The Effects of Positive Stereotypes: Why I Don’t Have “Asian Pride”

In my high school newspaper, one article argued that just because the writer is Asian does not mean she is good at math. The immediate response among the Asians I knew was negative; they mocked it by saying something along the lines of “hey, if people want to think I’m smart for being Asian, then cool.” Yet, despite the innocence of such a mentality, there are negative effects to all stereotypes, even positive ones. In the case of the “Asians are good at math” stereotype, it creates what is called the Bamboo Ceiling. Essentially, this is the phenomenon where, although Asians get an advantage in mid-level jobs, such as data entry and other white-collar positions, they have a disadvantage in executive positions due to their perceived lack of creativity. That is, the stereotype portrays Asians as good at mechanistic and calculative work, but bad in leadership and creative problem-solving, and so they are “trapped” in dead-end positions. And before you invoke the “submissive Asian” stereotype, research shows that Asians openly ask and pursue employment advancement, but are neglected in greater proportions to white employees. Wesley Yang recounts such an experience in his NYMag article (link below):

While he was still an electrical-­engineering student at Berkeley in the nineties, James Hong visited the IBM campus for a series of interviews. An older Asian researcher looked over Hong’s résumé and asked him some standard questions. Then he got up without saying a word and closed the door to his office.

“Listen,” he told Hong, “I’m going to be honest with you. My generation came to this country because we wanted better for you kids. We did the best we could, leaving our homes and going to graduate school not speaking much English. If you take this job, you are just going to hit the same ceiling we did. They just see me as an Asian Ph.D., never management potential. You are going to get a job offer, but don’t take it. Your generation has to go farther than we did, otherwise we did everything for nothing.”

Another structural consequence is that impoverished Asian-Americans get neglected because people continue seeing them as successful minorities. It neglects the individual circumstance.

It is this stereotype, and the broader “model minority” stereotype, that give Asian-Americans a “perpetual immigrant” status. Consider how long Asians have been in America. They have been here longer than the Polish, but are still perceived as “immigrants.” For example, most assimilated Asian-Americans have gone through the annoying conversation of “where are you from?” “America.” “No, where are you really from?” And although admittedly Asians have different features than the predominantly white population, African-Americans don’t face the same perpetual immigrant stereotype despite their differences.

On a more subconscious level, the Asian stereotype surely influences the Asian-American population’s preferences. That is, even if we control for family influence, the constant societal reinforcement of “Asian careers” such as medicine, engineering, and math will subconsciously push many Asian-Americans in that direction – they live out their stereotypes.

The other reason I don’t associate with “Asian pride” is that is overgeneralizes such a diverse collection of cultures. The diversity of Asian subgroups vary more than the various European ethnicities, yet Asians in America feel a need to identify themselves together. As someone who has lived in Asia, I can attest that no such sweeping identity exist there; everyone identifies themselves with their specific identity, not just Asian. And so it is terms like “Asian party” and “Asian food” that bother me. The manifestation of this overgeneralization is Asian-Americans tend to gather into the same social group, even though they have no attachment to their “motherland” and are fully assimilated into American culture. If we subscribe to the virtue of being colorblind, then this should be considered a negative trend, since there should be no reason assimilated Asians should aggregate together other than race.

We must do away with the idea that our ethnicity constitutes a primary characteristic of our identity. The essential philosophical problem is that the Asian stereotype, and all racial stereotypes, strips us of our individuality. People assume a specific generalization for others, which then affects their perception of those people and how that group acts as well. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And yes, I understand the virtue of having a cultural identity, but I should be able to choose a non-Asian identity, especially if I am fully assimilated, without being stereotyped, shouldn’t I? At the very least, even if you find comfort in the Asian Bubble, recognize the negative impact it has on societal expectations.

Further reading:

Eddie Huang’s ‘Macho Asian’

The Bamboo Ceiling

 

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2 thoughts on “The Effects of Positive Stereotypes: Why I Don’t Have “Asian Pride”

  1. Great piece. Many strong points. Insightful to say that: it is wrong to objectify, even if the objectification projects “good” traits. For example, benevolent sexism hurts women’s math performance even more than malicious sexism (Dardenne, Dumont, & Bollier 2007).

    Dardenne, B., Dumont, M., and Bollier, T. (2007). Insidious dangers of benevolent sexism: consequences for women’s performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 764 – 769. Retrieved: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17983299

  2. Is it ironic that I found this piece through the Asian tag on WordPress? Anyways, I completely agree with this. On a personal level, it’s hard to distinguish between the stereotypes society imposes on us and what’s truly oneself. I’ve read “Paper Tigers” many times, and I find it comforting to associate with such a large group of people. However, the outsider viewpoint is what harms the race as a whole.

    Another slightly related thing that bothers me: Why does the term “Asian” only applies to a small region of Asia? Just last week, I heard someone calling someone the “wrong kind of Asian” because he was from Israel.

    All in all, I loved this article. Thanks for writing this!

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