Thursday, April 19, 2007

Where's the Backlash?

[posted by Callimachus]

It was called "inevitable," not a matter of "if," but of "how bad." Americans would turn on their Korean neighbors once the identity of the Virginia Tech shooter was known. Fear of it was one of the first expressions of the South Korean leader on hearing the news of the tragedy. Personally, I found that rather offensive, in a minor way, but my irritation wasn't the most important or significant aspect of that day.

I thought I'd give it some time, and wait for my friends who ceaselessly search out only the bad and the ugly in America to serve up the examples. But I read through my usual plate of left-side blogs and media sites today, and I'm not seeing the "inevitable" backlash. All the New York Times can manage is an anonymous, hearsay account of kids being spit on:

An unidentified man called into a show on Radio Korea here to say that his young son had been spat on by two students at school, said Charles Kim, executive director of the local Korean-American Coalition, who was a guest on the show.

Sort of like how Americans get spit on in Europe and other places, I guess. Ditto the Washington Post, which also offers a second hand account of an admittedly rattled Korean-American feeling like people were looking at him funny:

Young Bong Kim, senior pastor of McLean-based Korean United Methodist Church of Greater Washington, shared an e-mail in which one of his parishioners said he was experiencing such pressures.

"People in my office look at me differently," wrote the man, a government employee working in the District. "I cannot even approach my co-workers to talk. I feel so ashamed. I feel like I gotta do something to show that I'm a good neighbor."

Another example I saw (Cox News wire, I think) of a story devoted to the "backlash" had to content itself with anonymous racist comments on Myspace blogs. Really!

Korean Americans have been apologizing all over the Internet for this killer. I want to join those who tell them, I understand your wish to represent your community and to be known as good citizens in this country, and I appreciate and honor it. But really, you don't have to apologize. Cho was a nutter. We all have them. It's not your fault, and no one thinks it is.

So I'm asking, sincerely, has anyone got any examples of a serious, widespread backlash against Korean-Americans because of this? And watch someone go and pull something incredibly stupid 5 minutes after I hit "publish." Or is my suspicion right that Americans as a whole generally are pretty good about distinguishing individuals from ethnic groups? Because today it's a Korean-American and tomorrow it will be some other hyphenated case.

Koreans were singled out in the 1992 L.A. riots, but that's a specific and complex prejudice of the hood (see also "Do the Right Thing"). A lot of street-level stupidity was directed at anyone looking vaguely Middle Eastern after 9/11, but also a lot of protection and good will. Even in the most unlikely of places. And in that case there clearly was a cultural root to the attacks (as opposed to individual psychopathy) that preceded the backlash, which would explain, but never excuse, the sporadic harrassment.

While I'm asking for information, can anyone tell me how many Muslim- or Arab-Americans were killed after, and as a result of, the 9/11 attacks? Numbers seem scarce, and the only clear examples I can recall were unfortunate Sikhs who were misidentified by raging haters as Muslims.

It's possible, then, that more Muslim-Americans were killed by the 9/11 terrorists than by the American public's "backlash." I might be wrong about that. And of course murder is only the most extreme form of "backlash." But "the most extreme" seems to be the default expectation of most of the rest of the world -- and a good many of the antis here at home -- to anything having to do with my fellow Americans.

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