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Suicides Soar Among New York Koreans; Korean Culture to Blame

February 1, 2010

The New York Times had an interesting–if somewhat problematic– report about suicides among Koreans in New York City.

The report “Suicides Soar Among New York Koreans” suggests that suicides had increased to 15 in 2009 compared to 6 in 2008 and 5 in 2007.

The article notes that the South Korean consul general, Kyungkeun Kim, believes “the actual total of suicides by Korean citizens might be more than twice as high” and, according to the Korea Times,  “36 Koreans and Korean-Americans in the New York region had taken their lives” in 2009.

The primary cause of the suicides is said to be money troubles resulting from the recession. 

The NY Times report is problematic, however,  in how it seems to ascribe a cultural basis to these suicides. As blogger Thea Lim puts it,

What this comes down to for me is, why are the suicides of the dead being pegged as an ethnic/cultural thing?

Many Koreans place an extraordinary emphasis on academic and professional achievement, said Sung Min Yoon, the assistant project director at the Asian Outreach Clinic of the Child Center of New York. Failure to get into top colleges, perform well at school or climb the economic ladder can cause deep shame and embarrassment.

“We have a very inflexible mentality,” Mr. Yoon said.

I admit this might have been a knee-jerk reaction, but this passage annoyed me.  It just sounds too similar to stereotypes about East Asians that are trotted out again and again: they are a stoic, inflexible people who are obsessed with doing well in school.

Korean Americans – like every other human being – have lots more going on than their ethnocultural identity.  So why not probe what other factors – beyond Korean culture – has led to this hike in suicides?

Exactly.

When White people commit suicide, it is not usually ascribed to some aspect of European American culture or ethnicity.

Hell, when White people suffer from high levels of obesity, nobody blames Euro-American culture for their cheeseburger-snorting, milkshake-inhaling dietary habits.

 But according to the logic of this NY Times article, maybe we should.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. anna123 permalink
    February 2, 2010 1:06 am

    Great post.

    haha, yep, and when a person commits a violent crime and happens to be white , its because of their oppressive EuroChristian heritage and the infexible thinking style of traditonal European culture……..*sarcasm* lol

    Gawd White people are so retarded…..Correalation IS NOT CAUSATION, Cheebal, they dont even follow their own propaganda of media based on Objectivity. It just proves how SNEAKY and DISHONEST white people *jokes, jokes* are! hahaha lol

  2. February 4, 2010 4:31 am

    Kind of reminds me of when that fool shot up Virginia Tech and his race and culture was brought into the conversation; like that was the reason it happened. Yet when the two white kids shot up Columbine, it was psychological, and they were influenced by the media and our violent culture.

    That picture is frighteningly funny, though I probably would have ripped it to shreds had I seen it originally, what, 20 years ago?

  3. February 6, 2010 7:47 am

    Anna, Invasian:

    Thanks for posting on the blog.

    Feel free to post more often in the future.

    It gets lonely here. 😉

    BTW, I think we should start a website documenting all the sundry behaviors, offenses, and crimes that White people engage in.

    We can call it White People Gone Wild. LoL.

  4. chris902 permalink
    February 7, 2010 10:35 pm

    re: The photo
    The kid on the left in that photo is the guy from Heros (Masi Oko or whatever his name is).

    re: The story
    While the way culture is being discussed in the article is certainly ham fisted and wrong headed I think that it would be wrong to dismiss culture entirely. The reality is that the myth of the model minority has created a situation where many Asian Americans, perhaps more so than other groups in America, feel like failure and success is entirely based on individual effort and aptitude.

    The model minority myth creates a situation where failure to succeed by AAs is often attributed to individual shortcomings rather than the social structures inherent in capitalism that often contribute to, if not lead to, immigrants and racial minorities having a hard go of it. The problem isn’t Korean culture, the problem is American culture.

  5. February 12, 2010 10:17 am

    @ Chris.

    True. The problem is America and its hypercapitalist system, where money and status are the true core values of the country.

    And that’s funny about that actor Masa Oka appearing in the photo above. Apparently, he was in the media spotlight even as a kid.

  6. papa2hapa permalink
    February 24, 2010 2:43 am

    I actually wonder what statistics they use to figure out this rate.

  7. Herneith permalink
    April 5, 2010 2:43 am

    Yet when the two white kids shot up Columbine, it was psychological, and they were influenced by the media and our violent culture.

    Whites are individuals! Every other racialized groups are monoliths, hence the racial and cultural characterizations applied to racialized groups. Why would they try to find the underlying causes as to why these people are committing suicide? It’s easier to ascribe it to ‘culture’ and by extension race. That way, they can absolve themselve of any complicity, directly, or indirectly(blame it on their ‘culture’)

  8. Ibrahim Zaini permalink
    April 5, 2011 9:28 pm

    I think there’s a ring of truth to the obsession with academics so as to get ahead in Korean society. I had the same hunch back when I read that this Caucasian English teacher in Korea who was shocked when she was approached by one of her students in primary school who told her that she wanted to kill herself because her life was practically “study, study, study” and that she hated her parents for pushing her so hard. Another factor is the culture of “losing face” due to a mistake, scandal, subpar performance or whatnot that indirectly ingrains the mindset that “failure is not an option” and that one will be scorned for falling short of expectations. Their society also considers it a taboo to “open up” their feelings and seek help when confronted with adversity.

    There are lots of Koreans in my country and a the factory workers are of the opinion that Korean managers are the worst since they’re the ones who push the hardest. They even beat their former colonial masters, the Japanese in that regard. And no wonder then that these two countries are “neck and neck” in suicide rates.

  9. mike s permalink
    January 15, 2012 2:04 am

    JUST LOOK AT MATCH.COM-NONE OF THE KOREAN WHORES LIST THEMSELVES AS ASIAN -NEVER BEEN MARRIED -NO KIDS LOOKING FOR A WHITE MAN EARNING $150,000+ GOLD DIGGING PEASANTS -THEY FLAUNT PICTURES OF THIER TRAVELS AROUND THE WORLD ON THE WHITE BOYFRIENDS DOLLAR-USUALLY JUST A FUCK BUDDY AS THE BOYFRIEND IS MARRIED-ALL HAVE A DOG ALL WORK OUT!ALL THINK THEY ARE OWED SOMETHING FROM THIS SOCIETY -IN FACT THEY ARE JUST PEASANT PIECES OF SHIT LOKKING FOR A FREE RIDE-SLITTY EYED CHINKS WITH PIG NOSES!!!!

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