The Virginia Tech community, our nation, and many around the world continue to grieve the senseless loss of so many precious lives on Monday morning. May the families and friends of those killed feel the peace and strength of Christ during this impossibly difficult time. And may we all take it as yet another reminder of how fragile this life is, and how much we all need the Lord.
Beyond the immediate story, the Virginia tragedy has inspired many compelling national discussions. For instance, should NBC have aired Cho Seung-Hui’s disturbing video manifesto? The event also is threatening to re-ignite America’s ongoing gun-control debate. It has brought to the fore the important role of social networking sites like MySpace in connecting communities during a crisis and helping people mourn. And it has raised questions about an educational institution’s responsibilities in protecting a campus community from mentally unstable students.
I hesitate to throw my voice into the cacophony of media addressing this horrific event. But I’m tempted to think out loud a bit about one sobering side note in this catastrophe—the role of race and ethnicity. I’m not for a moment suggesting that race played some part in Cho Seung-Hui’s twisted plot or that he had any regard for the cultural backgrounds of any of the people he murdered. In fact, as we begin to learn more about the 32 women and men who were slain, it’s clear that Cho did not discriminate–there were Caucasian Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Jewish Holocaust survivors, French Canadians, people of Middle Eastern descent, and many others. One is reminded how wonderfully multicultural a university campus often is.
What I’m thinking about, however, are the repercussions Cho’s evil act has had for the Asian community in America, particularly our brothers and sisters from South Korea, from which Cho’s family emigrated in the early ’90s. This New York Times story explains how South Koreans take great pride in Koreans who have found success in the U.S. and, thus, why many are stunned and ashamed that the man behind the largest murder spree in U.S. history was Korean. South Koreans are concerned about how it might affect their country’s relations with the United States, not to mention the possibility that it might trigger racial prejudice or violence against Koreans in the U.S.
This piece reports on how apologetic South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has been:
“I and our people cannot contain our feelings of huge shock and grief,” said Roh during a news conference [on Wednesday]. “I pray for the souls of those killed and offer words of comfort from my heart for those injured, the bereaved families and the U.S. people.”
It was apparently the third time he has publicly apologized. This kind of humility from a national leader is quite amazing these days, isn’t it? In fact, the entire nation’s collective sense of remorse suggests a cultural mindset quite different from the one in the U.S.
Then there was this:
A South Korean also launched an online campaign Tuesday to offer condolences to the victims, setting up a Web page where users left more than 8,500 messages by Wednesday.
“I feel distressed to learn that it was a South Korean that threw the world into shock,” said the site’s operator, identified only by the ID Hangukin, which means South Korean. “I pray for the souls of all those killed and let’s say to them that we, as South Koreans, regret” the tragedy.
I suspect many of us who are ethnic minorities in the United States have also had that sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we discover that the person behind some violent or malicious act happens to come from our racial group. We all know that unpleasant attitudes can follow. Anyone remember the internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II? Or how about the racial profiling of Muslims and, really, anyone of Middle Eastern descent after Sept. 11, 2001? When it was revealed that the Washington, D.C., snipers of 2002 were African Americans, I said to myself, Indiana Jones-style, Black. Why’d they have to be black?! It made an already tragic episode all the more maddening. I’m sure you can think of moments like these from your own experience.
History has shown that race can put people’s safety and freedom at risk during times of national panic or indignation. But more than that, one simply feels a sense of communal disappointment that one or two crazy individuals could tarnish the image of an entire race of people. Yes, I know this may sound irrational to some, that most reasonable folks outside the racial group in question probably don’t harbor ill will against that group because of the actions of one person. But some folks do. And therein lies the psychological tension that many experience during times like these. Witness this reaction among Koreans in Chicago.
My prayer is that there will not be a backlash against the Korean community—or the Asian community in general—and that our Korean brothers and sisters will feel loved and accepted in this country during these unsettling days.