Korean-Americans Are Asking Hard Questions About Guns and Masculinity--Why Won't White America?
Nobody in Temescal’s Koreatown wanted to talk about Koreanness and One Goh. The head of the Korean Community Center of the East Bay gave me a lecture on how the subprime-mortgage crisis crippled the Korean community, and she implied that the problem with Korean rage lay in socioeconomic factors. I was politely escorted out of two separate Korean churches after I asked some members of the congregations if they had any concerns about the perceptions of the larger public.
Overwhelmingly, the sentiment among the older Korean people I talked to was this: The shooting was a shameful act that would bring trouble on the community if publicized and discussed. For now, nobody in the mainstream media was drawing the link between One Goh and Seung-Hui Cho, and although all the Koreans I spoke with were well aware that two of the six bloodiest school shootings in American history were carried out by Korean gunmen, most of the people here were hoping to bury that fact.
There was one person who wanted to talk about One Goh, Seung-Hui Cho and Korean anger. A week after the shooting, Winston Chung, a 38-year-old Bay Area child psychiatrist, wrote a blog post on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Web site titled, “Korean Rage: Stereotype or Real Issue?” In the post, Chung called for a more honest inquiry into the cultural factors, like the intensity of suppressed emotions within the Korean immigrant community, that might have contributed to these tragedies.
The label "model minority" as applied to Asian-Americans is ostensibly a complement that is actually a slur doing the work of colorblind racism.
The notion of a model minority creates a division between "good" minorities like "Asians" and "bad" minorities like Black Americans. The first group are hard-working and have "good" culture while the second group "fails" in America because of a lack of such qualities.
Here, and despite the available data, Whiteness is normalized with all of its assumed and virtuous qualities of thrift, loyalty, patriotism, "normality", and "real" American identity. All other racial groups are deviant from this standard; some can approach being "normal" by assimilating and identifying with Whiteness as a political and racial project.
The "model minority" is also a myth. Said label erases differences among Asian-American communities, as "Asian" is a broad category with any number of ethnic and cultural groups within it. The Hmong and the children of Vietnamese refugees are collapsed into "Asianness" along with Japanese, South Asian, and Chinese immigrants who often come to the United States with substantial resources. In total, the model minority label creates a minority group that does not cause "trouble" like those black folks, and are living proof for the white racial frame that racism is no longer an impediment on the life chances for people of color in the United States.
While the technical language may not be that common in the United States' public racial discourse, the phrase "there is no racism, Asians have made it, and why can't the blacks!" is one that most Americans are very familiar with.
Yes, "model minority" is a problematic phrase. However, in terms of how our Korean-American brothers and sisters are beginning a dialogue among their own about the relationship between gun violence and masculinity, they are throwing a wrinkle into that logic by offering up a model for how White America ought to be having similar conversations...but most in the latter group are loathe to even entertain the obvious need for such an essential intra-community dialogue.
The NY Times offers up some great insight on the relationship between mass shootings, masculinity, and culture that while applied in a narrow way there, is also quite illuminating for the mania that (perhaps) drives white mass shooters--a group of men who are only 30 percent of the population but 70 percent of those who commit mass killings with guns--and their murderous deeds: