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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Racial Discrimination Against Koreans Actually Occurring

In the aftermath of the bloodbath that 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho unleashed on a peaceful Virginia Tech campus only a few months before, American citizens were left to endure an unendurable tragedy and to deal with an ineffable grief that had enveloped all of America. But, mostly, they were left with a multitude of questions that needed answering: Did Virginia Tech do enough to protect its students after its authorities grew aware that a gunman was wreaking havoc on its campus? What was it, really, that finally drove a student to coldly and methodically extinguish 32 promising lives in what the New York Times called the "deadliest school rampage in the nation's history?"(1) How does any professor distinguish between a creative student who merely writes about violent acts and a student who uses his writing to communicate the presence of a psychologically unsound psyche? And, most importantly, how are we to prevent another Virginia Tech from occurring? All of these questions and more, I think, have been adequately discussed by the numerous news articles that have been published in the wake of what occurred at Virginia Tech.

There several questions, however, that have not yet been answered by the U.S. media; and these are questions that manifested themselves in the huddled forms of around 500 Korean Virginia Tech students who gathered in groups directly after the VA Tech shooting for fear that all of the anger, the sorrow, and the grief caused by Seung-Hui Cho would be directed at them in acts of violent retaliation. For many Koreans (and, often times, other Asians) currently living in the United States of America, some important questions that have not been addressed in the news are ones that they should not have to ask or think about, especially as citizens or residents of a nation that prides itself on its tolerance and freedom: How are Koreans to cope with the racial discrimination that might be directed at them after the Virginia Tech shootings? That is, how are they to brace themselves for the anger of some few Americans who might think of them as being equivalent to Seung-Hui Cho just because they, too, happen to be Korean? And, finally, why aren't there more non-Korean U.S. citizens speaking out against the injustices that are occurring?
The answer to the last question is exactly why this article is being written, so I will start with that first: Not many U.S. citizens are aware of what is going on.

The first reason for this lack of awareness is due to the incredibly saddening fact that, as far as I know, hardly any of the major American newspapers have addressed the issues of racial discrimination that Koreans have been facing ever since news of what happened at Virginia Tech was reported. Of course, this simply could be because discrimination against Koreans in the aftermath of Seung-Hui Cho has been scarce or practically non-existent. If this is true, then I believe that it is an accomplishment of which the United States should be extremely proud. Yet, that is not the case: Many international newspapers, including those that are not Korean. India's "The Telegraph," Korea's "JoongAngIlbo," Japan's "Japan Todayā€¯ - to name a few - have run articles about South Korean discrimination in the U.S while our own media has remained relatively silent. The few articles that the U.S. media have published about the racism issue demonstrated that incidences of backlash against Koreans are numerous. If large media news organizations, such as CNN.com, have the time to report on how two parents recently became friends while bonding over the tragedies of their children, I don't understand why they can't have some sort of a discussion on this racial discrimination issue. As of now, almost every non-Korean person I've talked to has told me that there has been "no reports of backlash" - and that is a matter for concern.

The second reason as to why U.S. citizens remain unaware of this issue is because racial discrimination is inherently illogical when measured against the ideals of liberty and freedom that the U.S. holds in high esteem. Most people with whom I have spoken at Princeton seemed to dismiss the possibility of racial discrimination against Korean Americans after Seung-Hui Cho because of this "illogical" factor. When I, as a Korean American myself and also a student at Princeton University, asked several of my colleagues the above questions several weeks after the tragic incident at Virginia Tech, the majority of them seemed to think that I was, as they put it, "making a big deal out of nothing". After all, as two of my closest friends at Princeton pointed out, the fact that the Virginia Tech gunman happened to be Korean does not necessarily mean that all Koreans are on the verge of carrying out similar shooting rampages, just as Ted Bundy having been Caucasian does not indicate the fact that all who are of his race have a habit of murdering young women on a regular basis. And just as it would be not be justifiable to blame or punish the white populace for Bundy's crimes, it is simply not fair to place the blame for Seung-Hui Cho's actions on the Korean race as a whole. It's just a simple bit of logic, my Princeton colleagues say.

However, it is distressing that racial discrimination and hatred are not quite so logical. According to an article in The Telegraph, "Race Against Time," an unidentified man who called into a show on Radio Korea, Los Angeles revealed the fact that his son had been spat on at school (2). On Facebook, a popular online network for college students, a group called "Cho Seung-Hui does not represent Koreans" with members currently numbering around 530 was formed. The members of the group posted and shared stories about racial discrimination that they had seen or personally experienced due to the terrible tragedy Seung-Hui Cho brought to Virginia Tech. One non-Korean member from Virginia spoke of how a random person punched two of her friends in the face on her campus because they were Korean; another member, a high school student, talked about how some people threw rocks at Koreans in Bergen County, New Jersey; and yet another member who lives in a town called Centreville wrote that some "Korean spots" in his town and in some other states were vandalized. [Link]


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