A Lapse of Cultural Psychiatrist Humility in the Monterey Mass Shooting


This morning, we mourn the victims of the Monterey Park mass shooting.




Tell me the truth. When you first heard of the mass shooting in Monterey Park after a party to welcome in the New Year of the Rabbit, and if it was before the perpetrator was identified and died by suicide, who did you think did the shooting?

A. White male

B. Black male

C. Asian male

D. Some other cultural identity

I picked A. I was wrong. I was almost automatically assuming we were dealing with the leftover white anti-Asian hate from the pandemic. The answer is C. A few hours later, the mainstream media said the escaped perpetrator was an Asian male who was aged between 30 to 50. He actually turned out to be 72, an unusually advanced age for a mass killer. The motive is uncertain so far.

What does this say about me and my personal biases? As a specialist in cultural psychiatry, where was my cultural humility, the watchwords of this special area of concern?

An Asian American woman writer of the New Yorker made the same mistake.1 Were we primed by triggers to most—though not all—of the past anti-Asian hate crimes being done by white and Black Americans.

It seems like we tend to hear of intergroup conflict and violence most often, like white against Black. News about shooting the other seems to confirm that we are hard-wired to fear those perceived as the other, and then to scapegoat them and protect our own safety and power in the process.

However, there certainly are common examples of intragroup conflict, but they are less discussed publicly. They could be a form of self-hating. Or, a psychological identification with the aggressor, in this case white Americans generally.

One explanation for the relative silence is that we don’t “air our dirty laundry,” taken to an extreme by not snitching on one’s own, as in the Mafia, due to concern about how we and our group are viewed. Moreover, groups often have subgroups that are even more emotionally powerful because they are more intimate. Families may count here.

There is a lesson here, at least for me, a lesson I thought that I had already learned. Be cautious about making cultural assumptions, especially with patients.

What a contrast this was to our enthusiastic video last week on “Hop on the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit,” a year anticipated to be associated with comfort and security. On the astrological optimistic side, the shooting occurred right before the official beginning of the New Year, so we can place it still in the Year of the Tiger, a year more associated with aggressive risk. Regardless of the truth of astrology, psychology ethically requires our active involvement with reducing and treating anti-Asian traumatic hate.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.


1. Luo M. The specter of anti-Asian violence in the Monterey Park shooting. The New Yorker. January 22, 2023. Accessed January 23, 2023. https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-spectre-of-anti-asian-violence-in-the-monterey-park-shooting

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