Cho Seung-Hui, stereotyped to death


Any way you look at this unfathomable tragedy, it becomes increasingly apparent that in all of our efforts to celebrate diversity, we as Americans don’t have a freakin clue about what that really means.  The artificial social construct that is commonly known as race-matters no matter what the right-wing conservative talking point about the irrelevance of race happens to be.  

From his close knit family to everyone else he encountered outside of the sanctuary of home, they failed him.   Cho Seung-Hui had apparently been slowing going insane for several years and nobody with the power to set things right intervened.  What intervention occurred was piecemeal and halfhearted.  From published investigative reports to his writings on the internet, it is clear that Cho was suffering from some form of paranoid schizophrenia. 

According to Health Square, Schizophrenia is one of the most damaging mental disorders—causes its victims to lose touch with reality.  They often begin to hear, see, or feel things that aren’t really there (hallucinations) or become convinced of things that simply aren’t true (delusions).  In the paranoid form of this disorder, they develop delusions of persecution or personal grandeur.  The first signs of paranoid schizophrenia usually surface between the ages of 15  and 34.  There is no cure, but the disorder can be controlled with medications. Severe attacks may require hospitalization.”

It is my contention that Cho Seung-Hui’s death and the carnage his unchecked illness engendered is a result of the perniciously devastating effects of the “Model Minority” stereotype.  Christopher Liang of the University of Maryland, along with other colleagues, has written extensively about the racism and stereotypes faced by Asian Americans in the United States.  Ignorance about the Asian American experience is rampant.

In a paper entitled “The Asian American Racism-Related Stress Inventory,” Dr. Liang and his colleagues wrote, “As members of a minority group in the United States, Asian Americans have been targets of racism.  The long history of racism toward Asian Americans has been well documented and includes the lynching and mass murders of early Asian migrants, legislation banning migration of persons from Asia, and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  In recent years, there has been an increase in reports of anti-Asian vandalism, intimidation, and threats, and incidents involving bodily harm.”    

Dr. Liang and his colleagues also succinctly explain the model minority stereotype “First coined by sociologist William Patterson, the notion of “model minority” suggests that Asian Americans embody the modern day American success story; that is, Asian Americans are functioning well in society and somehow immune from cultural conflicts and discrimination and experience few adjustment difficulties.”   

Dr. Liang and his colleagues further explain that other social scientists have found that  “…the model minority myth has masked the real social, economic, and psychological problems encountered by large segments of the Asian American Population and diverted attention away from discrimination and prejudice that effect their lives.”  

Moreover, as other scholars sited by Liang point out and getting to my central theme, “lower rates of utilization of mental health services in comparison with other Americans…have led to a belief that Asian Americans compose a population free from psychological problems despite their minority status and experiences with racism.  It is now believed that underutilization of mental health services is related to cultural factors such as loyalty to family, sensitivity to shame, preference for indigenous healers,  and the mismatch between the cultural values among Asian Americans and the values inherent in Western mental health services.”

Cultural sensitivity and a requisite knowlege of the Asian American experience were completely lacking at Virginia Tech as well as the court system charged with directing a psychiatric evaluation.  Both institutions were hamstrung by stereotypical notions regarding Asian Americans as,  “peaceful, docile, or perhaps, less intimidating physically, and therefore less of a physical threat…thus less likely to engage in criminal behavior.” 

The black professors who sounded the alarm, Drs. Roy and Giovanni, were ignored in a way they wouldn’t have been if they had been white women sounding the alarm about a dangerously unstable black boy.   Had the mental health professionals directed by the court to evaluate his mental state done their jobs properly, this entire tragedy could have been averted.  In the final analysis, nobody noticed this boy for who he was-an innocent victim of mental illness that was stereotyped to death.