Suicides Soar Among New York Koreans; Korean Culture to Blame
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?
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.