Thursday, April 19, 2007

Victims Needed

"Damn! You are right. The US needs victims." So wrote my intellectual sparing partner from Toronto in an email to me in Boston following the absurd response of the Boston authorities to the animated bomb scare this past winter. There will be many more victims to come in the months and years ahead.
The latest episode in America's unquenchable thirst for victims occurred on Monday April 16 when Cho Seung-Hui shot and killed over 30 of his neighbours and school mates at Virgina Technical University. As usual, the media lies when it says that it was the single biggest massacre in US History. Naturally, they over-look the slaughter of the American Indians committed by the US Army in the conquest of the West. However, the American Indians do not count since they are not "persons". They are not "persons" because they are not white.

Cho Seung-Hui was South Korean by birth and citizenship. He and his family immigrated to the US when he was 3 years old. He was raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC. This has given South Korea embarrassment. South Korea is trying to distance itself from the alleged shooter. The South Korean media reported that Seung-Hui was only "1.5Korean". This infers that though he was born in South Korea and a national, he left the country at a young age to live in a foreign land. This is the extent of collective guilt and embarrassment that South Korea feels. Unbelievable.
I wonder what that makes me? Am I a 1.5 American? Am I 5.5 New Yorker? Did the 1988 Summer Olympics transform South Korea's scale of nationality to reflect the the scoring point system of Olympic games? Perhaps the virus of Slam Poetry has infected South Korea and Seung-Hui's performance was too dramatic and had a bit too much slam which resulted of his low score of 1.5.
I am sure that Muslims and persons of Middle Eastern heritage breathed a sigh of relief knowing that this latest act of terror was not linked to them. For if the shooter had been, the US would would have a high absenteeism for the week. Suddenly, Middle Easterners and Muslims would have suffered collective illness and called in sick as the media and the population would have pronounced the judgement of collective guilt.
I wish to raise the possibility that the real incident was due to racism. Asians face a great deal of racism in North America. As much racism and discrimination against Black people in North America, it not generally not acceptable politically or socially to express it overtly. Just ask the comedian and actor Michael Richards about this. Thanks to the the civil rights and in particular the Black Power movement in the US as well as the global Anti-Apartheid movement, there is an awareness about anti-Black discrimination.
Unfortunately, overt and casual anti-Asian racism is in vogue. Just last month one can recall the leader of the Parti Quebecois Andre Boisclair's comments during the recent Quebec election about slanty eyed Asians.
I have been aware of overt anti-Asians racism since I was a first year student at Boston University. In the lobby of my dorm was a table raising awareness about racial violence against Asian students. Behind the table was a banner: "Stop Anti-Asian Violence". A white girl with whom I was walking with scowled and retorted to me: "How about stopping Anti-American violence."
Precisely. While there has been a steady decline for the past 35 years of racial violence against Blacks in the US, there has been a sharp increase in racial violence against Asians over the past 20 years. North America has had a long bloody history of Anti-Asian violence. During the 19th century there were anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco and the American Mid-West. Though Canada likes to pride itself as a country with little racial violence, British Columbia was the stage of some of the worst race riots in the history of Canada.
Vancouver, British Columbia is one of the most racist cities in the world. The city is racially polarized between whites and Asians. White Vancouverites are startlingly casual and overt in their racist statements concerning Asians. The future does not bode well for Vancouver. 45% of the city is Asian. Very soon, there will be increased demands for political representation. Whites in Vancouver will not tolerate that. Vancouver stands on a knife's edge.
4 years ago I was with my ex-girlfriend and another friend spending a Saturday night driving around the West Island of Montreal. In Montreal West, we picked up a white woman who was hitchhiking. She was from the NDG district of Montreal. The 4 of us went to a bar in the district where she subjected us to a lecture of sheer ignorance. Though she went out of her way to show how much she loved Black people, she remained unaware how racist she was. She said that Blacks were the best entertainers and that was the reason why Black people were loved. She cited this as the reason why there are many Blacks on TV.
"Everyone wants to see Black people. What wants to see chinks? That's why there are no chinks on TV!"
The worst form of racist behaviour I have personally witnessed was the public humiliation of Montreal's top Hip-Hop DJ who happened to be Chinese at the hands of white Anarchists. It was nothing less than a non-physical public lynching.
This winter while I was in Boston, I read in the MIT newspaper reports of increased racist hostility against Asians on University campus' across the US. This winter the Princeton University newspaper published a overtly racist and offensive tract ridiculing Asian students.
