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Nobody in Temescal’s Koreatown wanted to talk about Koreanness and One Goh. The head of the Korean Community Center of the East Bay gave me a lecture on how the subprime-mortgage crisis crippled the Korean community, and she implied that the problem with Korean rage lay in socioeconomic factors. I was politely escorted out of two separate Korean churches after I asked some members of the congregations if they had any concerns about the perceptions of the larger public.

Overwhelmingly, the sentiment among the older Korean people I talked to was this: The shooting was a shameful act that would bring trouble on the community if publicized and discussed. For now, nobody in the mainstream media was drawing the link between One Goh and Seung-Hui Cho, and although all the Koreans I spoke with were well aware that two of the six bloodiest school shootings in American history were carried out by Korean gunmen, most of the people here were hoping to bury that fact.

There was one person who wanted to talk about One Goh, Seung-Hui Cho and Korean anger. A week after the shooting, Winston Chung, a 38-year-old Bay Area child psychiatrist, wrote a blog post on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Web site titled, “Korean Rage: Stereotype or Real Issue?” In the post, Chung called for a more honest inquiry into the cultural factors, like the intensity of suppressed emotions within the Korean immigrant community, that might have contributed to these tragedies.

The label "model minority" as applied to Asian-Americans is ostensibly a complement that is actually a slur doing the work of colorblind racism.

The notion of a model minority creates a division between "good" minorities like "Asians" and "bad" minorities like Black Americans. The first group are hard-working and have "good" culture while the second group "fails" in America because of a lack of such qualities.

Here, and despite the available data, Whiteness is normalized with all of its assumed and virtuous qualities of thrift, loyalty, patriotism, "normality", and "real" American identity. All other racial groups are deviant from this standard; some can approach being "normal" by assimilating and identifying with Whiteness as a political and racial project.

The "model minority" is also a myth. Said label erases differences among Asian-American communities, as "Asian" is a broad category with any number of ethnic and cultural groups within it. The Hmong and the children of Vietnamese refugees are collapsed into "Asianness" along with Japanese, South Asian, and Chinese immigrants who often come to the United States with substantial resources. In total, the model minority label creates a minority group that does not cause "trouble" like those black folks, and are living proof for the white racial frame that racism is no longer an impediment on the life chances for people of color in the United States.

While the technical language may not be that common in the United States' public racial discourse, the phrase "there is no racism, Asians have made it, and why can't the blacks!" is one that most Americans are very familiar with.

Yes, "model minority" is a problematic phrase. However, in terms of how our Korean-American brothers and sisters are beginning a dialogue among their own about the relationship between gun violence and masculinity, they are throwing a wrinkle into that logic by offering up a model for how White America ought to be having similar conversations...but most in the latter group are loathe to even entertain the obvious need for such an essential intra-community dialogue.

The NY Times offers up some great insight on the relationship between mass shootings, masculinity, and culture that while applied in a narrow way there, is also quite illuminating for the mania that (perhaps) drives white mass shooters--a group of men who are only 30 percent of the population but 70 percent of those who commit mass killings with guns--and their murderous deeds:

Chung’s interest in One Goh and Seung-Hui Cho comes from a lifelong, personal investigation into han andhwabyung, two Korean cultural concepts that have no equivalent in the English language. By Western standards, the two words are remarkably similar. Both describe a state of hopeless, crippling sadness combined with anger at an unjust world. And both suggest entrapment by suppressed emotions.

Both words have been a part of the Korean lexicon for as long as anyone can remember, their roots in the country’s history of occupation, war and poverty. Perhaps the best way to distinguish between the two words would be to say that han is the existential condition of immutable sadness, whereas hwabyung is its physical manifestation. Those afflicted with hwabyung describe a dense helplessness and despair that always feels on the verge of erupting into acts of self-destruction.

In the United States, guns are a fetish object and almost magical totem linked to the country's sense of national destiny and preeminence in the world.

Guns have such a powerful pull over so many Americans that they are willing to see many many thousands of their countrymen (and children) killed each year by gun violence in order to protect a sense that there is some type of "right" to have unrestricted access to firearms in a "citizens militia"--one that will magically be able to defeat the combined arms of the most powerful military on the face of the Earth and serve as a check on the the birth of a "tyrannical government."

Such rhetoric is compelling; it explains why so many Americans dream of playing G.I. Joe with their gun fetish totems against a fictive enemy who they imagine is waiting at the gates, coming for them any moment

As expert-scholars have worked through, America's gun culture is intimately tied to notions of masculinity. The willingness of Korean-Americans to confront the relationship between masculinity, culture, and mass gun violence is a challenge to the old, and still existing in the present, understandings of race and "culture."

