Thursday, April 19, 2007
Korean-Americans' backlash fears lessen
Given that Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer, was Korean, we decided to ask some Korean-Americans if they are worried about a potential anti-Korean backlash here in the United States.

We first tried reaching people in Fairfax County, Virginia, which is a half-hour drive from our bureau from Washington, D.C. This county has a large Korean community, but as we called restaurants and other Korean-owned establishments for interviews, no one wanted us to talk to their patrons. Too sensitive, they said. Our customers won't want to talk about it, they added. Many of them don't speak English, others said.

So through friends we got in touch with 36-year-old Christian Oh, a "budding" (as he puts it) filmmaker, IT contractor and president of an Asian-American film festival. Christian's next video project is on Asian identity. He tells us that when he first saw reports the Virginia Tech shooter was Korean he was worried about what he calls the "Asian-American male stereotype."

"That we're nerds, we're geeks, we're socially not skilled, you know, in terms of the whole social scene. We're also portrayed in movies and film as the kung fu, karate, chop saki guy, so I was, like, thinking 'Oh great! So there's another thing we can add to the Korean or Asian-American image.'"

Oh says Korean-Americans often are considered a "model minority": well-educated, hard-working, raised to be successful but not to stand in the limelight. That sounds positive, but Oh claims the media and the film industry often portray Asians negatively.

We join Oh at an organizing meeting for a film festival. The room was filled with well-dressed 20- and 30-something Asian-American professionals, including an attorney, a financial analyst and a software developer. They, too, initially worried about a backlash, but as more details of the Virginia Tech shooter's twisted psyche emerged, they began to lose some of that fear.

Annabel Park, a 39-year-old who works with a non-profit organization that helps the Korean-American community, said the shooter "really sounds almost like the stereotype of that sociopath who would go on this killing spree. It's almost like he's following this script and it's so non-Korean specific. I think that's one reason why eventually people will not see him as Korean, but just as a psychopath."

"Why should we feel any shame?" Benjamin Lee, a 29-year-old financial analyst, asked. "That's one thing I haven't been able to understand. Why should we as Korean Americans feel some sort of shame or feel that we need to perhaps feel as if he is one of our own? Yes, he was Korean-American, but this is a lone wolf."

"The only people who have been talking about backlash are really the Korean community," Haesung Han, a 28-year-old lawyer, tells us. "The Americans," she said, "From the media, they haven't been reporting anything about racial profiling."

And yet everyone in the room says early fears of a backlash brought back thoughts of the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which Korean businesses were targeted. They said that made them and their families feel vulnerable.

Benjamin Lee said many Asian-Americans feel that the acts of the children are a reflection of the parents. "And for that reason, I can't imagine or even fathom the guilt that the parents must feel for this tragedy," he tells me.

Annabel Park said her organization is discussing whether it should set up a national hotline for people to call if they are harassed. She said they also have consulted with Arab-American groups that faced retaliation after the 9-11 attacks.

Their advice, she said: "Don't overreact. This is going to pass. Don't talk about it so much that it actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy."

-- Jill Dougherty, U.S. Affairs Editor for CNN International
Posted By CNN: 6:19 PM ET
  6 Comments
I wouldn't say the public has a perception of Korean-Americans as possessing any negative qualities. Hard-working, serious and intelligent are the traits that come to my mind. But don't try to make this guy appear as a victim. It's not the university's fault, it's not his parents' fault, it's not America's fault, it's not Korea's fault - it's his own failing that made him turn to the dark side.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - chicago IL : 7:05 PM ET
Hi Jill,
The Korean community should never have to fear a backlash. An ill human being stole the lives of his fellow human beings. No race or gender was immune from his rampage. If we've learned anything from this heartbreak, it's that we are not floating around life alone. We're all in this great big globe, spinning the same way. One big neighborhood that hopefully one day soon, will see the big picture. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 7:26 PM ET
I really don't think that many people are going to blame asians for Virginia Tech or discriminate against them when it comes to it. He didn't kill those innocent people because he was asain, he killed them because he was crazy.
Posted By Anonymous Amanda Waterville, Ohio : 8:00 PM ET
A psychopath can come in all kind of shapes, ages and races too. All people belong to the human race, and trying to categorize them by groups according to the good or bad things individuals do is simply wrong.
Posted By Anonymous Hertzi Shwartz, Seattle, WA : 9:30 PM ET
I don't feel the person's ethnic background has any connection to this horrific crime. The Korean President made a statement to the media that he felt very sad and ashamed that a Korean was the killer.

I don't think there is any need for him to feel ashamed. A person's background has nothing to do with Mental Illness it strikes many races and creeds. I do not feel any animosity towards Koreans or any other culture. We have Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese at our University here. While taking course as a mature student I enjoyed speaking with these students and hearing about their country and traditions. It made campus life much more interesting for me. I admired their determination and drive towards achieving an education. They had to learn the English just to study their courses yet they all achieved their goals. I don't feel I could have done as well had our situations been reversed.

Koreans have no reason to feel any personal responsibility for this tragedy not does any other ethnic group.

I do feel that we should refrain from describing Cho Hui with such adjectives as crazy, a nut, derranged, etc. He too was someone's child and mental illness is not of one's own choosing. I'm sure if he had been able to choose he would have preferred a lighter cross to bear. My heart goes out to his parents. I'm sure they endured much heartache and I'm sure they did everything within their power in an effort to make their son well again.
Posted By Anonymous P Murphy Charlottetown PEI : 11:14 PM ET
hopefully everyone has an ounce of common sense and realizes that it was one person, not a culture that committed these terrible crimes.

i would like to think...but i admit that i do have a bit of hesitation as well...that as a nation we are knowledgeable enough to understand that it was one person who did this. that we have grown that much as human beings to realize that it was one person who caused this problem, not a race, and not a nationality.

and i hope, pray, and have faith that if someone of ignorance does go after any asian/asian american, that anyone around them will step up and do the right thing and defend an innocent person.

besides, after all this time, and after the "imus incident" last week, aren't we all tired of having and seeing people being judge on the color of their skin? i know i am. and the only way to make sure it is stopped is to speak up to anyone who would be less than kind to someone because of the color of his or her skin or his or her nationality and even if that person is a his or her.

after all, isn't it the right thing to do? and isn't that what we all should be doing, the right thing? making a legacy that the 32 fallen would be proud of in their names and memories. not adding shame to what has already been a great tragedy that was founded on the shame of who one person thought that they were, as well as thinking everyone else was just as he imagined. let’s not be that person. let’s be better than that.

thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Mary, West Newton, Pennsylvania : 4:16 AM ET
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