Thanks for the various thoughtful comments, thoughtful commenters – I'm sure you know who you are.
First off, I do acknowledge that I was a little snarky and "aha!" in the initial reaction to things, and I agree that it just puts people in a bad mood. But, I could have easily erased what I said, and not because I think it was wrong to have the thought, but because it distracted so much from the majority of the stuff I was really trying to say. Yet, I would somehow feel it dishonest to do so, and the reason I write is to organize my thoughts and logic for people to see; I just wish people in general, and not just over the past few days, could read this blog as one man's thoughts in motion, as opposed my final thoughts on matters. I have strong opinions, but those thoughts wend and weave according to other good opinions.
That said, I also know I write a lot. Loooong posts. Opinionated posts. Wordy posts. And that's off-putting as well. I know that, but it would take me forever to get this stuff out if I had to condense it down, distill it, make it simpler. And since the vast majority of blogs out there write in short form, I don't feel like I'm adding to a trend in need of reversal – on the contrary, I wish there were more thoughtful people who tried to think carefully, put in the time to express their opinions fully, and really engage with difficult subjects. So I think that perhaps the blogosphere is better off with a few wordy fools who try to think aloud and in the sense of intellectual full-contact sports.
As for race, I think the media is talking about it pretty minimally, as I assumed they would. And looking at this from primarily an American perspective. I'm inevitably looking at this from a Korean perspective, because it is here in Korea that I sit, live, and work. It's here that I have worked with a lot of kids who look just like Cho in background, culture, and personality. I thought that I'd be one of the few people talking not about there necessarily having to be some "cultural angle" on this, but that there should be room and though given to the possibility.
If anything, the problem isn't that the American media is focusing on his race, because it really isn't, and even if it did, I don't think it's bad to talk about possible cultural specifics, if done appropriately. However, the real problem is that the American media should have been talking about:
– why is it that only males are serial killers and mass murderers?
– why are they mostly white?
– when they aren't, what's the reason?
Instead of shutting down a conversation about the profiles of these kind of people, we should be opening it up. Were there some factors about extreme Christianity that led to this? Does this have nothing to do with the fact that some of the most outspoken and extreme Christian groups among American youth are of Korean descent? Is this question "wrong?"
I don't think so, if we are also asking, "Why are serial killers almost exclusively white?" There is a serious racial undertone to ALL such murders, in that the perpetrators are almost always white, as well as the overwhelming presence of gender, in that they are always male?
This is as obvious as the hand in front of my face, yet when I was asking these same questions in Columbine, no one wanted to go there. And nobody did. Instead, we look at Marilyn Manson, video games, and other things that were obviously not determining factors, since I'd engaged in all above activities, but don't go around killing people. I loved me some NWA, and they were actually TALKING ABOUT going and killing white people. Yet, I didn't "go get my AK." I guess it WAS a good day.
I'm saying that this whole brouhaha stems from the fact that Americans still have amazing difficulty talking about culture and race, in what is supposed to be the most diverse and multicultural society in the world, where anyone can be a citizen. We're getting better at it, but we're still not good at it.
So now, we're told to believe, before anyone even knows anything, that Cho's particular pathology could have had nothing to do with any cultural malaise, or that some of the roots of his alienation may not have had to do with being Asian. I'm not saying there necessarily are, but to meet such a question with "this question is irrelevant. culture has nothing to do with this. conversation over" is equally un-productive.
And as for people saying that my ideas can be "co-opted" for the "other side," I just say that this is thinly-vieled intellectual cowardice talking, because I'm not a hillbilly in a pickup truck talking about shooting the next Asian I see because he took daddy's factory job away. If you think that's what I'm saying, or you confuse what I'm saying with that, you're more paranoid than you think you are.
People should be talking more about aspects of masculinity here, because all these killers are MEN. What's up with that? People should be talking more about whiteness because the vast majority of these people are WHITE. And when they so shockingly and brutally aren't, we might ask the question "what traits did he share with the Columbine boys?" (which the media is already asking), but we also might look at "what traits might have been different that also got him to the same place of being able to commit mass murder like this?"
And if we're going to be comparing to Columbine, while never even really having an intelligent about the fact that the politics of whiteness as an identity, masculinity, and feeling of extreme alienation seem to lead to something, if we can agree to talk about all these things with the Columbine boys – IF – then in Cho's case, we'd have to also talk about the one thing he did NOT share with them and the MAJORITY of the rank of the killers he has so infamously joined, that being his Asianness, Koreanness, or whatever – in any case, his non-whiteness.
