Ethnicity should not be a factor for blame

By Jennifer Oh

The Virginia Tech campus killing spree has shocked our nation and led to some awful realizations about what one person potentially could be capable of doing or conjuring up. The media has had multiple spins and takes on this matter.

Unfortunately, much of it has to do with race, when the fact is that any one person who is socially inept and has just the right amount of self-deprecating inner hatred can in an instant flip into madness.

I’ve heard people talk about family upbringing, and how some Asian parents can be overbearing, extremely oppressive, strict, uber-religious, pushy, and extremely hard-working– hence borderline negligent. While these issues may be environmental factors that trigger kids to rebel and be angry, this particular tragedy doesn’t fit that description.

The killer’s sister, a Princeton grad and employee of the State Department in D.C., is a product of the same environment, the same family. She has expressed, “We have always been a close, peaceful and loving family. My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in. We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence. He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare.”

She also said,” This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn’t know this person.” She never thought her brother was capable of murder, because she could not predict that he would cross over the line into insanity.

We cannot understand where schizophrenia comes from, nor do we know how someone can have multiple personalities and be manic-depressive. As a non-expert, I don’t know whether any of these labels apply.

What seems clear to the lay observer is simply that this kid was deeply dissatisfied with his social life, began self-loathing and somewhere along the line, snapped.

He vaulted himself into a realm where murders of not one, but many are fathomable, even exercisable. This is beyond normalcy. There are people like this kid everywhere, potentially right around the corner from all of us.

We never know what triggers these people to kill. My greatest wish now is that everyone can see it is NOT about this “Korean” kid’s unstable life, nor how we can prevent these moments of insanity.

I don’t think we can prevent crazy. Although sociopathic tendencies are signs too important to ignore, instilling ethnocentric fear in people to prevent future crazy incidents, promotes more chaos by racial profiling and stereotyping.

At Elite Educational Institute, a math, reading, and SAT skills enhancement program that serves high achieving students of all ethnic backgrounds, I’ve been trying to get the kids I teach to see this. They are as young as 11 years old, but they are old enough to have opinions and questions about what happened in Virginia and to wonder what if anything it says about them.

Perhaps some of these children have overheard some of the same comments that I have, about how Korean families function in a way that makes it not terribly hard to figure out where the V.Tech murderer might have gotten his bundle of problems.

I hope to widen the scope. When we see (among other heavily media-influenced stereotypes) a white kid from a small town toting a rifle to school, a Muslim terrorist with a bomb strapped to his body, an African American gang banger in a drug related “drive by” these are people with inner issues that, although socio-environmental issues are a big factor, whose minds are going to snap, we are unable to predict.

I get it. It’s human nature to blame evil on something. We need answers to things that happen that are beyond our powers. It’s our scapegoat.

It dissipates the pain and to some, it fills the void that has been left by once youthful, bright, talented, giving, and breathing human beings. I really don’t think, however, that the grieving families are focusing their anger and loss at the issue of ethnicity. So, neither should the rest of the world.

Reactions to the shootings a Virginia Tech give us another opportunity to look at how ethnicity factors in to the way we make meaning from events.

When we see ourselves criticizing other people’s cultures, social backgrounds, and home environment, we need to learn to stop ourselves.

Though it is scary to acknowledge that it could come from within families and communities we know and think we understand, it is important not to think that the reason behind such events lies within families and communities we know far less about.

We only worsen the situation when we allow media perpetuated stereotypes to spawn resentment and alienation from our neighbors. We cannot hate.

This is a call to focus on standing together and supporting each other regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. After so many tragedies, why are we still NOT understanding this?

Jennifer Oh is an assistant director at Elite Educational Institute and a City College student

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Ethnicity should not be a factor for blame