Wednesday, April 18, 2007

'Quiet' South Korean student kills his way into history.

"Oh, great," I thought as it began to emerge that the person responsible for the bloodiest mass shooting in modern American history was Asian. His face will be on every newspaper tomorrow morning, accompanied by lurid, terrifying headlines. He will quite likely be the most famous yellow person in the world - at least for a short while - and it will be for the most vile and tragic reasons.

My sympathies are with the victims' families (and I include the shooter Cho Seung-Hui's own family - who knows what they must be going through right now) but I can't help feeling embarrassed that an Asian person has found global fame for the worst possible reasons. Luckily, the effect on people's perceptions of Chinese people here in Britain will be minimal because our media here has so many positive images of Chinese and Asian people to balance it out, doesn't it? Perhaps not.

Will there be a backlash in the States? Time will tell but I'm interested to hear how Virginia Tech's 1600+ Asian students feel in the aftermath of the shooting.

As a sidenote, it was also interesting to see how UK media handled the news that the shooter was 'Asian'. Over here, that word has been partially 'claimed' by the Indian and Pakistani community and sometimes excludes Chinese or Far Eastern people. To start with, all the UK news channels fell right into line with America and referred to the suspect as Asian, conveniently forgetting that the term is used in a completely different way here. Suddenly it was okay to call us Asian. But then it all got too confusing and some reports started calling the suspect 'Chinese' which is actually less accurate because Cho Seung-Hui was South Korean.

Now that the incident has passed hopefully some measures can be taken not just to increase the security of students but also to help combat the alienation and rage that causes individuals to commit such acts.

Someone ought to tell America that angry, young loners and easily available guns are a very bad combination.


Anonymous said...

Something must have happened to him. He can't be going all the way to America just to shoot people. If I'm not wrong, he went there to study. So what caused him to act that way? Only he knows.

It's interesting to know how the term 'Asian' differs in the UK and America. I learned about it years ago in the BBC message boards.

However, I don't quite agree with the claim that UK media projected the right amount of positive images on the Chinese people, especially on political issues. Quite a lot of damage had been done by UK and US media on China.

Unknown said...

"Oh, great," I thought as it began to emerge that the person responsible for the bloodiest mass shooting in modern American history was Asian..." but I can't feeling embarrassed that an Asian person has found global fame for the worst possible reasons."

Yes, that's exactly how we feel every time there's something on the tv about muslims-terrorists-asian-suspects.
(I'm a 2nd gen Pakistani muslim in the U.K- or "BBCDs" as we are called)

Hopefully, you guys will be O.K and there won't be any backlash. Although, sometimes I can't help wondering if Western media will start turning on the Chinese next? China being the rising power etc. Will subtle prejudices start to be exposed?

Nice blog. I've been a silent reader for a while. I relate to a lot of what you say. I guess its a 2nd gen immigrant thing? said...

I do have a slightly terrible and racist joke about the "Asian" gunman (I'm Chinese btw fwiw)...

but the backlash has already started, kind of. For a while, everyone thought that another Asian student with a penchant for guns at Virgina Tech was the killer... Boing Boing has the details.

I'm just amazed that Asian-Americans seem to fall prey to the gun culture thing as much as anyone else...

burntbreadboy said...

What shocks me the most is that in America someone like that that buy a couple of handguns with no problem whatsoever. Seems crazy to me.

Anonymous said...

I'm absolutely shocked to see the amount of prejudice the british media, especially ITV and Sky, has portrayed on orientals (far better to be labelled that than chinese I think, which nowadays has an indirect notion that being ethnically chinese is the same as being nationally the same.

Take me as a case; all through my life any news I've seen on TV (Uk News obviously) has made me think of China as a sinister, growing threat that has a Government hellbent on sadistic rituals that, if not stopped, will ruin the world forever.

If the chinese media were employing similar tactics with anti-western nuances like ITV, I'm sure it would even things about. But it's quite the contrary - young chinese people have nothing but respect for westerners, and are more into sharing and experiencing different cultures etc. etc. Meanwhile, young children in the US, UK and a few parts of Europe are brought up on the "big, bad China - they will eat your dog" stories, rather than embracing integration.

Which brings me to my point - it's going to be even HARDER for me to integrate, make new friends now. Yes, you could describe me as a loner - not without want of trying though - just a couple of friends who themselves are part of a bigger circle. Some would say they made friends with me out of sympathy, which is sickening in itself, but it's no wonder ethnic minorities are getting depressed when others just don't want to make friends with you because you're not white.

And I totally agree with Hanaa's point... the moment the killer was identified as Asian (it's funny how it's always American, Brit, French etc. - but Asian for the rest of us, eh?) - I thought "Oh shit, now I know how a muslim in his own country feels like now." I tell you, walking to the local supermarket for some bread and milk the day after he was id'd was a scary scary event, seeing as I share many of the facial characteristics of the killer (we all look the same after all :()...

burntbreadboy said...

I also felt I was getting some strange looks the day after the shootings but I think that effect will lessen over time, as the story fades from the headlines.

However, in the long term I think that for white people who do not normally interact with Chinese/Asian people in everyday life - and let's face it, that is the vast majority - Cho Seung-Liu will be one of the people to come to their minds when they think 'Chinese person', which is not good. Like I said in the posting, it wouldn't be so bad if there were plenty of positive images of Chinese people in the media to counteract 'The Cho Effect' but there simply aren't.

There might even be a vicious circle effect now (esp. in the U.S.) where advertisers and programme makers avoid showing a young Asian male face because it now has 'negative associations'. We shouldn't underestimate the effect the media can have on people's impressions of a race.

There may be some lessons to be learned as well, though. Lessons to do with how mental health is dealt with in Chinese/Asian families. And as details emerge of incidents in Cho's early life, there may be lessons to be learned about bullying, exclusion, alienation in the classroom and what can be done to remedy those things (there are reports that when Cho tried to read aloud to his class, he was laughed at and told to 'Go back to China')

I think what we saw in Virginia was an individual who experienced things that actually a lot of bbcs may have experienced too, but who was unable to deal with it (whether this was down to autism or purely his personality, we can't be sure)and effectively broke under the strain.

Anonymous said...

In this case it had nothing to do with the family. The killer was a quiet lad, sure, like some of us were as a kid settling into an environment treating you as hostile - but from the wikipedia entry he seemed to be the perfect student, his classmates saying he was respected and such.

It was only until AFTER he moved to the US and started high school, that his mind became screwed. Imagine being quietly content that everything you did was great and correct, peers looking up to you - only to enter a society that ridiculed you for what you are and how you talk.

I've already read a forum post on how someone's half Japanese brother had been expelled for being "asian and quiet":

I feel for ethnically chinese students all across Europe, Aussie and especially the US now - they (i.e. we) will experience a snowball effect, as people are more wary of "quiet and oriental" - and what do you get if you increasingly isolate people for who they are? Surprise surprise, more anger, depression as more of us have no outlet, support to turn to.

The sad thing is, on all the form boards I frequent (US and Brit based), I've only even seen a couple of posts that have even contemplated the real problem - no, not tighter gun laws, or even suggestions of monitoring and keeping a tight leash on all "loners" - and that is to talk to them. Yup, a simple chat with a stranger every day would probably have prevented all this.

Thing is, US-UK society (I hear Europe is more open on this regard) is now slanted towards increasingly isolating those who don't fit in - if you don't wear this, talk like that - and, oh, not white - then you're not worth the time to acknowledge, let alone get to know.