Working with my three South Korean ESL students yesterday, I asked them if they knew about what had happened on the Virginia Tech campus this week. Of course they did. It’s all over the news here in Brazil.
That surprised me a little. In the US, we never hear about the violence in Brazil. And this country is extremely violent at times. Just yesterday, I saw on the news that there was a conflict between the military police and drug traffickers in Rio during which thirteen people were killed–not all of whom were the “bad guys.” People caught in the cross-fire of an ongoing conflict between law and living. The violence here in Brazil is because people don’t have the means to live: not enough food, not enough money. And the violence here comes from the frustration of not having enough to survive. A lot of the violence is because of drugs–because drug money equals survival money. This, of course, does not make robbing and murder excuseable; there is, at least, a reason for it. But, as many Brazilians have expressed this week, there is no fear of things happening here like they did this week in Virginia. There is nothing to explain why Cho did what he did, other than his completely delusional logic and warped sense of reality which cannot justify the deaths of 32 individuals to anyone anywhere.
My Korean students are afraid of the prejudice that will fall upon Koreans because of this one man’s actions. And they are right to have that fear. Cho’s face is everywhere and there are billions of people in the world who look a little bit like him. Like we saw after 9/11, the immediate hatred and profiling of Arab Americans or people sounding or appearing to be from the Middle East, was a very real, very frightning experience–for the victims of prejudice as much as for those who read about post-9/11 events and violence against Arab Americans. I was–and today still am–ashamed of those individuals in the US who see a face on television and assume everyone with a similar face does and believes the same way. Today, for instance, in the New York Times was an article about how Koreans in the States were begging for Cho not to be Korean. We all know what kind of lump hatred Americans are capable of when an event like this happens.
Lots of Brazilians, and this American, here want to know what is it about the US that breeds such insanity? What is it that makes individuals value extremely violent acts and then copycat them? It must be no coincedence by now that this is maybe the most consistently violent week of the year over the past decade in the US. Are there other countries that commemorate violence with similar violent acts? In such blatantly psychotic and terrorizing ways? To serve individuals’ own agendas?
It shames me to think there are some people who cannot distinguish between an individual and a nation, that the actions of one don’t necessarily equate to the actions of the other. It concerns me to think that, overnight, my three Korean students have real prejudice to face in their lives. That while things may have not been entirely easy for them to begin with, they’ve suddenly got much more difficult lives to live. Because of one man’s actions, and the ignorant judgment of a few thousand others. It makes me entirely and frustratingly sad that it has even happened, that in the matter of a few minutes one derranged individual changed the fabric of a 33 families, a community, and the relationship between two countries. And finally, Cho’s actions have me worried that it’ll happen all over again. Same time next year.