The status of Asians in North America is full of contradictions. On one hand, Asians are respected and and considered to be the model minority group. They are considered to be "smart", "quiet", "respectable", "conformist", "subservient". Unlike Blacks and Latinos who are considered to be "filthy", "dangerous", "criminal", "lazy", "stupid".
Yet for the past 150 years, Asians have had various times been considered as enemies to be viewed and treated with suspicion. From the "yellow peril" race baiting at the end of the 19th Century to the Second World War where American and Canadian citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up into concentration camps with their property and homes confiscated. Canada had the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act, an overt racist immigration policy to keep people from China out of the country. The most recent manifestation of anti-Asian racism was the SARS outbreak in 2003. In Toronto and Vancouver, the Chinese were viewed as disease ridden carriers of the plague.
There is also the resentment of Asian success. During the 1980's, it fashionable chatter to mutter how the Japanese were "taking over" the US. When SONY bought CBS Entertainment, a wave resentful panic swept the land. When Rockefeller Center in New York was sold to a Japanese Corporation, the reactionary talk radio networks howled. By 1989, it was assumed in American popular culture that Asians, the Japanese in particular, had finally "taken over" the country.
The other resentment of Asian success is their so-called "academic excellence." Asians are seen as hard-working students. Over-achievers who are boring. It is a contradiction because Asian parents encourage their children to excel as to compete and integrate within North American society. The academic results lead to economic success but within the social-political realities, Asians are very much behind.
Asians are the the least liked minority group in North America. The antipathy that Blacks have towards Asians is deep and popular. In New York and Los Angeles, there have been been unfortunate incidents of overt hostilities between Blacks and Koreans. Latinos and Blacks identify with one another despite the ethnic skirmishes on the West Coast. In New York, Blacks and Latinos have formed a political alliance. Asians are isolated. Moreover, there is further balkanization among the different Asian groups. Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Burmese, Indonesians, Filipinos are different people. Though they are Asians they do not have a coherent identity based on race the way Blacks and Latinos have. Blacks from North America, the Caribbean and Africa share a solidarity based on race and a shared political history. Latinos have the Spanish language which acts as a common bond despite the cultural differences between Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, etc. By contrast, Asians are isolated.
Asians have two choices. They can stay ghettoized among their own ethnic groups. That is, they can live and work exclusively in the Chinatown or Koreatown of the city which they live in. To do so provides safety and economic security but it produces a disconnect from the wider society. The other choice they have is to try to become integrated and culturally assimilated. This is equally problematic particularly for Asian males.
Asian women are treated and viewed as exotic sexual toys. The Asian female fetish is the most popular fad. Asian women find it more easier to integrate. To use the ignorant bigot form NDG's example, in the field of television journalism, there are lots of Asian women. It is rare to see an Asian male television journalist. In fashion and popular magazines, there are images of Asian women but very little of Asian men. In Western Rock, Micki Berenyi from the band Lush is a notable Asian singer.
Asian men are socially isolated. They are not seen as attractive. Nor are they viewed as interesting or fun. Most of the violence against Asians is directed against Asian males. With this outline, let us take a closer if still superficial look at Cho Seung-Hui.

Seung-Hui was a student was in Virgina. He probably grew up in an area in suburban Washington where there were few other Asians or other Koreans. It is likely that 20 years of racist abuse was too much. He was probably a loner because he was forced to be. He probably had few if any friends growing up. If he did, they were probably abusive towards him. What else can explain why he lost the plot two weeks before he was to obtain his degree?
During the rampage he was reported to have yelled how much he hated rich white kids. Some readers might object to this interpretation. One of the fist victims was a Black student. True but as this essay points out, the Black student was more likely to be socially and culturally integrated. Some readers might object that I am bringing up the issue or race and racism where it has no place.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I am reading too much into this. Maybe Seung-Hui was just another deranged North American to lose the plot which had nothing to do with race at all. Whether or not this incident will lead to awareness about anti-Asian racism is rather doubtful. If on the other hand this premise is true, then Cho Seung-Hui was a victim of racism. Racism is deadly. Racism is hatred. Racism is violence. The tragedy of the tragedy is that this incident will only lead to further violence.

-Vienna, Austria

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