There’s a fascinating discussion going around in the e-mail list for New York chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association. It began the day that news of the Virginia Tech shootings broke, when the media first reported that the shooter may be Asian. Since then, various perspectives have been shared about whether it was journalistically important to identify the race of the shooter (I kinda think it was, considering the tragic scope of the incidents), whether there will be a racial backlash against Asians, and whether Asian Americans share sense of guilt and shame about the murders.
I don’t pretend to have the answers about these issues, but it’s stirring a lot of thinking on my part, especially about the shared sense of guilt and shame. Although I’m Asian American, I think I feel a cultural value from my Japanese heritage that’s common among other Asian ethnicities: Don[‘t bring shame upon the family. And in the case, it’s as if the entire Asian American population is a big family.
That’s the value that pushed me to work hard and get good grades in school. It’s the value that made me mortified each time I got a speeding ticket, and would probably keep me from ever committing a crime. Embarrassment — especially public embarrassment — is a powerful deterrent for me, and I suspect it is for other Asian Americans as well.
I’m sure it was for Cho, although he obviously crossed into a zone where those values topped keeping him in check.
I’m not saying I share the blame for his horrible act, but I do feel some splash of shame from it, as if he just dropped himself into still water and the ripples are reaching out and lapping at the edge of the pool.
I think that’s why Asians are nervous about racial incidents in the wake of the killings. It’s happened before — look at the Sikhs and Arabs who were attacked and even killed in the aftermath of 9/11. Even if we don’t feel the shame and guilt of Cho’s actions, non-Asians may not be so discerning.
I’ve been extra-sensitive to every mention in the media of Cho’s heritage, and of his family.
I noticed that first day, when every news story made a point to note that Cho was from South Korea but “is in the U.S. legally,” or “is a legal resident of the U.S.” I noticed one of those highly-paid experts on ABC News talking about Cho’s psychological triggers, who said, “He may have gotten a B instead of an A in a class…” and I wondered if he would have said that if the shooter hadn’t been Asian.
I’m not sure how all of this will settle in the days and weeks to come. But for now, I’m not afraid to say that as an Asian American, I’m very unsettled.