Violence and trauma as constitutive elements in Korean American racial identity formation: Rose M. Kim wrote the 1992 L.A. riots/insurrection/saigu. Kim claims in the article that the United States of America has made significant strides in respecting minority rights. Ethnic violence, however, continues to exist in many areas of the world. According to research and literature, racism is described as the assigning of negative traits to a specific group. The circumstances, views, and consequences suggest that one race is superior to others. The racist violence results in cultural trauma on both group and individual level which in an important constitutive element in the formation process of racial identity.

Violence according to the author includes verbal and physical attacks on particular groups or individuals and symbolic violence intending to naturalize races (Kim 2012: p.14). The people suffer from the hyper-real memory of the riots. The community manifest cultural trauma with the collective knowledge and experience the group suffered during the deadly attacks. The trauma resulting from the 1992 LA riots affects both groups and individuals to date. The mass media played an integral role in the riots through circulation of images of violence suggesting the media was part of the racial formation process. As a result, the events shaped Korean-American collective identity and consciousness. The paper demonstrates the profound physiological, economical and ideological impacts of Los Angeles riots 1992 among the Korean immigrants in the United States.

Summary of the Article

The first Koreans immigrants entered the United States in early twentieth century. On April 29, 1992, the country experience violent and unrest after a court in Simi Valley, Los Angeles acquitted four policies officers charge with use of excessive force in the arrest of Rodney King. Many non-black expressed disappointment in the brutal and overwhelming force from the white police officers. The event uncovered the long-suppressed history of police brutality against African-Americans. The court acquittal with not guilty verdict caused an outrage among the Africa-American community. The central city of Los Angles experienced the spread of violence majorly in the neighborhoods predominantly occupied by the minority communities. The Africa-Americans hit cars using baseball bats, and news broadcasted the group beating a white truck driver (Arnold 2011). The mass media aired Korean merchants wielding guns ready to attack the Latino and African-Americans invading their stores. Some of the images went live on the television.

Looting and violence continued for a week leaving thousands injured, and others lost their lives according to Kim over fifty people died, 2300 injured and an estimated 10,000 arrested. In addition, many people lost their jobs. Many Korean-American representing a 1.6 percent of the population had their stores burnt down leading to an estimated $ 1 billion dollars loss. The burning and looting caused a total property damage of over $350 million (Kim 2012: p.10).

Strength and Weaknesses


The author illustrates the causes of conflict between the Korean-Americans and African-Americans that led to the 1992 riot and the resultant trauma. The article gives chronological events that took place ranging from the historical arrival of the Koreans in America to 1990s. To date, the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans descent and other heritages living in Pacific America face racism, ignorance, and anti-immigrant sentiments (Kim 2012: p.17). The opinions contribute to conflicts and violence against these groups. The country continuously reports cases committed against the Asians, but the ratio is declining. The decline, however, obscures the extreme and disturbing fact that criminal activity targets the children.

Economic Situation

The Koreans and the Americans lived harmoniously since the nineteenth century until the late 1990s (Arnold, 2011). The American corporations relocated to other places of the world such as Mexico and Asia. The firms sought cheap labor thus low cost of production in their deindustrialization process. Many African-Americans faced severe unemployment and displacement. The economic realignment in the 1970s and 1980s paved the way for imports from Asia and more immigration of Asian-Pacific people. The community established businesses in America including Los Angeles.

The dominant white population could spend more resource on military operations rather than addressing the Black community problems. The affirmative action and the civil rights laws were adequate opportunities for African Americans to succeed. The White benefited from the economic boom of the 1980s increasing the gap between the rich and the have-nots. The Korean-American succeeded in business in the midst of impoverished African-Americans community. The government manipulated and dominated the language of race politics (Arnold, 2011).

