Race should not matter in tragedy

By Jajah Wu

I’m writing this between classes, a slapdash skill I’ve mastered from four years of procrastination. If it’s ineloquent, it’s also as close to truth as I can get.

I grew up in the north suburbs, a leafy, sheltered place, all pretty and polite. I never felt the need to apologize for who I am, and I was never seriously concerned with my ethnicity. I have never sat in a class of full of Caucasian peers and felt myself as “the other.” The stereotypes I’ve met with are mainly innocuous, limited to jabs at the math prowess of Asians and the fact that we all know how to play the piano and/or the violin.

I have been infinitely lucky and correspondingly stupid.

When I found about the Virginia Tech shootings, I felt disbelief and shock – probably everything that you felt, so I won’t reiterate. When I heard the shooter was Asian, I thought: What if there’s retaliation? Then: I hope to god he’s not Chinese.

And then, I realized I was racist.

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I had bought into the structure of distrust and narrowness that prejudice totters on. I took fear and translated it to hate. What does it matter to the victim’s families whether their loved ones were killed by someone of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean descent?

What does it matter to those who will use any excuse to promulgate hate whether the shooter’s skin was this shade of yellow or that? If you aren’t Asian, there’s a limited chance you could even tell the nationalities apart. So why does it matter?

It is in our nature to divide ourselves. We like to define who we are by defining who we are not. I couldn’t be me without drawing a division between where I end and where the rest of the world begins.

The trouble with division is that sometimes the walls get too high and too close, and we end up in a prison, not a sanctuary. Cho Seung-Hui built walls against the outside; so did Hitler and the KKK, although in different ways. But you and I have built walls as well, and we do not turn into monsters. We are not eaten by our own fear or hate (although we might be chipped and bruised and someday wake up to find ourselves hoping some other group gets to be the scapegoat). It’s just the way life has been, and it works fine, until something as incomprehensible as the VT shootings occurs.

So how will we find a solution to this cycle? (And by ‘we’ I mean you and me, because anything that starts or stops in this world must begin with the smallest unit of action.) We can’t set a law against prejudice or racism or hate; the divisions inside us can’t be torn down like the Berlin Wall.

Haven’t people been trying to find a solution for generations and the best they get is a Nobel Peace Prize or a shot in the chest?

Today’s DI’s front page article speculated that an upcoming Korean film series might be canceled because of anti-Asian sentiments. Despite the fact that my best friend is Korean, I never had much of an interest in Korean culture. But I hope they don’t cancel the series because if they don’t, I’ll watch every damn showing I can make.

Last semester, I read a short novel by Etel Adnan called “Sitt Marie Rose” where a Christian woman is tortured to death because of her pro-Palestinian sympathies. As she lies dying, she says: “The only true love is love for the Stranger.” I think the answer to our question is somewhere in there, though I can’t say for sure.

For now, let’s keep our walls, but let’s not forget to build a door, and maybe buy a welcome mat. It might be the best defense against the only enemy that will always be with us: ourselves.

Jajah Wu

Senior in Business and LAS