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Race, Violence and Terror: The Cultural Defensibility of Heteronormative Citizenship in the Virginia Tech Massacre and the Don Imus Affair

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Abstract:

As Don Imus’s rhetorical racial and sexual violence against the African American members of the Rutgers Women’s basketball team quickly receded into the background of the news, the violent “shooting rampage” by Seung-hui Cho at Virginia Tech was bombarded across headlines. While within different registers, the coverage of Imus and Cho relied upon age-old dichotomies of white nationalism and the othering of Asian Americans, couched within the rhetoric of color-blindness. Via the color-blindness rhetorical maneuver of equivalency, Imus’s violence was quickly displaced onto African American communities and rap music (if “they” can say it, why can’t he?), and Cho’s violence was situated as like all school shooters (except, importantly, more robotic, mechanical, and deadly). While it might not be surprising to note the desire to divorce Imus from an analysis of whiteness, it is important to note how often Cho’s racial identity was both noted and quickly denied as an important factor. More specifically, while there was the usual commentary made about the Asian masculine proclivity for violence, the media generally avoided such racializations working to further equivalences between Va. Tech and Columbine, a paradigmatic site of wounded white American masculinity and citizenship. Moreover, this wounded white male figure is critical to suturing a notion of community, citizenship, and nation. When the statement is made that “we” are all Okies, the mascot of Va. Tech, it becomes clear who is a recuperable multicultural American subject and who remains perpetually alien, subhuman, and a perversity.
By combining the insights of masculinity studies with critical race feminists on the uses of cultural defenses as a means to safeguard these privileges of male violence against women, we ask what types of violence are afforded via race, masculinity and citizenship. Put differently, what does the juxtaposition of Don Imus and Seung-hui Cho tell us about the privileges of normative citizenship and the “cultural defenses” that circulate in regards to these two figures? How might, then, we use this opportunity to interrogate the reoccurring appeal of white wounded masculinity as a “cultural defense” for violence, a violence borne from unobtainable heteronormative ideals. While the connection was rarely made obvious, what made Seung-hui Cho’s actions palatable and familiar were the ways in which the media worked to squeeze him into the wounded-masculinity narrative: he fit the “type,” the “pattern” for young male school shooters. A loner, a nerd, a young male ostracized from the community due to his inability to access male privilege, confidence, and, most importantly, (white) women. But as much as he could be made to fit within this typecasting, Cho refused such analysis. Through his series of videos, polemic, and photos, Cho highlighted the ways in which his isolation was directly related to normative white citizenship and the alienation of Asian Americans, and disenfranchised racialized “queer” masculinities. We suggest that Cho was placed within the wounded-masculinity type in order to avoid the other hermeneutical option: the racially oppressed retaliating for their isolation from the privileges of normative citizenship.
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MLA Citation:

Desai, Jigna. "Race, Violence and Terror: The Cultural Defensibility of Heteronormative Citizenship in the Virginia Tech Massacre and the Don Imus Affair" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244021_index.html>

APA Citation:

Desai, J. "Race, Violence and Terror: The Cultural Defensibility of Heteronormative Citizenship in the Virginia Tech Massacre and the Don Imus Affair" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244021_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: As Don Imus’s rhetorical racial and sexual violence against the African American members of the Rutgers Women’s basketball team quickly receded into the background of the news, the violent “shooting rampage” by Seung-hui Cho at Virginia Tech was bombarded across headlines. While within different registers, the coverage of Imus and Cho relied upon age-old dichotomies of white nationalism and the othering of Asian Americans, couched within the rhetoric of color-blindness. Via the color-blindness rhetorical maneuver of equivalency, Imus’s violence was quickly displaced onto African American communities and rap music (if “they” can say it, why can’t he?), and Cho’s violence was situated as like all school shooters (except, importantly, more robotic, mechanical, and deadly). While it might not be surprising to note the desire to divorce Imus from an analysis of whiteness, it is important to note how often Cho’s racial identity was both noted and quickly denied as an important factor. More specifically, while there was the usual commentary made about the Asian masculine proclivity for violence, the media generally avoided such racializations working to further equivalences between Va. Tech and Columbine, a paradigmatic site of wounded white American masculinity and citizenship. Moreover, this wounded white male figure is critical to suturing a notion of community, citizenship, and nation. When the statement is made that “we” are all Okies, the mascot of Va. Tech, it becomes clear who is a recuperable multicultural American subject and who remains perpetually alien, subhuman, and a perversity.
By combining the insights of masculinity studies with critical race feminists on the uses of cultural defenses as a means to safeguard these privileges of male violence against women, we ask what types of violence are afforded via race, masculinity and citizenship. Put differently, what does the juxtaposition of Don Imus and Seung-hui Cho tell us about the privileges of normative citizenship and the “cultural defenses” that circulate in regards to these two figures? How might, then, we use this opportunity to interrogate the reoccurring appeal of white wounded masculinity as a “cultural defense” for violence, a violence borne from unobtainable heteronormative ideals. While the connection was rarely made obvious, what made Seung-hui Cho’s actions palatable and familiar were the ways in which the media worked to squeeze him into the wounded-masculinity narrative: he fit the “type,” the “pattern” for young male school shooters. A loner, a nerd, a young male ostracized from the community due to his inability to access male privilege, confidence, and, most importantly, (white) women. But as much as he could be made to fit within this typecasting, Cho refused such analysis. Through his series of videos, polemic, and photos, Cho highlighted the ways in which his isolation was directly related to normative white citizenship and the alienation of Asian Americans, and disenfranchised racialized “queer” masculinities. We suggest that Cho was placed within the wounded-masculinity type in order to avoid the other hermeneutical option: the racially oppressed retaliating for their isolation from the privileges of normative citizenship.


Similar Titles:
Race and Violence: A Comparative Study of the Coverage of Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois Shootings by The New York Times

Cultural Nationalism, Gender, and Cyborg Citizenship: Rethinking the Divide between Gender and Race Liberation in Cultural Nationalist Ideology

A Sociology of Psychosis and Violence: The Case of the Virginia Tech Massacre


 
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