Historically, as seen from the perspective offered by the White Gaze, Asians were a "feminine" race. They were not capable of the type of "manhood" that was part of Americans' and Europeans' blood, biology, character, and destiny-legacy in the 19th and 20th centuries. Modulated by time and evolving racial sensibilities, Asians were/are viewed as sneaky, masters of subterfuge, (ironically) both savage and lacking in honor, crafty, especially devious and intelligent, and an "other" alien outsider.

For example, Asian-Americans are often greeted with the question "what are you?" They respond, I am an American. A follow up question: "where are you from, really?" The answer: California. As Mae Ngai and Robert Takaki have brilliantly detailed, what does it mean for Asian-Americans to be unassimilable, the perfect and perennial alien? The answer is hinted at by the political work done by a view of American identity which links together being white with being American. What necessarily follows is a category of contingent citizenship for people of color.

The NRA and the Gun Right represent a particularly narrow set of White Masculine political interests and identity politics (and those who overly identify with them). I would suggest that it takes real masculinity and confidence to look in the mirror, ask hard questions, and live a life principle which is grounded in the practice of critical self-reflection.

In exploring the relationship between gun violence, mass shootings, and masculinity, the Korean-American community has a great deal to teach White America and the Gun Right. I hope the latter is listening and watching. In my heart I know better; what can "they" teach "real Americans?"

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wow. (7+ / 0-)

    I find this diary to be race-baiting, overgeneralizing, stereotyping, and pretty much an intelligently-worded hit piece that sucks in all 'white' people into an NRA label, which I'm sure will incense some virulent anti-gun people (people, not labels) here.

    In addition, I cannot for the life of my understand how and/or why you're criticizing race stereotypes and then using a bunch of your own, asking why 'white people' can't get it together because one Korean can.

    Other than that, great diary.

    I see what you did there.

    by GoGoGoEverton on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:31:45 PM PDT

    •  examples? i ask hard questions. sorry. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      •  Sure. How do you conflate (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Utahrd, Patrick Costighan
        Korean-Americans Are Asking Hard Questions About Guns and Masculinity--Why Won't White America?
        and this
        In exploring the relationship between gun violence, mass shootings, and masculinity, the Korean-American community has a great deal to teach White America
        (emphasis mine)

        with this:

        Here, and despite the available data, Whiteness is normalized with all of its assumed and virtuous qualities of thrift, loyalty, patriotism, "normality", and "real" American identity. All other racial groups are deviant from this standard; some can approach being "normal" by assimilating and identifying with Whiteness as a political and racial project.
        which infers that these racial labels are bad?

        Or, broader, why is it "Korean-American' but 'White America' and not "Irish-American' or 'Italian-American' or 'German-American'?

        I see what you did there.

        by GoGoGoEverton on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:59:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary Chauncy (6+ / 0-)

    Deep down, I've often felt that much of the gun culture we have today is driven by compensation for insecurity among men - both economically, culturally and psychologically.

    "If you tell the truth, you'll eventually be found out." Mark Twain

    by Steven D on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:31:50 PM PDT

  •  Aren't white Americans having this conversation? (3+ / 0-)

    Lord knows there's been enough of it here, although "conversation" may be too dignified a term for it.

    From a different angle, isn't it already a conceptual error to look first at whether someone is "Korean" or "white", which are just categories in our heads, rather than "mid-20s" or "unemployed", which are real things in the world?

    Freedom isn't free. Patriots pay taxes.

    by Dogs are fuzzy on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 12:36:00 PM PDT

  •  Edit request (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, 2thanks

    Good diary, Chauncey. Yes, for all the "serious" gun talk in America, precious little is addressing the misguided "manliness" factor. It's like ignoring the the "water aspect" of the ocean.

    Can you please add a link for the opening blockquote so that it's clear where it's coming from, even if it's a repeat link? Also, I think the "feminine race" link needs a fix. It does not seem to be working. Thanks.

    If "elitist" just means "not the dumbest motherfucker in the room", I'll be an elitist! - David Rees from "Get Your War On".

    by Oaktown Girl on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 01:12:28 PM PDT

  •  Never thought I'd see the day (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Utahrd, andalusi

    Where tens of millions of people are described as fetishists with delusions of martial grandeur, or a DK diary in which military is depicted as an invincible juggernaut despite a decade of harsh experience in counterinsurgency.

    Wait, never mind.

    When God gives you lemons, you find a new god.

    by Patrick Costighan on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 01:51:29 PM PDT

  •  I think I see how this turned out this way. (0+ / 0-)

    Sometimes the germ of an idea seems great, but there's just not enough there, or it shouldn't be pursued that way.  There's an interesting analysis to be made of differing notions of guns and identity (masculine or more broadly) in majority vs. minority communities in this country, but we're not getting in here.

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 03:35:12 PM PDT

    •  easy to complain. what would your intervention be? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "or it shouldn't be pursued that way. "

      What do you mean? Are you alluding to a deep reluctance by those invested in the white racial frame to ask hard questions about white masculinity, violence, and other matters?

