We all knew he’d be a loner, right?Â Even before weÂ learned the identity of the man who shot to death 32 people at Virginia Tech, we could probably all picture the killer: male, a loner, an angry guy with fantasies of revenge and access to weapons.Â I was glued to the news, shocked and horrified as I waited to hear who he was.Â
Then I found out he was an Asian male and my heart dropped even further.
I know this is supposed to be a blog about writing.Â And maybe I can justify addressing this topic here because, 1. I write crime fiction and this was a crime, and — 2. The shooter was an English major with very disturbing samples of creative writing.Â But whatÂ I’m really struggling with here is the factÂ the killer’s Asian.Â And that alone is freaking me out.
Here’s a childhood memory of mine: our family, about to leave the house to go out to eat atÂ a restaurant.Â My mom looks at my dad’s jacket (a favorite old U.S. Army-issue jacket) and she notices that the shoulder seam’s coming apart.Â “You can’t wear that out of the house!” she says.Â “If people see that, they’ll think that all Chinese people are sloppy dressers!”
All Chinese people.Â That’s what growing up Asian taught me: that if I step one foot over the line, if I do something embarrassing or shameful, it will reflect on every other Asian person in the country.Â Conversely, if an Asian anywhere in the country does something horrible, it will reflect on me.Â
I don’t know if this is the sort of thing that crosses the minds of other minorities in this country, but I suspect it does.Â
I was born in the U.S. and consider myself an American right down to my marrow, but it only takes an incident like this to make me feel as if I’m standing onÂ quicksandÂ in this country.Â Â I never forget that Japanese Americans were once herded into concentration camps, and that a terrorist act can leave every MuslimÂ AmericanÂ vulnerable to vandalism or assault.Â When we got into a tiff with Spain a few years back, there were idiots on American radio urging Americans to boycott Taco Bell!Â So now I’m sure that hate radio is already burning up the airwaves with anti-Asian and anti-immigrant rants, while ignoring the fact that mass murderers in this country are almost always white males.
So no, I don’t think I’m being paranoid when I, and other Asian Americans,Â start wondering when Korean grocery stores and Chinese restaurants are going to get burned to the ground because of this shooting.
What I wish everyone would remember is that this is not about race.Â Nor is mass murder a peculiarly American phenomenon, although it seemsÂ that this countryÂ plays host to the most shocking examples.Â
Sudden mass assault by a single individual (SMASI) is an international, cross-cultural phenomenon.Â It wasÂ described as far back as 1770 byÂ Captain Cook, whoÂ reported examples of it in Malaysia, whereÂ it was called “mangamok.”Â From this came the term “running amok,” which is a state of homicidal frenzy in which the killer (almost always male) would run around with sword or machete or knife, attacking everyone he encounters, until he’s killed or controlled.Â Granted, a guy running amok back in 1770 couldn’t inflict nearly the number of casualties that a guy can today, armed with an automatic gun.Â The point is, these incidents have always happend.
But today, with access to guns, the death toll for a single incident is far higher.
The May 2000 issue of Journal of Forensic Sciences has a cross-cultural review of SMASI and it made the following observations:
— 90% ofÂ SMASI cases, the killer was set off by a precipitating event.Â Most commonly, it was job related or a romantic rejection.Â Â Â
— Virtually all are male
— SMASIÂ happensÂ everywhere, in every culture.
— Of those studied inÂ North America, 77% of the killers where white, 15% were black, and 7% were other.Â Â (This, it seems to me, is simplyÂ a reflection of the racialÂ picture of the U.S.)
We are always going to have angry men.Â And some of those men are going to react with violence.Â They could be anywhere, of any race, and we can’t predict which onesÂ will go berserk and start killing.Â
We just know that some of them will.