I’m getting more than a little weary of all the helpful words from the world at large, lamenting and tsk-tsk-ing all of us Koreans for our collective feeling of shame and sorrow that the Virginia Tech shooter was Korean. I’ve read it on my blog, on other blogs, on discussion boards, you name it.
Here, in a nutshell, is what is upsetting me. Many of us in the Korean American and Korean communities have expressed our feelings of sadness and sorrow that a Korean/American person committed this horrible tragedy. Even officials from South Korea have apologized.
We talk about terms such as oori or uri (Kimchi Mama’s has a great post explaining this concept) and how those of us who are part of cultures with an emphasis on collective or community identity versus the very American way of individual identity also feel a sense of shame over this tragic event. We also express concerns about backlash. And now we are being criticized by "others" for this.
Most of these "others" doing the criticizing belong to the dominant white American majority. And what I’m reading is, Why would they [Korean Americans] feel this way? We know that it was a mentally ill individual who did this. Why are they worried about backlash? I haven’t seen any backlash. Apologizing is only bringing them down as a group of people. Korean Americans should stop feeling bad about an individual’s actions, it has nothing to do with them as a whole, etc. etc.
Well first, as I’ve responded a few times, backlash isn’t just the stuff you hear about on the 10:00 news. Yes, backlash happens and like racism, mostly comes in quiet forms that won’t ever make the daily paper or CNN. We’re talking about kids on the school grounds saying they’re gonna get the Asian kids and "Seung Hui Cho-them" (yes, it’s happened) or get stares and nasty looks and whispered words as they pass by. We’re talking about incidents that the local schools or police will pass off as "individual" issues between "individual" folks.
Second, I’m really tired of being told that we (Koreans) should stop feeling bad about what an individual did. That we are not like the Borg and one person does not define an entire group of people. That we ourselves are over-emphasizing the terrible actions of a Korean American and that’s what’s bringing us down.
Is it just me or is this somewhat sad?
I mean, what’s wrong with community? Isn’t this what we’re all talking about all the time? Why are people getting so hostile that Korean Americans feel collectively responsible for one of our members falling through the cracks? To me this is a beautiful thing. It means we care enough about all the members of our community that it is a deep sadness when someone falls.
All of those who criticized us and are saying it’s about an individual –
making it all about the individual means no one has to acknowledge any responsibility for anyone else.
We can all sit in our little cocoons, in our individual single-family homes and breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t us. Meanwhile, if we opened our eyes we’d probably see a dozen other Seung Hui Chos, in pain, unable to deal with life, suicidal or homicidal. And yet it’s easier to close our eyes and talk about individual responsibility.
We can’t have it both ways all the time. Asking for everyone to be part of a community when it benefits us but stressing individuality when it won’t? That’s a skewed version of community – in my mind anyway.
We all like to give lip service to the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child" but if what I’ve been reading lately on the blogs and discussion forums is any indication, people must be talking about a village of one.
This rant is officially over. Regularly scheduled programming will now resume.