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

You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn't enough. Your vodka and cognac weren't enough. All your debaucheries weren't enough. Those weren't enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything.

Seung-hui Cho

"Today, We Are All Hokies"1

perhaps the shock jock, Don Imus, did not shock many when his white male appeal seemed to digress too neatly into the domain of blatant racist speech. The sexual/racial/gender-loaded phrases by which he characterized the Rutgers University women's basketball team saturated the media, as commentators repeatedly asked along the way whether it was or was not acceptable for him to say what they said over and over. The phrase, not needed here, was hotly defended by numerous Imus supporters, especially through the deployment of the color-blindness rhetorical maneuver of equivalency. In the process, the violence of Imus's speech was removed from the field of white masculinity and quickly displaced onto African American communities and rap music: if African American rap artists can say it, why can't Don Imus?2 But, the Don Imus affair quickly receded into the back pages as another event unfolded: the "Virginia Tech massacre," as [End Page 61] it soon became called.3 The defense here was more subtle as Asian/American groups, and Korean/Americans in particular, were held (in/directly) accountable for the redeployment of another age, old dichotomy: the unassimilated Asian and the American citizen.

While it might appear to be an odd pairing, we want to use the Don Imus affair as a lens through which to examine the privileges of normative citizenship and the "cultural defenses" that circulate in regards to violence in the United States. Put differently, we want to ask, how does the juxtaposition of Don Imus and Seung-hui Cho4 allow us to see the ways in which certain citizen-subjects are afforded and sanctioned the "right" to violence?5 How might 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 were the ways in which the media worked to squeeze him into the wounded-masculinity narrative: he fit the "type" for young male school shooters. He was a loner, a nerd, and a young male ostracized from the community due to his inability to access male privilege, social capital, confidence, and, most importantly, women. In many ways, this might merely be another way to describe the historically produced stereotype of Asian American masculinity, yet increasingly this "type" is also becoming the description of white middle-class suburban boys who are unable to utilize the properties of white heteronormative masculinity and who are increasingly becoming framed as the most wounded victims within and of the nation. But as much as Cho could be made to fit within this typecasting, he refused such analysis. Through his series of videos, polemics, and photos, Cho highlighted the ways in which his isolation was directly related to normative white citizenship, the alienation of Asian Americans, and disenfranchised racialized "queer" masculinities. Therefore, we suggest that perhaps the media, and white America in general, worked so hard to fit Cho 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. [End Page 62]

Don Imus: In Defense of the Good Ole Boys

White heteromasculinity is a pervasive discourse that depends upon the presumption that it is and always will be "on the defense." Moreover, as a discourse, it is not directly tied to particular types of bodies—rather, anyone can participate and further white heteromasculinity by ventriloquising the narrative of the loss of privilege of masculinity and/or whiteness at the hands of feminists, progressives, academics, and racially aware others...