is reporting that the 23-year-old Cho came to the United States in 1992. He would have been 8 years old. One wonders exactly how much military training he had received by that point.
Another fact provided by the Marmot's Hole: According to one report, Korea has more students studying abroad in the U.S. than any other country: 100,000. Debbie Schlussel thinks that the foreign residency of Cho Seung-hui is "yet another reason to stop letting in so many foreign students." But 99.999 percent of those 100,000 Koreans somehow managed not to engage in mass killing sprees. My advice to the Korean blogosphere -- despite all the cultural hypothesizing that is about to swarm the mediasphere -- is to strive to stay calm. Jealous rage knows no borders.
-- Andrew Leonard
From the Guardian Unlimited:
"Seoul does some soul searching over Virginia massacre"
By Mark Tran / USA 04:39pm
Like others around the world, South Koreans have reacted with horror to the killings at Virginia Tech university, but they are also nervous about a possible backlash against the large Korean community in the US.
The headline in the Korea Herald encapsulates the sense of alarm: Massacre puts US-based ethnic Koreans on alert.
"I and my fellow citizens can only feel shock and a wrenching of our hearts," said the south Korean president Roh Moo-hyun at a press conference, the third time he has offered his condolences.
The government has already held several cabinet emergency meetings since the killer was identified as a South Korean, although he had been in the US since the age of eight.
South Korean citizens pray for the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre in front of the US embassy in Seoul. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP
For the blogger, Michael Hurt, an American of Korean and African-American descent who lives in South Korea, the incident raises interesting questions about South Korean society and the "cultural context" of the killing, which he admits is highly sensitive ground.
Hurt believes that the South Korean fears of retaliation are misplaced but argues that such fears are a "fair extrapolation of how foreign Others are treated as scapegoats and categorical symbols of many Koreans' opinions of other nations and races".
But he raises more troubling points such as the apparent problem that Korean male students have in adjusting to the US.
From conversations he has had with American academics, he says:
"What came out is that many Korean men felt displaced and disempowered as males who lived in a society that catered to them, while in the US, those forms of automatic power and status - being male, rich, or having come from Seoul National University - mean nothing. And at the same time, Korean women experience a social liberalisation compared to where they would often be in Korea."
In further food for thought, Hurt notes that the record holder for the worst shooting in modern times was an off duty South Korean policeman who went on a drunken rampage in 1982, killing 57 people and wounding 38 before blowing himself up with several grenades he took from the police armoury.
The Marmot's Hole, however, has no truck with cultural explanations about the Virginia Tech killings.
"Cho Seung-hui is about as representative of the Korean community as the Columbine shooters were of the white community, that is to say, he's not. In fact, if there is any group that seems "predisposed" to this sort of violence in the United States, it's not foreign Asian students, it's white males."
"Culturally culpable? Soul searching starts in Seoul over US campus massacre"
Wednesday, April 18, 2007 22:42 IST
HONG KONG: In 1992, Cho Seong-tae, then 45, moved out of his suburban Seoul basement apartment and emigrated to the US with his wife and eight-year-old son to pursue the American Dream. On Monday, that dream came crashing down to earth to the staccato bursts of two handguns when his son, Cho Seung-Hui mowed down 33 students and professors at Virginia Tech University.
The nation of 48 million people reacted with shock and grief to the news that the hand that pulled the trigger was that of a person of South Korean descent. President Roh Moo-hyun led his country in offering his condolences — and hoping that there wouldn’t be a backlash against the Korean community in the US. “I hope US society can overcome its immense sadness and find composure at the earliest,” Roh said.
Choosing his words carefully to avoid racial stereotyping — Michael Hurt, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley’s Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies, who came to Korea on a Fulbright in 1994 and now lives and teaches in Seoul and who is himself half Korean and half black American — notes that it would be unfair to extrapolate from Cho’s experiences and draw conclusions about Korean society in general.
“But as an educator in Korea, who watches Korean kids going through the wrenching grind of a failed education system and come under immense familial pressure to perform, I do think it is worth mentioning the factors that often affect Korean men living as foreign students in the US.”
Hurt recalls that a meeting some years ago, at which a group of US university administrators pointedly mentioned that of all their international students, the students who had the most disciplinary problems were Korean males. “They cited several incidents of physical conflicts with other graduate students over simple matters, Korean males threatening Korean women students for talking to a foreign man, and — in the case of Korean couples living on campus — instances of domestic violence.”
From the Donga Ilbo:
“나는 기다려 왔다. 범인이 한국인이라는 뉴스를. 아시아인이라는 얘기를 듣자마자 나는 그렇게 의심했다. 이유는 무척 많다.”
한 영문 블로거가 17일 이런 도발적인 언사를 사용하며 버지니아공대 총기 난사 사건과 한국 문화의 상관관계를 나름대로 분석했다. 그는 “나를 인종주의자로 불러도 좋다”며 이번 사건에 대한 한국 사회의 ‘과민 반응’을 순전한 서구인의 시각에서 바라봤다.
블로거는 한국인 어머니와 아프리카계 미국인 아버지 사이에서 태어난 혼혈인 마이클 허트 씨. 버클리캘리포니아대에서 박사과정을 밟고 한국의 인종 문제에 관한 논문을 준비 중이라는 그는 몇 년째 한국에 머물며 ‘도시정치가(Metropolitician)’라는 블로그를 운영하고 있다.
허트 씨는 먼저 이번 사건으로 한국 사회가 ‘국가적 수치(national shame)’ 모드에 빠질 것이라며 “사회적 요인도 살펴봐야겠지만 조승희는 어디까지나 ‘개인’이라는 점을 기억해야 한다”고 강조했다. 핵심은 병적인 개인 조승희의 문제이지 한국이나 한국인의 문제가 아니라는 것이다.
그는 “국가적 수치와 국가적 자존심(national pride)은 동전의 앞뒷면”이라며 정부와 언론, 대중이 한때 국가적 영웅으로 만들었지만 결국 추락한 황우석 박사의 사례를 들었다. 그는 미국 슈퍼볼 영웅 ‘하인즈 워드 신드롬’도 이와 다르지 않다고 지적했다.
그러면서 허트 씨는 한국에서 조승희가 ‘국가적 영웅’이 아닌 ‘국가적 악당’이 될 수밖에 없는 사회적 이유를 자신이 겪은 한국적 문화에서 찾았다. 남성 우월주의, 입시 압박 탓에 빈번히 발생하는 자살, 학교 주변에 난무하는 각종 폭력, 흑인에 대한 인종차별, 학벌 중시 풍조…. 다분히 인종주의적 비판을 살 만한 내용이지만 한국 사회로서도 크건 작건 인정하지 않을 수 없는 대목들이다.
그는 특히 ‘한국 남자’의 문제점에 주목하며 “미국의 대학 관계자들은 한결같이 ‘한국 남학생은 미국 생활에 적응하는 데 왜 그렇게 어려움을 겪는가’라는 질문을 던진다”고 전했다. 그러면서 한국 남학생들은 강의 중 토론시간에 항상 위축돼 있고 자신이 교수나 동료에게서 인정받지 못한다고 느끼면 곧바로 좌절한다고 지적했다.
나아가 허트 씨는 한국인이 역사 속에 묻어 두고 싶었거나 기억하지 못했던 최악의 기록도 들춰냈다. 그는 세계 역사상 가장 최악의 총기 난사 사건은 1982년 한국인 순경이 경남 의령에서 이웃주민 50여 명을 쏘아 죽인 ‘우범곤 사건’이라는 점을 상기시켰다.
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