This last week has given us a lot to think about. Goodbye Don Imus, hello Seung-Hui Cho, hello racism and xenophobia and, above all, sorrow.

Angry Asian Man has copped every news article and blog post better than I could ever hope to, so head over there if you’re looking for the raw coverage.

Asian American spaces all over the Internet have been quick to point out the racial effects of the tragedy at Virginia Tech; Cho’s legal status as Korean citizen has been played up for certain xenophobic effects, and his ethnic Korean identity is in direct conversation with the general conception of Asian Americans as a model minority. Allow me to offer a few thoughts:

I predict that Cho’s rampage is a step in a series of events that will contribute to the erosion of the model minority myth as it applies to ethnically East Asian Asian Americans. The dominant image of certain kinds of Asian Americans as submissive overachievers is gradually being replaced; however, not in the ways we generally consider positive (Harold and Kumar as an alternative expression of Asian American men, for instance) by virtue of its deviance from the model minority norm, but rather at the menacing end of the model minority myth. That is, the construction of Asian Americans as a “Yellow Peril”. If Asian Americans are unthreatening and “submissive”, then they are congratulated for succeeding on their own merits. If we start to threaten American jobs, international political hegemony, or lives, then our “overachieving” racialization becomes a threat to (white) American dominance (see: Japanese automobile wars of the 1980s and Vincent Chin). And now, instead of yellowface homeboy from Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Long Duk Dong, we’re seeing American jobs being exported to India, international political tension between the U.S., North Korea, and China, and faces like Chai Soua Vang and Seung-Hui Cho killing lots of people. Jobs, politics, lives.

The discourse in Asian American spaces isn’t going to be terrifically fascinating, I think; the impacts of a Korean American shooting up a school in Virginia are something that, as far as I can tell, are perfectly understandable not just to the academics and the Asian American scholars out there, but also to their first-generation immigrant parents. It goes something along the lines of – “Even if I am Taiwanese or Filipino or Chinese or something non-Korean, it doesn’t matter, because most of America doesn’t know the difference.” I’m hoping that this will bring disparate Asian American populations together, but I don’t think that’s anything unusual.

It is the discourse that happens in non-Asian American, people-of-color spaces that I think has the potential to be much more fascinating. The nature of Cho’s crime is, I would maintain, typically racialized as White and possibly middle-class; Black and Latino violence is generally associated with ghetto drive-bys and prison yard shankings, not premeditated mass violence, which is the domain of White people (Timothy McVeigh, Columbine shooters, etc.). And so we have Cho – a person of color, and by all accounts, from a working-class background – committing a “White” crime. My gut tells me that this will probably push Asian Americans further away from other people-of-color communities, but I can’t shake the feeling that anyone who reads anything more in this incident besides a clearly mentally troubled individual snapping (we Asian people have them too! See, Kenneth Eng), it could lead to the revelation that, hey, Asian Americans have problems too.

And through it all, we at Ninja Pants will remain eternally rocking out.

Peace and love,

pat m.

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