That makes the case of the DC snipers ALL the more interesting, all the MORE remarkable. If you were a criminal profiler for the FBI, or a clinial psychologist, or an administrator in charge of schools, I hope these people would find such questions interesting. If someone held an academic conference about it, I'd hope they'd attend, rather than close one's ears and boycott it.
But that seems like what most people want to do. I don't fear some imagined backlash against Asian men; sure, there may be a few idiots out there who do something, but overall, it's probably for any particular Asian male right now to die in a car accident, or of lung cancer. So buckle up and stop smoking – I don't think anyone has to hide in their houses.
But the disappointing reaction is, "Stop talking about race! He was just some crazy fucker!"
No, he wasn't. No, all the killers weren't. There are clear patterns here. Start with the fact of maleness and extreme alienation, along with feelings of victimhood and desire for martyrdom. Then work your way down to identifying any overarching cultural patterns in white or Asian (Korean) socialization patterns, similarities in self-identification, all that stuff.
I'm not a psychologist. But if I were, I'd be licking my lips over this stuff. Has there been no one who's written a doctoral thesis about "The Role of White Identity, Disaffectation, and Constructions of Masculinity in Serial Murderers"? Maybe that's a wack topic, and it's not my field. But seriously – has no one done research on this? Come on? Is this really such a taboo topic, even to a research psychologist?
Anyway, mums the word. All the serial killers were just crazy fuckers. Let's just leave it at that and act all surprised AGAIN when this happens AGAIN, which it will.
And for all those imagined white guys who are cutting out eyeholes in sheets to go get that Asian male grad student who took that last fluffy donut from the tray in the cafeteria (those BASTARDS! they're really taking everything!), don't worry:
The next mass murderer, statistically and historically speaking, will probably be a white guy, anyway.
So what's everyone worried about? At least the imagined heat will be off Asians, right? Whew!
-------------- ORIGINAL POST --------------
Over the last 24 hours, it's been suggested that even broaching the issue of possible cultural issues when looking at the case of Cho warrants being labeled "racist." Salon.com has linked to a previous post from this site that relays the story that several university administrators in Korea with whom I spoke when Fulbright Korea hosted a tour here expressed concern about the fact that they saw a pattern of Korean students studying in the US having trouble adjusting, and that those students were almost exclusively male. This was several years ago.
Or read this:
Although Asian Americans were at relatively lower risk of homicide in the 1970s and 1980s, they have experienced increasingly higher risk since the 1990s. From 1970 to 1993, the homicide rate for Asian Americans in California increased 170%.13 Asian immigrants are also at significantly higher risk of homicide than Asians that were born in the United States. The growing trend of homicide among Asian American communities coupled with the increase of Asian American youth violence thus poses an urgent issue of concern for Asian Americans.
Whence these racist, cultural arguments? Another, from the same source:
Despite the model minority myth that Asian Americans as a whole are economically and academically successful, delinquency among Asian American youth has actually been on the rise in recent years. In the past 20 years, the number of API youth involved in the juvenile justice system has increased dramatically, while national arrest trends for Black and White youth have decreased. Arrest rates for Southeast Asian youth (Vietnamese, Cambodia , Laotian), are the highest within the overall API population. Studies have shown that peer delinquency is the strongest predictor of adolescent delinquency. Other suggested risk factors for adolescent delinquency among Asian Americans include personal experiences of victimization, acculturative conflict, family conflict, and individualist versus collectivist orientation.
More racists? Or how about a report on "Violence Affecting Asian-American and Pacific Islander Communities", compiled by Masters candidates at the Michigan School of Public Health?
But wait? For me to pose questions that perhaps young Cho Seung-hui could have had "personal experiences of victimization, acculturative conflict, family conflict, and individualist versus collectivist orientation" that maybe, maybe could have played a role in his pathology...
How did I become "racist? for asking the same questions? Here's what I wrote in the original post, which was fired off in the heat of the moment, upon the initial revelation that the shooter was of Korean descent:
A group of American university administrators whom Fulbright hosted nearly 10 years ago, when being a tour of Korean universities, asked the staff, "Why is it that out of all our international students, Korean males have so much trouble?"
To my surprise, all of the university officials cited incident after incident of Korean male graduate students who seemed to have trouble adjusting, often got into fights with other students in the living spaces, and were often the source of trouble in dealing with romantic relationships gone bad or women in general, especially when they involved Korean females dating non-Koreans.
In the longer post, I continued asking questions that were pretty basic and acceptable before two days ago, pointing out that many Asian and Asian American males often face cultural pressures particular to the Asian cultures that they come from, as well as socialization as an Asian male in the greater American context as well.
