[Viewpoint]Let’s not overreact to U.S. reactionBarack Obama, the African-American candidate for president of the United States, has created a stir in U.S. politics.
But he’s had to suffer due to his unique name, which sounds like Osama Bin Laden.
Once, there was even an outrageous rumor that the two were related in some way.
The ridicule must have left quite a mark on Obama’s heart, as he wrote stories about his name in the preface of his book, “The Audacity of Hope.”
Right after 9/11, one of his advisors complained, “If it were the beginning of his political career, we could have used his nickname instead of Obama, but doing that now would raise even bigger suspicions.”
On Jan. 1, CNN broadcast pictures of Bin Laden with the subtitle, “Where is Obama?”
Two days later, the Yahoo Internet site made a mistake. Under Obama’s picture, Yahoo wrote “Osama Bin Laden.” Because of the timing of the mistakes, a conspiracy theory emerged.
That is not all.
His full name is Barack Hussein Obama, and this led people to post criticism against Obama on numerous other Internet sites, assuming that Obama, a Christian, was a Muslim. Many intellectuals still believe he is a Muslim. Some even call him “Black Osama.”
How can such a ridiculous thing happen in the United States? This has to be seen as an overreaction by Americans terrified about more 9/11-style terrorism. In a way, it is natural that people overreact after experiencing shock. Who has time to think things over when they are in such a state?
The reaction of the Koreans after Cho Seung-hui’s shooting rampage at Virginia Tech was a continuation of this overreaction. When it was revealed the culprit was a Korean, Roh Moo-hyun overreacted first. Later, after some U.S. media outlets reported that Americans considered “a criminal to be a criminal and a Korean to be a Korean,” Koreans started to overreact in another way.
The press wrote headlines decorated with words “mature reaction” and saying Koreans were “moved by the Americans.” It must have been a spirit of generosity, something hard to imagine by the Koreans who burned the American flag when U.S. soldiers killed two Korean middle school girls in a traffic accident.
The conventional frame to analyze Korean society is the “whirlpool theory,” a model in which all the power is focused into the center.
The perception of Koreans is twisted like a whirlpool and excessively simplified. Perhaps that is why Koreans seem to believe there is no aftereffect to the Cho Seung-hui shooting incident in the United States because several newspapers printed some comfortable words.
However, that is not the way the world works. It would be too simple-minded to say the entire United States has no prejudice to overcome because the governor of Virginia was quoted in a few newspapers as saying, “It was not the Koreans’ responsibility.”
The United States is a place where every newspaper censures racism. However, people still commit hate crimes.
There was news recently about a student of Korean ethnicity who got suspended in Maryland. He got expelled because when people started to mock him because of the Cho Seung-hui incident, he told them, “I can shoot a gun, too.” What sheer nonsense.
However, what is more serious is that similar things have happened many other times, but we just did not know about it. One youth organization representative in New York said, “We have heard of four or five similar cases recently.” The other cases were similar. One student was suspended because he drew a picture of a bomb and said, “I would have made it bigger if I were Cho Seung-hui.” Another student got expelled from school for writing an essay about 9/11 from the point of view of the terrorists.
The Korean Embassy in the United States said, “The Cho Seung-hui shooing is considered an illness in U.S. society, so we do not think it would be good to make this an issue and we have decided to deal with the matter quietly.” However, knowing about the situation and keeping a low profile, and letting it pass by because of ignorance about reality are two totally different things. There are about 87,000 Korean students studying in the United States. Parents who have sent their children to the United States need to be attentive. They need to ask their children to be careful of their words and actions when they are abroad.
*The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Nam Jung-ho