April 20, 2007

Rampage killers and Race

by Dave

In a recent opinion piece in Salon entitled "Killer Reflection", Jeff Yank linked to my post "What makes a rampage killer?" as an example of the potential to draw upon stereotypes of Asians and Asian-americans in constructing models of potential killers, and obviously the pitfalls of such stereotypes.

All in all I thought it was a good piece. While not providing much in the way of answers, Yank discusses the conundrum of drawing comparisons between killers based on race; on the one hand, "excluding race from the equation entirely eliminates some very real criteria we might use to better understand why acts like this occur, and how to perhaps prevent them in the future." But on the other hand, "focusing on race, particularly using the lens of stereotype, flattens individuality, and obscures other factors that are more meaningful and important."

In a sense, that was what was driving some of my post. It would be difficult for someone involved with or familiar with the Simon's Rock and VT shootings to ignore the elephant in the corner: in both cases an outsider student of Asian heritage who immigrated to the US at a young age who expresses the desire to rid their college campus of certain immoral practices through violence. Ignoring the cultural link would be absurd. But at the same time, because of the prominence of race in our society, we run the risk of reducing a complex set of interactions to a racial stereotype. The difficulty of dealing with race in our society is that our over-preoccupation with it often leads to either ignoring it or over-emphasizing it. In my original post, my own inability to place the killer's' culture in context was what led to a multi-paragraph discussion on race and it's potential effects on a killer mind. Race was over-emphasized due to my difficulty in dealing with the subject (which really has a lot less to do with race and more to do with both being a first generation immigrant with the particular circumstances of their home country, the effect of their parent's and the treatment they have received and/or perceives in US society).

It is the reality of our society with a hegemonic culture (some might call it "white" culture, but I would say it is broader than that) that race is going to sometimes substitute for a cultural identifier, and particularly so in the case of minorities. In the case of Columbine, we identified the killers with a cultural image of suburban idyll, of teenagers who lack for nothing materially (and thus, in our society, impliedly white) and who embrace "outsider-dom" through their clothes, hairstyles and interests. We even put a name to them: the "trenchcoat mafia."

Are there stereotypes here? Of course there are. Ever since Columbine, I'm certain that teachers across the country have kept their eye on suburban goth kids in black trenchcoats. While we have not racially categorized those students, we do not need to... because of the hegemonic culture, we automatically classify them as white without explicitly saying so. At the same time, if we categorized Wayne Lo as a suburban kid from Montana, or Cho as a suburban kid from Virginia, we obviously miss important cultural signifiers.

One of the difficulties in using race as a cultural signifier is it's inalienability. Suburban white kids can take off their trenchcoat and avoid the implications. Asian American students cannot. And when you combine these facts with the ignorance prevalent in our society, it results in further tragic events, such as violent targeting of Korean students.

But it is the cultural impacts of race and what race stands for that we are looking for when comparing these killers, and not the race itself. Cultural indicators may or may not correlate with race, and when they do they are often attacked as stereotypes. As a white American born to educated parents who raised me in a place and culture that had less emphasis on education and where I was persistently an outsider due to my race and heritage (a slum in Latin America), I can certainly identify with the alienation Lo and Cho may have felt in their schools here, and can see where that psychological effect of such a situation could lead to such tragic results. However, you can hardly say such a context is common to whites, though it might be relatively common to first generation Asian immigrants. It is, of course, also a stereotype. What to do? Do we ignore that such a situation is prevalent among Asians? Then what about me and other whites like me? I don't know the answers any more than Yank does, but I find them important and interesting.

I had a minor quibble with Yank's characterization of my position. Yank notes that I wrote "across the board, college shooters seem to be males under some pressure for success, academic and/or sexual, which would seem to include many Asian males" which seems to imply to him that I believe this stereotype of Asians imputes the ability to kill to all Asians who demonstrate that quality. And, in a broad sense, yes, I do. But he failed to note that immediately preceding this quote I stated that Asian males seem "to be a significant exception to the general rule that mass killings are carried out by white males." My attempt there was to try to find a more explicit connection: are rampage killings more closely correlated with the killers being white or Asian, or are they more correlated with killers that are males under great pressure for success, be it academic or sexual? Can we further refine the causes behind rampage killers, or develop a profile of them that goes beyond that? Should we ignore these observations if they veer into stereotypes? There is a delicate balance here, and I am not sure what it is. However I am glad that some, including Yank, are interested in discussing these matters.