How dare I say such a thing? Funny how the raison d'être for community organizations such as the Koreatown Youth & Community Center (KYCC) can talk about:
...programs and services...specifically directed towards recently-immigrated, economically-disadvantaged youth and their families who experience coping and adjustment difficulties due to language and cultural barriers.
Yet when someone points out that perhaps some of Cho's pathology had to do with being an Asian male, subject to possible culturally-determined pressures as well as that of being subject to socialization/discrimination as an Asian male – all of which where conversations going on within the Asian American community until just two days ago – this is now out of bounds?
So asking the question before this incident was OK. Asking it after Cho's bloody rampage is now grounds for arguing that one supports an ideology of racial superiority. That's especially funny since my mother is Korean and I have younger Korean cousins in college now who've been through the educational meat grinder here, and I have been involved in just such community organizations as the ones mentioned above when I lived in the Bay Area.
And the other sad thing about the sudden "off-limits" status of this issue is the disappointing fact that Americans of all "colors" still have such difficulty talking about the overlapping boundaries of race, nation, and culture. Pointing out before this incident that Asian/Asian American males had specific identificational and cultural concerns, especially when one is talking about 1.5 generation Korean Americans (which is how Cho is generally being referred to now) was OK and actively encouraged in multicultural settings, especially since this was expected of anyone who wanted to convey one's real cultural sensitivity as an professor, teacher, counselor, social worker, or psychologist working with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds.
I have worked with and am familiar with a few community-based organizations when I was back in Oakland, and had many Korean American friends who work in orgs related to specifically "meeting the needs" of Asian American youth, dealing with the issue of domestic violence in the Korean American community, and was familiar with several other non-profit orgs that dealt specifically with problems of reducing participation in gang activity among Southeast Asian youth, issues specific to that community, organizations based in Chinatown, as well as other places around the East Bay.
I have friends who've worked deeply within many organizations that held the assumption that "culture matters" and that Asian/Asian American youth had specific needs that should be recognized in the larger community. I know people who stayed up long nights applying for city, state, and federal grants to operate such projects, programs, and organizations that took the relevance of disaporic culture and its effect in Asian kids in the US as a central assumption of their reason to exist.
Now, after this incident, culture not only doesn't matter, even broaching the topic is grounds for being labeled a "racist," even when one is working well within a set of affective connections to a community for which such issues have been stated concerns for years – nay, decades – before Cho Seung-hui walked into a Virginia Tech classroom and started his rampage of death.
Yes, of course he was an individual, and he is fully responsible for his actions. But Korean culture now stops at the airport? Or with a green card? That's certainly news to me. I guess I didn't get the memo. And I guess I should also be expecting my KKK membership card in the mail any day now. Thanks, Salon, for declaring such talk as mere "instant prejudice."
Funny thing is that I, as well as the university administrators mentioned in my initial reaction, Asian American community organizers, and a whole lot of other people were thinking in these terms for years before this. Now, some would have us go in the opposite direction:
As coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting continues to unfold, AAJA urges all media to avoid using racial identifiers unless there is a compelling or germane reason. There is no evidence at this early point that the race or ethnicity of the suspected gunman has anything to do with the incident, and to include such mention serves only to unfairly portray an entire people.
The effect of mentioning race can be powerfully harmful. It can subject people to unfair treatment based simply on skin color and heritage.
I feel that point of view, but much of the popular reaction has been to link mentioning culture or nationality with "racism" itself.
And the many Asian and Asian American commenters who've written in, saying that my apparent status as "white" or a "neocon" or a "loser who can't get women at home" or far worse names.
Yep. There I am. That's why I live in Korea, why I learned Korean, why I write these incessantly long posts, and why I conduct my research. But when I pull out my Korean-mom-racial-membership card, does that mean I'm a self-hating Korean American? Do I only hate half of myself? Or maybe my Korean "half" hates my black "half" and we are in eternal conflict. I think I have to go beat myself up now.
It's interesting that the mode of even calling me "racist" relies on racist slurs and categorical assumptions.
My point is that I shouldn't have to pull out the "my mom's Korean" as a magical shield in order to say what wasn't unreasonable to say until before this incident. I should have to play identity politics as a qualification to talk about identity at all. That's one of the thing that makes this whole thing get more and more ridiculous.
Does anyone forget that the film Better Luck Tomorrow, which touched on Asian American identity, socialization, alienation, violence, and other facets of Asian American culture – especially from the perspective of Asian American masculinity? So after the fictional violence witnessed in the narrative, we can talk about such issues – which is what I assumed the filmmakers wanted when it went mainstream and didn't merely screen in art house theaters? But after a real incident that could be seen to touch on similar issues, now that real people are dead and dying, broaching the subject gets you lumped in with the Klan.
