Covering Race in the Aftermath of the Shooting

Writers at the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times yesterday covered the implications of Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui’s ethnicity. This would not be an issue if the shooter was white, which demonstrates that race matters in our country — despite the claims of those promoting a “colorblind” society.

Mercury News columnist Lisa Chung writes about the “collective flinch out there among Asian-Americans”:

We feel the need to represent – and also to distance ourselves. First up was the government of South Korea, which expressed its shock and condolences. The Korean American Coalition in Washington, D.C., extended its sympathies “on behalf of the Korean community” and announced a memorial fund for the bereaved Virginia Tech families.

It comes out of genuine concern. And out of fear of a backlash.

We’re afraid others are only going to see the Asian part of the shooter’s identity. Or his immigration status. We’re afraid that the violence will somehow be ascribed to his Korean-ness, or that his legal permanent residency – as repeatedly mentioned in news reports – is relevant to his mad actions.

The Chronicle’s Vanessa Hua touched on Asian American responses to the reactions over Cho’s status as a documented immigrant (he’s been in the U.S. since age eight):

Overemphasis in news coverage of his immigrant status, and stereotyping in general, could influence perceptions of all Asian Americans — not only Koreans — especially in areas with little connection to Asians and Asian Americans, said Eric Mar, a San Francisco school board member who is Chinese American.

And Connie Kang of the Times focused on the potential backlash feared by Korean Americans and Korean immigrants:

With the memory of the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the damage to Koreatown still vivid, and its 15th anniversary less than two weeks away, community leaders said they hoped the shootings did not prompt a backlash against Korean Americans, especially students.

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