In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting racism is on my mind. The morning after the shooting NPR had a story about the impact of 9/11 and the unfounded racism anyone who could be mistaken for an Arab experienced. A similar story appeared earlier in the month based on the documentary Divided We Fall, about Sikhs persecuted after 9/11 (an estimated 19 people were killed in the racially charged aftermath of 9/11).
And now that the Virginia Tech shooter has been identified as a Korean, there are fears of backlash against Korean Americans. NPR (can’t find the link) had a story about a Korean student who was afraid to take the bus to school and once at school noticed that everyone was looking at her strangely.
I just don’t understand this type of response. It’s so stupid.
On one hand I do get it. We’re afraid of the unknown. We don’t understand it, so it’s easy to make generalizations: White cops beat up Rodney King, so all cops are guilty of police brutality. Those black guys beat up white truck driver Reginald Denny in the riots following the verdict in the King case, so all black guys must be thugs. Two teens wearing black trenchcoats massacred their classmates at Columbine High School, so anyone who wears black must be pyscho. Osama Bin Laden wears a turban and hates America, so anyone who wears a turban must hate America. An Asian student is responsible for the worst shooting in U.S history, so we better keep a closer eye on Asians.
But it’s insane. We make terrible judgments based on poor stereotypes and people end up living in fear. As if it weren’t bad enough that psychos exist and tragedies like the Rodney King beating, the L.A. Riots, Columbine, 9/11 and Virginia Tech happen–we have to make it worse by treating our neighbors like the psycho.
What really drives me nuts is when people turn this into a patriotic, ‘get out of my country’ riff. This happened especially after 9/11, as any non-white person who might look remotely like someone who’s visited the Middle East was suddenly suspect and persecuted. And it’s nothing new. Look at the Japanese internment camps of World War II.
I just wish someone would remind that flag-waving, bigoted patriot that at one time his grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great-great-grandparents were immigrants in this country and people looked down on them for the way they dressed or spoke or ate. Maybe they were Irish or German or Italian or Swedish–whatever. They were persecuted and told this wasn’t their country.
But that’s what the United States is supposed to be about. We all come together from different backgrounds and different languages and different cultures and we stand together. We have the freedom to be who we are–to believe what we want, to dress the way we want, to live the way we want. That’s what America is all about. And when Americans take that for granted and start spray-painting ‘It’s Not Your Country’ on a third-generation Sikh-American’s house, those so called ‘Americans’ are the ones who should get out.