April 20, 2007 01:33 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Those who are most successful in receiving on-going mental healthcare are those who a have a strong network of friends and family who make sure they receive treatment. A mental health referral from Cho's teachers isn't as effective and is an indication that he lacks a personal support network. Plus, young males aren't as verbal and are not able to form support networks as easily as women.

The larger picture is that Asian Americans don't have the political power that other minorities, such as blacks and hispanics, have. Most are also isolated and do not live in same-race communities like blacks and hispanics tend to do. A lack of community means a lack of a safe haven or buffer zone to develop their identity and voice. Didn't Cho sign his name by writing a question mark?

Plus Asian American males are the most marginalized group in America. Negative stereotypes of Asian American males are rampant in movies and TV. They are either villains or nerds. How often have you watched a movie and an Asian villain pops out of nowhere from the plot? I wouldn't be surprised if random nudity, hookers, and Asian villains are the most overused devices in movies.

There are virtually no positive images in the media to balance out the negativity, unless you count imported kung fu stars or athletes who aren't even American. Is this why Cho felt the need to send 20+ videos of himself to the media, unlike any other mass murderer?

In the end, you have an isolated, marginalized, ostracized, angry young man who happens to be mentally ill. If that's not a recipe for lashing out and violence, I don't what is.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 20, 2007 04:53 PM

It is hard enough being Asian in a none Asian society, people need to understand that and be sensitive, bully and insults is negative karma and actions which in this case brought on more negative actions and karma. Being Asian is a unique experience as a minority or person I am one so I know. We don't exactly wake up thinking Hey I AM ASIAN! And am going to do Asian things today! We are just people everyone is just human really but because of our outward looks or what we are born into we are forced to undergo certain experiences, positive and negative. Being a minority I would have to say that one has to put up with much more negative experiences, being Asian I can say that to be true. Being Asian is unique because out of all the minorities we are actually kept down the most in the media, look at William Hung, and now CHO and there is not real positive or good Asian Images in the media as if they only delight in negative ones, what sort of esteem does that create in Asians??? A very negative one and it probably will cut us off from any real opportunities as if there were any to begin with. I am Asian and have tried to get some TV and hosting roles lately, things were going well actually until CHO fucked things up for EVERYONE man he sucks. I am pretty sure I did not get the roles because of it, the media is not actually really thrilled about having an ASIAN host or actor or any company is not really thrilled to get a Asian endorser now either I am sure. The negative backlash from this makes me want to move away from the USA seriously, as an Asian Male I feel weakened and kept down here as hard as I try to be myself I feel that I do not belong, having the MEDIA constantly project negative images is part of the reason. I am sure other minorities share the same opinion as I do when I say we do not walk around constantly sayign I AM ASIAN, or I AM LATINO or I AM BLACK we are just people, just human but are forced to experience negative experiences because of our race and because we are in America. I do not want to whine because the USA and AMERICA is a great place but to be a minority in it SUCKS WHIND BAD! Unless you are Asian you have NO IDEA WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT! YOU TRY being ASIAN and try to make it, you WILL face racism, you will face negative images constantly in the media and you will feel helpless and you will feel kept down by "the man". Then when an Asian does something really dumb then of course you will also feel responsible and the hate and the glares and the prejudice just gets worse and worse it never gets any better....I don't want to live here any more...I just wanted people to know it is hard to be any minority but even harder to be Asian, at least Latinos and Blacks are "accepted" in the media and they have stronger foundations, unity and power in the media the Asians do not and probably never will, we will always be the "outsiders" the weird minority, first Abercrombie and Fitch dissed on us, then Details Magazine, then Adam Corola or whatever his name was but that is all ok somehow, if that happens with other minorities people get fired or boycotted with Asians it is ok somehow. Being Asian in America sucks whind and now after CHO incident it is much worse...

Posted by: Asian Experience at May 13, 2007 01:30 AM
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