The dust has settled. Most – if not all – of the cameras and the national media have vacated Blacksburg, Virginia. America, and even the Virginia Tech campus, seems to be trying to move on. There’s a presidential race to dissect. American Idol is headed towards its stretch run. The Virginia Tech shooting becomes another American tragedy that slips into the American subconscious.
I must admit that as a Korean-American I have tried to stay under the radar on the recent events at Virginia Tech. I’m almost glad that the slaughter is no longer a lead story. There was too much shame, there was too much pain.
When it was first announced that the shooter was a Korean-American, there was a visceral reaction on my part. This is an individual with a funny sounding name, just like mine. This is an individual who grew up in an immigrant home in the Washington, D.C., area, just like me. This could have been someone who once sat in the back of my youth group, deliberately lowering his eyes and avoiding all human contact.
How did I treat the misfit when he showed up at church? There is a collective shame felt by the Korean-American community for not taking care of one of our own and possibly preventing a national tragedy. It’s not completely rational, but it is reflective of the valuing of community among Asians. Maybe collective shame is a good thing to feel every once in awhile. Maybe then, the shame of racism will be a social issue rather than being reduced to an attempt to absolve individual guilt (and what individual is actually guilty of racism? It is so much easier to scapegoat Imus and pretend that corporate racism doesn’t actually exist). So I, personally, feel the shame of someone that looks like me being responsible for the slaughter of innocent lives.
After the initial shock and sense of shame came the frustration and anger. Why do the newscasters continue to point out that the shooter was a South Korean national when he was more American than Korean? Why is the South Korean government issuing not one, but two public apologies on behalf of an individual who was clearly more shaped by American culture than by his Korean origins? Why would anyone feel the need to lash out against the entire Asian-American community for the actions of an individual? Why can’t even one national newscaster pronounce his name right?
Believe me, I have no sympathy for the shooter. My sympathy is with the families of the victims. I just hope the circle of sympathy doesn’t have to spread too far.
Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Assistant Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary and a member of the Sojourners/Call to Renewal board. He blogs at: http://www.xanga.com/scrah