God's Politics

God's Politics

Soong-Chan Rah: Shame and Anger

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:

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Phyllis Schoonhoven

posted April 30, 2007 at 8:25 pm

Hello Professor Soong-Chan Rah, I read your comments on “God’s Politics” on Sojourners… how interesting, I felt the same way about the shooter being identified as “Asian” as we have 2 adopted Korean grandchildren… and I fear for the prejudice from the killings. It is interesting that another granddaughter, will be graduating from North Park on May 11/12 and we plan to attend the graduation… perhaps I will get to meet you then. We have been in “The Covenant” for over 40 years, now members at the Alexandria (MN) Evangelical Covenant Church.

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posted April 30, 2007 at 8:30 pm

I do not hold the American-Korean community responsible for the V-T shootings anymore than I hold the white community for the two white males who did the shooting in Littleton. It is not their national origin – it is that somehow evil (great evil) was allowed to enter and control them. As a conservative and a card carrying NRA member – this student should not have been allowed to purchase a gun. (even the NRA would agree with that) But because of some groups (ACLU being one of them) taking on the ‘privacy’ issues – no, his info was not on a data base.But it is the individual that is responsible for their actions. Soceity has the responsibility to protect us from them, and them from themselves. But there is a lot that needs to be done before that will happen. Praying for the families and V-T that we so adversly effected by this action.

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posted May 1, 2007 at 1:12 am

“But because of some groups (ACLU being one of them) taking on the ‘privacy’ issues – no, his info was not on a data base.” A person’s medical, and particularity his psychiatric records, should not be made available for public scrutiny. I m sure that the ACLU is not the only organization that has a problem with placing a person s medical data on a public database. One of the most visible aspects of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has been the requirements for confidentiality in health care. All health care providers and anyone within the health care system who have access to patient s data receive training ad nauseum in the HIPAA confidentiality. I m don t see how calling for the creation of a database for psychiatric information on potential gun buyers is anything other than a reactionary response, akin to demands to outlaw handguns.

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posted May 1, 2007 at 2:07 am

neuro_nurse | 04.30.07 – 7:17 pm | #There has to be some middle ground on this matter – one does not have to put the intire records out on the WWW inorder to flag the person as one that should not be allowed to purchase a gon of any kind.Great to hear from you! Later – .

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Duane E. Hayes

posted May 1, 2007 at 1:39 pm

Amen to that Reverend.

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posted May 1, 2007 at 5:45 pm

moderatelad, I agree that there is a middle ground. I don’t know the laws regarding gun purchases, but I suppose that having a potential gun buyer sign consent to release her or his psych records might be agreeable to most parties. I searched the ACLU website and did not find any relevant entries for cho, virginia, or background check. When I entered the search term gun, I found a recent entry from Washington State regarding opposition to the REAL ID, but nothing related to the shootings in Virginia. There is an article in today s paper about this. Apparently, Virginia already has a background check that includes inpatient psych admits, but not outpatient psych treatment. The article goes on to say that even with the database, Cho would still have been able to buy guns from plenty of other sources. Lewis, B. (May 1, 2007) Virginia changes law following shootings.

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posted May 1, 2007 at 7:41 pm

neuro_nurse | 05.01.07 – 11:50 am | # to buy guns from plenty of other sources I believe that the Gov. of Virginia has or is going to close some of the loopholes so that people like Cho would not be able to ‘legally’ purchase a gun.Most of the gun stolen in MN end up for sale in Chicago. Criminals and wackos (not a scientific term but it works) do not follow the gun laws that we have now, so why do you think that they would follow future laws that are passed.When we finally go after the person and not the object we will start to make progress. Have a great day… Later – .

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posted May 1, 2007 at 7:59 pm

You see, the whole tragedy of Virginia Tech is symptomatic of the disintegrating, immoral and violent society over which the United States, as the leading power in the occidental world, presides. What happened the other week, like Columbine and similar incidents, could only have occurred in a society where the strong survive and the weak go to the wall. WHEN WILL AMERICA LEARN!

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posted May 1, 2007 at 8:38 pm

Rev. Dr. Rah: Although I’m not Asian myself, when the identity of the VT shooter was first reported, my first reaction was similar to yours–why did the media dwell on his ethnic background? I’m sure that many of us, like me, are personally acquainted with people who suffer from various kinds of mental illness, and we know that it doesn’t favor one ethinic or racial group over another. I’m not sure why the media (and the rest of our society) is always so concerned about identifying ethnic labels for everybody. On another note, it seems quite sad to me that Rev. Rah’s cry of pain would be answered by another tiresome round of the endless and unproductive gun debate, but I guess that’s just my own reaction. May God’s peace be with you, Rev. Rah.

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posted May 1, 2007 at 10:32 pm

As a black man I must say welcome to club. Kidding.Umm it is really sad that they focused so much on his ethnicity. I have friends in LA that have felt the racial fallout from it too. They were jokingly asked (not a joke) if they would snap and kill others. It’s really sad but not all that un heard of this is America after all. p

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posted May 1, 2007 at 11:33 pm

It is sad, and I am saddened that so much attention has been given to the question of ethnicity. I would have to say that at least part of it is just the obligatory focusing on and dissecting of the background of any mass murderer, and his immigrant status is part of his background. Why anyone would make this a racial issue is beyond me…and certainly ignores the fact that the majority of mass shootings are committed by white males. This one disturbed individual does not in any way reflect on your nation, Reverend.

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posted May 2, 2007 at 2:09 am

moderatelad, “Criminals and wackos (not a scientific term but it works) do not follow the gun laws that we have now, so why do you think that they would follow future laws that are passed.” I don’t. Violence in our society is a complex problem that will not be alleviated by a simplistic response.

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posted May 2, 2007 at 6:03 am

neuro_nurse | 05.01.07 – 8:14 pm | #But policy and laws have to be directed at the person behind the gun, not the gun.Later – .

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posted May 2, 2007 at 5:30 pm

Soong-Chan, thanks for weighing in on this tragedy. We as Asian Americans do feel that collective shame and anger over this incident, and no one more acutely than those who are 2nd generation English-speaking Korean Americans. While there are many complex and intricate factors that contributed to the shooter’s wrongful actions, I think many people and the media explored every angle to try to find that elusive cause or motive, and ethnic background was not excluded, nor should it be, necessarily.What I would like to have seen is more 2nd generation Korean American voices instead of South Korean government voices. What I’d like to have seen is more examination of the cultural dynamics that may have made it more difficult for someone Asian American needing mental health care than it needs to be, and less so about gun control.

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Daniel Eng

posted May 4, 2007 at 1:26 am

good comment Reverend – as an Asian American myself – my first reaction was similar to yours – on why the media focuses so much on his ethnicity – and i was surprised at the apologies from South Korea as well as potential racial backlash in this country – but one question do linger in my mind though – does the stereotype of Asian men has to do with this tragedy ? – this is just my own experience – Asian men are taught to be reserved – and refrained from emotional out-bursts (or .. some sort of emotional communications / expressions) – will an encouragement of communication of feelings and counseling or prayers had prevented this tragedy ? I hope we as Asians should look inwards and at our culture and evaluate. that’s all i have.

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