I better remember to tell my mom that I hate Koreans now. That should be a fun conversation.
And just as I said, here are some of the conversations people are having now in Korea, from a look at the Korean press. From The Korea Times (which has masked its URL, so no link is possible:
``I couldn’t believe that someone like me was really involved in this brutal murder,’’ a netizen (ID hahaha) said. Other people showed the same response as they said they have begun to feel more responsibility for the case when they found out that a Korean was involved.
Others said that the case looked similar to some cases happening in the Korean military where young soldiers try to desert from their barracks out of love or relationship issues.
I'm not saying that they're right or wrong. But these are questions people are asking. Are Koreans "racist" for asking these questions, which a lot of us are thinking about as well?
There are also questions raised over studying abroad at a very young age _ quite the fashion in Korea at the moment. As domestic media in the U.S. referred to Cho as a ``loner,’’ people are now questioning whether sending their kids abroad for study would be good.
There were constant reports of children feeling lonely and causing problems with drinking, doing drugs or having sex problems, but the massacre has triggered the debate on whether such studying is really needed.
Cho flew to America when he was a little kid, and is said to have not made himself accustomed to the different culture. ``I think his being alone made him a loner, and made him do something horrible. And would you still say that won’t happen to your child?’’ a blogger grandchyren asked.
From The Korea Herald, as I grimly predicted, and as is all too often the case when extreme shame from one's relatives or persons within one's realm of concerns brings shame to your or your organization, both his parents attempted to take their own lives, the father apparently "successfully":
Los Angeles-based Radio Korea reported Wednesday morning that Cho's parents attempted suicide, according to neighbors.
Cho’s father reportedly slashed his wrist after having learned of his son's alleged killings at around 1 p.m. Tuesday, Seoul time.
Cho’s mother attempted to commit suicide by taking toxic drug, Radio Korea said. She was quickly transported to a nearby hospital, but is listed in critical condition according to the report.
No, culture isn't a factor at all here, and it should most certainly not be talked about, right? No one was surprised a couple years ago when a scandal ensued in a high school over a student who had been physically abused, which, upon reaching nationwide proportions, the principal took a leap off into the Han River. No one in Korea was really shocked by this, although the incident is unfortunate. I'm not talking about ancient, fetishized elements of a Hollywood movie about samurai over a swelling soundtrack – I'm talking about real people.
And I guess me having expressed the concern that his parents would immediately attempt suicide in a similar way was just me being "insensitive," rather than observing that such a thing is not only not unusual in a situation like this in a Korean context, it's not at all surprising, however unfortunate.
And in my head, when the leading cause of death for Korean teens and twenties in South Korea is suicide, most often caused by culturally specific forms of stress, isolation, and social factors that are not factors in different cultures, and I see a Korean kid – and again, I am of the old-school Asian American assumption that culture doesn't stop with a green card, but I guess I'm old-fashioned and "racist" in the post-Cho Seung-hui era – who struck me as possibly influenced by similar concerns...why is it suddenly inappropriate to raise the notion of culture? Just because it makes us uncomfortable now that it's real, raw, and in the nation's face, as opposed to the more hidden back rooms of our ethnic communities?
This is not saying that there were no factors related to Cho being American. Surely, obviously, naturally – there were. He wasn't an exchange student who got off a place last September. He lived and socialized and breathed and experienced life in America. And yet, even without getting into the fact that Korean culture doesn't stop at the airport terminal when a kid is 8, and that he's generally considered by even Korean-Americans as a "1.5er," let's not forget that he was Asian American; in other words, he was not white, and most likely did not see himself (and I'm going out on a limb here, as many of the people who adamantly insist that Cho was and could have been "American") as "just another kid."
A similar attitude of non-reality surrounds the fact that no one asks the question of what aspects, if any, of whiteness or white identity itself informs the fact that in most such incidents, the perpetrators are white, middle class males? A few people poked at the question after Columbine, but most people chose to toss that hot potato.
I'm not saying being white cause you to kill people. I am saying that it should be OK for us to ask certain questions about what peculiar concerns there just might be in terms of socializing, identifying, and being labeled as "white" and male in American society, especially in the midst of America's "culture wars," major shifts in norms and role expectations with regard to not just race, but class, gender, sexual orientation, and perceived amounts of privilege?
These are some questions that people in Whiteness Studies ask, which is a new and necessary branch of inquiry partially related to Ethnic Studies. It recognizes that "people of color" do not just exist a blank backdrop of nothingness, but that "whites" are "raced" just as much as "Blacks" or "Asian Americans" or "Latinos" or any other recognized (and socially constructed) racial group in the United States. Yet still, some people think Whiteness Studies must necessarily be a group of people trying to assert "white rights" or be secret Klan members.