Police Brutality

The police brutality exhibited by the white police was a recipe for violence. The African-Americans living in the inner cities raised their concerns about police brutality which had a reputation of using excessive force against black suspects. The Rodney King video that went viral was right and confirmation of the policies inhuman activities. The enmity between the police, Latinos and African American youths forced the Los Angeles city into the 1992 explosion (Kim 2012: p.18). The African-American community was under siege from the fall-out of drugs, gangs, violence and racism. When a minor conflict arose between the African and Korean-American, it was a possible trigger to a violent eruption in the city.

Role of the Media

The live broadcast and print media from the very first time Reginald Denny’s brutally beaten and later rioter breaking into and burning buildings played a significant role in shaping and circulating imaginary cultural discourse. The white dominated media shaped the viewership of the violence. Korean store owners could be seen brandishing weapons. Later, in the analysis of the causes of the violence, the media failed to include voices of the Korean-American into the discussion (Cheung 2011: p 12).

The killing of Latasha Harlins, a fifteen-year-old African American girl by Soon Ja Du in 1991 precipitated violence. The verdict which put Du on probation was not fair according to African Americans. The other event triggered the violence was police brutality on Rodley King, but the four police were acquitted (Kim 2012: p.18). Consequently, violent attacks against the Koreans and their stores ensued. The media misrepresented the African and Korea relations leading to the wider belief that the riots were as result of ethical tensions. The society misconceived the Korean community in general, and the group appeared as aliens. The media perpetuated the sensationalist stereotype. The media diverted the roots of racial attacks and violence in America. Also, the media broadcasting the violent experience to the society led to the construction of a collective, visual memory.


The article by Rose Kim mentioned of racial violence against the Korean- Americans as the primary cause of 1992 riots in Los Angeles. However, some believe that the incident was ethnically instigated but historical racism in America contributed to outpouring anger. The two communities have a mixture of relationship before the violence. Korean society is largely homogenous that has one culture, one ethnicity, and language. Monoculture groups of people can find it problematic to conduct or have their business thrive in multicultural society. It was difficult for the Korean merchant to interact with customers despite their industrious and hardworking characteristics. The black community perceived Korean-Americans as were exploitative and not willing to hire them in their businesses. Conversely, the Koreans viewed African-Americans as lazy, poor and violent where these misconceptions resulted in conflicts between the communities (Arnold 2011).

The immigrants in the United States always face mistreatment upon arrival. The Koreans and the African-Americans lived in harmony until the Koreans overtook the black community economically. The Black-Korean conflict could not have been racial but rather economic supremacy battle. The causes of the 1992 Los Angeles riots in Los Angeles were as result of Korean exploitation of the African-American community. The Korean merchants did not invest in the community, and the economic situation caused the African-Americans to try and destabilize the Korean economic progression. The condition in the Central South region signaled disaster (Arnold 2011: p 39). The store owners found in the region were established at the wrong time in the development history of Los Angeles City.


The Korean Americans were not recognized in a positive light prior to the 1992 riots. The reason for the neglect is that they the community was not integrated into the American society. The Korean community thrived well in the midst of poor and forgotten black community. The powerless and voiceless minority was pinpointed for political destruction by an economically depressed minority. The role of the media in the riots was imminent and indicated how another society perceives them before and during the violence. Key issues emerged in the Korean-American community living in South Central. The Korean had been silent and failed to participate in American political process. The community left their hearts in Seoul establishing a ‘koreantown’ as an ethnic enclave in Los Angeles. After the violent attacks, the Korean-Americans realized their exploitable and vulnerability and underrepresented minority in the US.


Arnold, K. R. (2011). Anti-Immigration in the United States: a Historical Encyclopedia: A Historical Encyclopedia. Greenwood. http://www.myilibrary.com?id=331712.

Kim, R. M. (2012). Violence and trauma as constitutive elements in Korean American racial identity formation: the 1992 L.A. riots/insurrection/saigu. Ethnic and Racial Studies. 35, 1999-2018.

Thornton, M. (2011). Meaningful Dialogue? The Los Angeles Sentinel’s Depiction of Black and Asian American Relations, 1993-2000. Journal of Black Studies. 42, 1275-1298.

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