Koreans are not to blame

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Margie Perscheid, originally published at Third Mom

I’m sure I’m not the only adoptive parent of Asian children who is struggling to help their kids understand the Virginia Tech tragedy. Tech draws many students from the northern Virginia area (where I live), so Monday’s events hit very close to home. My children were horrified by the murders, and their reactions have ranged from shock, fear, relief (when friends at Tech were found to have survived without injury), and sadness. I wonder, too, if they are feeling shame because the shooter was Korean. They say they aren’t, but it worries me that this message may be reaching them.

Cho Seung Hui was a terribly disturbed young man. How he flew under the radar of family, physicians, and schools for so long, and how he evaded treatment while at college are questions that deserve our consideration. Their answers will likely point to disparities between white and minority access to mental health care, as well as the challenges faced by immigrant families in obtaining these services. And they may help us avoid similar tragedies in the future.

But it’s Cho’s Korean-ness that has flooded the airwaves. The news program that broadcast Cho’s picture superimposed over a Korean flag is probably the worst example I’ve heard of – my husband watched it in disbelief the first day Cho’s identity was released. I can see no point to that news clip outside of an effort to drag our minds to the conclusion that being Korean was an important factor in Cho’s decision to arm himself and kill 32 innocent people.

My frustration with the focus on Cho’s race and ethnicity has been intensified by the apologies and collective shame that are being expressed by some Koreans and Korean Americans. Washington State Senator Paull Shin issued a public apology for Cho’s actions, saying, “It hurts me deeply, knowing what happened to Korea and how much the U.S. helped,” drawing a illogical connection between the Korean War and this sick young man’s action. The Korean Ambassador to the United States, Lee Tae-Shik, joined in, saying in his official statement, “This shocking tragedy gives the Korean community a reason to look itself over and repent, as well as reaching out to American society to form a closer relationship.” Repent? For what?

I received such an apology myself – a formal statement from the director of our adoption agency’s Korean affiliate. He voiced sadness and sympathy, but most of all shame that a Korean could have committed such a crime. And he apologized for Cho’s actions. I heard another apology right here in my neighborhood, too, from the owner of a local restaurant. After voicing her apology for Cho’s actions, she hastened to add that she was Chinese, not Korean. I’m still trying to get my head around that one.

Even now, as I write this, Alina Cho on CNN is covering this very issue. Every Korean and Korean American she interviews expresses shock and shame – sorrow, yes, but most of all shock and shame. I understand national pride, but to draw it to the point of taking on guilt for the actions of a person who clearly suffered from serious mental illness is too much.

Apologies and expressions of shame send a message that Koreans are responsible, Asians are responsible. They aren’t. The only one who bears responsibility for the murders at Virginia Tech is Cho Seung Hui himself. As Adrian Hong of the Korean American Coalition DC Chapter said in this morning’s Washington Post, Koreans aren’t to blame.

The Korean American Coalition DC Chapter has set up the Virginia Tech Memorial Fund in support of Virginia Tech Victims and their families. If you would like to contribute, and add your voice and action to a positive response from the Korean American community, please send checks to:

Korean American Coalition
Attn: VA Tech Memorial Fund

1001 Connecticut Ave NW Ste 730
Washington, DC 20036

For more information, email kacdc@kacdc.org.

Margie Perscheid is the adoptive mother of two Korean teens. She is a co-founder of Korean Focus, an organization for families with children from Korea with chapters across the country. Margie is on the Board of Directors of the Korean American Coalition DC Chapter, a former board member of KAAN, the Korean YMCA of Greater Washington (now KAYA), and ASIA (Adoption Service Information Agency). Margie writes about her intercountry adoption experiences at Third Mom. She, her husband Ralf, and their two children live in Alexandria, Virginia.

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