Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech: Race & Guns

The first thing I heard about the Virginia Tech shootings, aside from that the shootings happened, was that an Asian did it. And let's face it: that's noteworthy to people. Why? Because "Asians don't do that." Seriously--who wasn't thinking "whoa...you mean that wasn't a white guy?!" Or, at least, who of us with any melanin or real race consciousness wasn't thinking that. The way this guy is described, he sounds just like a white male, particularly one who does these kinds of things and fits this kind of profile ("a loner"...which...I'm a "loner" and "quiet," okay? You don't have to make it sound as if we're all about to go out and shoot up places!).

What is also noteworthy to me, which lets me know that race is noteworthy to others about this, is every news story I've read or heard so far has disclaimed this guy as "one of us" in any sense, i.e. American. Charles Gibson on ABC said that the shooter was "from South Korea" several times. Now...when I read/heard that the shooter was from South Korea, that conjured up a certain type of idea in my head that turned out not to be true. I was thinking that this person's family was in S. Korea, that he just came here to attend Virginia Tech, that he'd probably go back "home" for holidays and after graduation...i.e. this person has no real ties to America.

Come to find out, "Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old senior majoring in English, arrived in the United States as boy from South Korea in 1992 and was raised in suburban Washington, D.C....Officials said Cho graduated from Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., in 2003. His family lived in an off-white, two-story townhouse in Centreville, Va." His sister attended Princeton.

You know...I think that makes him an American immigrant from Virginia.

The way he has been talked about is interesting, because I can't tell whether he is discussed the way he is because of what he's done or because of how our country really does tend to think of Asians and Latinos as not American, even if they were born here. Frankly, I fall into this. And it's not as if I think Cho was American, though if he had American citizenship then he technically was American. But I do think saying Cho is "from South Korea" if he had been here since 1992 and his entire immediate family is here is incorrect.

When white guys do these things, they are not "white." They are not from anywhere from but whatever city and state they are from in the US. They are not disclaimed. When anybody else does these things, their background is included in the story. Blacks are always "others" in this nation, but especially when blacks commit crimes. Now we're getting the opportunity to see the same thing happening with another group of people. If you were worried about us assuming the guy is white, simply saying his name would have taken care of that, at least in this case. But there is little reason to refer to the shooter as being from S. Korea and not much more reason why referring to him as Asian would be necessary...except for the questions I'm about to raise below.

If this is a "white male crime," then what does that say to us about the way we think? Are others just as capable of doing these things? What about what I keep thinking about--are Asians simply too influenced by white American culture? Think about it, because I've heard many people say things like this in many different ways. I've also heard older black people say that blacks were better people before integration. So this kind of thinking exists among many of us, not just me.

On the point of white American culture...there is an article about how the Virginia Tech shootings have sparked criticism about our nation's "gun culture." "It would be vain to hope that even so destructive a crime as this will cool the American ardor for guns..." That's absolutely correct. And if you know where most bloggers would go with this sentiment and you know anything about me, then you should know that I'm about to go in the opposite direction.

Guns are not the problem. I do agree that guns are the easiest way to cause quick, widespread destruction, or at least the easiest way that the average person can get his/her hands on. But, to me, the real problem is crazy people. If someone is crazy and they want to cause harm, they are going to do it, regardless of the weapons at their disposal. With the kinds of things people come up with, I'm not even comfortable saying that, without guns, this would have been just 1 or 2 victims rather than 32/33 (I have a hard time counting Cho as a victim). Crazy people come at us with guns, and other people use guns to defend themselves against these crazy people.

Two years ago, I never would have defended guns. I would never have had anything on a blog of mine saying I want a gun, but I do. But, honestly, it's news stories like this--news stories that seem to be becoming more frequent--as well as hearing that four men have been sitting outside of my parents' house, seemingly watching/casing it, that makes me want one. I'm sure other people feel the same way, because I've heard the same kind of arguments that I keep hearing in my own head from me--"What am I supposed to do, just sit back and wait to be attacked? No, when the time comes, I want to defend myself."

I do think the way in which guns are used is the difference. The problem remains that the wrong people can get guns. Either way, it's not one of those issues that is important enough for me to debate people, or even to play a role in how I vote. The bottom line to me was this shooter was someone who had issues, regardless of the gun or being "quiet." And there is now this alarming pattern of people killing as many people as possible, then killing themselves...which means they have no incentive not to do these things. And, for me, the one thing that I've been hoping wouldn't start happening--we're getting a peek at the fact that it might very well start happening, i.e. that the profile of people who do these kinds of things will broaden to include racial minorities.

That might sound like a silly worry, but I am certain that there are Asians out there right now who are kind of going "DAMN! Why the hell he hafta to be Asian?!" like black people do when a black person screws up, i.e. like when many of us found out the DC sniper was black. There's a much bigger tragedy to be thinking about, that's true, but I really can't blame those Asians who feel like this, because it adds yet another racial burden to carry in this country...what, along with having to prove and convince everyone that you really are American even if you were born here. Asians are trying to show they can do more than math and science, but they aren't trying to show that "more" includes shooting up universities. Unfortunately, now that's what the spotlight is on their race as a whole for right this instant, because, as I said, when white people do these things it's not about being white like it is when blacks do these things, when Asians do these things and when Latinos do these things. When whites do these things, it's not a reflection on their race as a whole.

Therefore, if the profile of people who do these kinds of things broadens, what will happen is people will quickly forget white men were ever the ones who almost exclusively did these things in the first place...and, before you know it, it will be yet another racialized crime that harms minorities, resulting in racial profiling, unfair arrests and uneven punishments.