      I am also not offering a thorough working through of these issues in perhaps the way that you would like. I have written a good amount here and elsewhere on some of these topics. Others have done great work on the issue as well. Do track them down. Alternatively, instead of bemoaning what you did not get, sit down and put in some work and do your own thing, or reflect upon what you did find interesting, informative, provocative, or the like.

      For me, I was pleasantly surprised by the NY Times piece and proceeded forward. Why don't you do the same? I would be interested in what you come up with.

  •  NRA and the White Right ≠ gun ownership (3+ / 0-)

    Certainly they're a significant part, but they have never been the entirety. There are women, minorities, and lefties who enjoy owning and using firearms and I've seen no indication that's a downward trend.

    That's not to say that there aren't gun owners who think of guns as a masculine thing, but please don't lump all of us into that group. My wife certainly doesn't fit into it. As for me, I just don't look at a firearm and think "Yes, that is a male thing and I am more male for having one." They're as gendered to me as owning a coffee maker, i.e., not at all.

    To the extent that some people do equate guns with masculinity---and I have seen a lot of that from the anti-gun side, by the way: most gun owners I've encountered want women to participate---I am all for divorcing gun ownership from being gendered.

    •  gendered identities are separate from (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      biology or "sex". and there is lots of complexity here, "women" can choose to participate with and use guns for protection, sport, etc.

      the socio-politics of guns in the U.S. are very gendered--here male, on occasion also tied to women defending the domestic sphere from 'savages' be they native americans in the frontier mythology or black/brown home invaders if men are not present in their "natural roles" for whatever reason, as well as of course using guns to fight "urban" rebellions in the contemporary white racial imagination.

      I did two great interviews, one with the very generous Richard Slotkin (he is one of the country's foremost experts on gun culture) and Ann Little (who writes about guns in early colonial America and their relationship to national gendered identity).

      You may find them enlightening and challenging.

      •  So that's what "gun culture" is (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        andalusi, Utahrd

        It's a literary form studied by English profs.  I read Gunfighter Nation; it read like a disjointed outline in rough chronological order of late 20th century stereotypes affixed to early 20th century notions of what late 19th century life was like.  For a book about the bloodthirsty mythmaking of America, there was very little discussion about the actual bloodletting, from ranges to the slaughter of livestock to a 1 in 61 lifetime risk of being murdered in Dodge City (or 1 in 203 in San Francisco).  

        I haven't read Ann Little, but I did skim through the preview on Google Books.  For a book about masculinity in colonial-era Indian wars, also a stark absence of any discussion on the sheer bloody peril of life facing both white immigrant and native inhabitant in New England.

        But I suppose "gun culture" refers to modern American gun ownership, or a caricature of it devised by some perplexed professor who finds the "habit" revolting and projects its dissonance with our cushy, soft, and extraordinarily extended lives on people who a century earlier birthed ten kids to keep three.

        When God gives you lemons, you find a new god.

        by Patrick Costighan on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 07:11:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Where are the dead Canadians? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The murder rate in Mexico,  we learn here, is high because Mexicans can buy guns in Texas and Arizona.

    Shouldn't Canadians, who we learn in this diary are genetically predisposed to mass murderer, be buying guns in Montana and New Hampshire and killing each other?

    Canadian customs /immigration even lets one of my relatives take a long gun into Canada in his RV, of course after it's duly registered.

    Their national sport involves hitting people with sticks.  The murder rate there should at least be at a New York or Michigan level.

    "states like VT and ID are not 'real america'" -icemilkcoffee

    by Utahrd on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 08:00:39 PM PDT

  •  The vast majority of Americans (0+ / 0-)

    are opposed to giving the "gun culture" free rein.  For example, 90 percent (let me repeat: 90 PERCENT) of all people in this country favor universal background checks for the purchase of guns.  Try and find almost any other issue on which 90 percent of the public agrees.

    And yet Congress dithers and the main media outlets let gun nuts like Wayne LaPierre spew nonsense.  Clearly, our politicians have been bought, and the large media companies would rather spew propaganda than tell the truth.

    With a context like this, to spend a lot of time examining "hard questions about guns and masculinity" is to miss the point.  The monied elite of this country wants us all fighting each other over issues that have nothing to do with questions of economic inequality--best to distract us with almost anything else.  

    Is access to deadly weapons by people who should not have them a problem in the U.S?  Of course it is.  That's part of what makes it such an effective shiny object to distract the populace (ahem, us) from issues of economic control.  We have to begin to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.  That means opposing odious social policies, while recognizing that they are symptoms of a systemic problem: we have a ruling class that wants to keep on ruling, at the expense of the rest of us.  

  •  always thoughtful and provocative (0+ / 0-)

    in a good way, thanks chauncey, just found it..

    This machine kills Fascists.

    by KenBee on Wed Apr 03, 2013 at 01:07:13 AM PDT

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