Yet, when a dated-but-smart film such as John Singleton's Higher Learning deals with the journey of a white kid who feels alienated, ostracized, and actively victimized as a white man, who then goes to a high perch with a high-powered rifle to start a killing spree, it's lauded and applauded.
Until some white kid(s) actually commits such an act in question, at which point asking certain questions is out-of bounds again.
Generally, as a doctoral student and young scholar in Ethnic Studies, I've noticed the tendency to confuse talking about race with being racist. This is frustrating to no end. And in the case of Cho, it really wasn't about race, but more about nationality and culture, and asking the question of the extent to which Cho's obvious inner pain and turmoil just may have been culturally specific and valenced.
But again, if the shooter had been an "Arab terrorist" I think the cultural argument would help us humanize him – who was he? How did he get caught up in this? What were some personal frustrations as a poor, Palestinian (for example) boy with few future prospects that might have made him an easy recruit?
Is this line of questioning "racist?"
Then I guess, so is it all, including the Harvard School of Public Health, where a conference convened around a very similar issue in 2004:
Faculty, students, and fellows interested in disparities in health care due to ethnic and racial differences convened at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Friday (May 7) for a symposium seeking to translate research into practice.
Topics discussed at the all-day event, the Second Annual Symposium on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Research in the U.S., included Latino and Asian mental health, the increasing presence of minority researchers in the field, societal determinants of health, quality of care, and politics and policy as related to ethnic and racial health disparities.
The "racism" continues:
Among the wide variety of topics discussed was new research on the mental health status of Latinos and Asians in America. Margarita Alegria, director of the Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research at the Cambridge Health Alliance and a visiting professor of psychiatry at Harvard, presented preliminary research from the National Latino and Asian American Study, begun in 2002.
The study, conducted in five languages, is a broad survey of Latinos and Asian Americans across the country and aims to fill in gaps in the information available on the mental health of those two ethnic groups.
The study so far shows that Puerto Ricans have a higher incidence of mental health disorders than other Latino groups, which also include Mexicans, Cubans, and a category for other Latinos. It also shows a strong trend of increasing mental health problems for Mexican-born immigrants the longer they are in the United States. To a lesser extent, other groups showed a similar correlation of increasing mental health problems with time in the United States, until they had lived 70 percent of their lives in the United States at which point the trend levels off.
For Asians, Vietnamese show a lower incidence of mental health disorders than other groups, which include Chinese, Filipinos, and other Asians. Alegria said researchers couldn't yet explain that low incidence of mental health problems for Vietnamese.
Alegria said the survey shows considerable regional variation, with mental health disorders increasing for individuals who live in parts of the country where their ethnic group is not concentrated. For example, she said, Mexicans, who are concentrated in the Southwest, had higher mental health problems when living in the Midwest. Cubans, who are concentrated in the South, had greater problems when living in the Northeast.
"Where you live really makes a big difference in your risk for psychological disorders," Alegria said.
One possible explanation for the higher rates of mental disorders among Puerto Ricans, Alegria said, is selective immigration. Alegria said more Puerto Ricans than other groups reported that they had immigrated because of health reasons. In addition, she said, there may be a demoralizing factor at work. Puerto Ricans, unlike members of the other ethnic subgroups, are U.S. citizens. They also report higher levels of English fluency. Alegria said Puerto Ricans may expect to be more socially mobile after arriving in the United States.
Alegria said the survey provides an important starting point for further research. Among important questions to be answered are the higher rates of disorders among Puerto Ricans, the lower rates among Vietnamese, the roots of geographic differences in different parts of the country, and the connection between length of time in the United States and rising incidence of mental health disorders.
There are a million questions I'd ask the kid if me and Cho Seung-hui were sitting in a room and he had agreed to talk to me. The first one would have been "Are you feeling frustrated for any particular reason?" Another might be, "Are you feeling any academic pressures, any stress from you parents?" Who knows? These are perhaps overly direct and useless questions, since I'm not a trained mental health care professional – but if I were, I sure would be attentive to issues of his cultural background, especially if my file on him indicated the possibility of that perhaps there might be more going on here than just your standard, John Doe pysch services referral.
It's a place to start. But he's dead, and that'll never happen. But to imply it's racist to ask these questions, to even think about the concerns of Korean American youth like Cho, who may well find themselves precariously placed along pressure points between family, friends, and school as defined in cultural, educational, linguistic, and pscyhological terms – this just boggles my mind now.