Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Jeremy spoke in class today

Apparently Seung Cho had difficulty speaking when he was a child. Not speaking in Korean or English - just speaking. He was diagnosed with autism, and he was severely picked on as a child, which sounds a lot like the Columbine killers' background. Dailykos has more.

Killer called a "textbook case of a school gunman":

In high school, Cho Seung-Hui almost never opened his mouth. When he finally did, his classmates laughed, pointed at him and said: “Go back to China.”

As such details of the Virginia Tech shooter’s life come out, and experts pore over his sick and twisted writings and his videotaped rant, it is becoming increasingly clear that Cho was almost a textbook case of a school shooter: a painfully awkward, picked-on young man who lashed out with methodical fury at a world he believed was out to get him.

“In virtually every regard, Cho is prototypical of mass killers that I’ve studied in the past 25 years,” said Northeastern University criminal justice professor James Alan Fox, co-author of 16 books on crime. “That doesn’t mean, however, that one could have predicted his rampage.”

When criminologists and psychologists look at mass murders, Cho fits the themes they see repeatedly: a friendless figure, someone who has been bullied, someone who blames others and is bent on revenge, a careful planner, a male. And someone who sent up warning signs with his strange behavior long in advance.

Regan Wilder, 21, who attended Virginia Tech, high school and middle school with Cho, said she was sure Cho probably was picked on in middle school, but so was everyone else. And it didn’t seem as if English was the problem for him, she said. If he didn’t speak English well, there were several other Korean students he could have reached out to for friendship, but he didn’t.

As Hillary Clinton says, it takes a village. It seems that the village failed him, and he failed us.

Some people have commented on wishing for the "good old days" of stereotyping against Asian Americans when all we had to worry about was William Hung or the model minority. It's funny because these can be considered minor stereotypes - not as harmful to be seen as a bumbling, comical nerdy Asian than a menace to society or a drug dealer or a welfare queen.

That Seung Cho literally explodes the model minority myth.

But I think it's more complicated - if anything, part of his anger might have grown out of being bullied as an easy target - a shy Asian American kid with glasses who didn't speak and when he did, it was haltingly, as though with a mouth full of marbles.

A lot of us were that kid - the one who got picked on, who had to go to speech therapy. Part of junior high and high school is making it out of that gauntlet, that meat grinder; then we spread our wings and we grow out of adolescent and preteen awkwardness. Do we look back with anger? Perhaps. I'm not sure my friend will ever forget being stuffed in a locker, nor will I forget having my books stolen and put in the men's washroom. But almost all of us grow out of it, and there's only the .000001% who do go schizo, and an even smaller percentage that goes supernova. And part of this is just about the broader experience of not being a specifically Asian American nerd, but about the difficulty of being a nerd at all in a youth culture that doesn't prioritize that.

So it goes full circle - why isn't he called the "alienated geek killer" or the "lonely killer" since it seems that so many of these school shooters feel completely shut off? Again, the village failed. When we are so engrossed in our lives, sometimes we overlook the kids who by their very silence are crying out for help and attention because the loud obnoxious kids are the ones who attract our attention, in a form of "the squeakiest wheel gets the grease." My friends who are teachers tell me this is their exact experience - they can't spend as much time as they would like with the introverted kids because they have to prevent Charlie from throwing the hamster out the window or Billy from cutting off Sabrina's hair.

So then we as a community trust that someone else is taking care of silent Bobby, that he'll make it through okay. And when we do that, and Bobby keeps doing the trust fall, thinking that sometime, somewhere, someone will catch him -- well, no one is ever there. So that's when he stops relying on anyone, walls himself off, and goes ballistic much to all of our horror.

Anytime I hear of a really quiet kid who brings a gun to class, I think of Pearl Jam's song "Jeremy" and its stirring opening chords, and its eerie lyrics:

At home, drawing pictures of mountain tops
With him on top lemin yellow sun, arms raised in a v
And the dead lay in pools of maroon below
Daddy didnt give attention
Oh, to the fact that mommy didnt care
King jeremy the wicked...oh, ruled his world...
Jeremy spoke in class today... (2x)

Clearly I remember pickin on the boy
Seemed a harmless little fuck
Ooh, but we unleashed a lion...

Seung Cho spoke in class, and the question is whether we hear him, and all the other forgotten silent kids. I'm not putting the blame on his parents necessarily, but rather I ask us all: How many Jeremys are there that we could help just by showing a little attention and by taking an interest in their welfare?

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