My friend shared this article on Facebook about debunking Asian American stereotypes.Anything raising awareness about Asian American identity generally has my support, but this article bothered me.
The stereotypes that they attached to Asians were all based off pop culture and the media, and they’re just not the stereotypes I hear. A stranger tried telling you “herro” and you’re offended? I stand by the belief that most microaggressions are created by our inability to relate to other people. Kudos to the article for promoting awareness as the solution. Maybe the reason people are insensitive is because they haven’t been exposed. Are you really going to hold that against them?
The best article I’ve read about Asian American identity by far is Paper Tigers, which I discovered in 8th grade and have religiously read once every few months. This is a much better modern-day depiction of Asian Americans:
Here is what I sometimes suspect my face signifies to other Americans: an invisible person, barely distinguishable from a mass of faces that resemble it. A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality. An icon of so much that the culture pretends to honor but that it in fact patronizes and exploits. Not just people “who are good at math” and play the violin, but a mass of stifled, repressed, abused, conformist quasi-robots who simply do not matter, socially or culturally.
I’ve always been of two minds about this sequence of stereotypes. On the one hand, it offends me greatly that anyone would think to apply them to me, or to anyone else, simply on the basis of facial characteristics. On the other hand, it also seems to me that there are a lot of Asian people to whom they apply.
Within my Asian American bubble, I don’t experience much of this judgement for a lack of individuality, but in the real world, I see the judgement from all people, including fellow Asians.
I tend to be more critical of successful Asians than people of other races, because of something I can best describe as “Asians are walking a unsteady ground when it comes to moving up the social ladder.” Along the way, I can’t help but feel like you have to lose a bit of your original culture.
However, this passage from Notes of a Native Speaker by Eric Liu, completely debunks that myth and made me more comfortable with trying to doing things associated with being “white”:
I do not want to be white. I only want to be integrated. When I identify with white people who wield economic and political power, it is not for their whiteness but for their power. When I imagine myself among white people who influence the currents of our culture, it is not for their whiteness but for their influence. When I emulate white people who are at ease with the world, it is not for their whiteness but for their ease. I don’t like it that the people I should learn from tend so often to be white, for it says something damning about how opportunity is still distributed. But it helps not at all to call me white for learning from them. It is cruel enough that the least privileged Americans today have colored skin, the most privileged fair. It is crueler still that by our very language we should help convert this fact into rule. The time has come to describe assimilation as something other than the White Way of Being.
Links to feminism
A few months ago, I sent a guy friend this article about the personality differences between guys and girls that create the glass ceiling, and he responded with “most of these traits apply to me as well. Does this literally make me a white girl?”
It’s true. The traits we commonly associate with women are also associated with Asians. Compliant, self-deprecating, willing to silently work hard, not tooting one’s own horn. humility, willing to be the doormat, only doing well in the classroom Leading to the same conclusions. Not enough women in leadership positions and not being respected.
Why haven’t we made more of a ruckus of this issues? Two main reasons: 1) It’s not THAT big of a deal. Whatever the problem, we’re still the “model minority,” and there’s no outright injustice, and 2) The Asian way to solve problems is to keep your nose to the grindstone and keep working harder. You’re going to make affirmative action a thing? We’ll meet your new standards. (Begrudgingly.) Standardized test scores are important? We’ll prepare our butts off. In general: Situation isn’t going your way? Work harder.
In China we have this saying called “chi ku” which literally translates to “eat bitterness.” And it is something to proud of. We are proud to suffer and do the unpleasant work.
I don’t see this problem being solved anytime soon and it’s not a pressing social issue, but I think it’s important to know about, at least informally.