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Stereotypes are everywhere in today’s society. The media today such as television, radio, and the internet constantly remind us of the stereotypes for different races, genders, religions, and numerous other categories. Stereotypes of Asians in particular have been around for a fairly decent length of time. In the late 19th century, the term “Chinky Chink” was used to describe the American fear that a large number of Asians would immigrate to the United States. Americans were afraid that the Asian immigrants would “invade” the country and take jobs away from Americans. At this time, many anti-Asian feelings were expressed, especially on the West Coast, through headlines such as “The ‘Yellow Peril'” (Los Angeles Times, 1886).
In 1924, the Immigration Act was passed, limiting the number of Asians allowed into the United States because by then they were considered an “undesirable” race. Racism back then eventually evolved into the stereotype ingrained in today’s society. One of the more common Asian stereotypes in our world specifically pertains to East Asians. East Asia as a phrase usually refers to the countries of China and Japan, as the main countries subject to stereotyping.
Generally, Asians are portrayed as being smart in subjects such as math or science, hardworking, politically ignorant, and very polite and inoffensive. They are also portrayed as having no peripheral vision, which supposedly leads to bad driving. Common stereotypes are martial artists, geeks, and foreigners. Being foreigners, Asians are attributed to speaking poor English and replacing the letters “-l” and “-r” with each other. Muttering random nonsense and using words that rhyme on “-ng” sounds like “ching, chang chong” is another depiction commonly associated with Asians. Asians in America are considered to be inadaptable, inherently fixed in their own culture and unable to become truly American. A common stereotype for Asian parents is that they only care about their children’s grades and academic future. They don’t allow their kids to go out with their friends, as parents of other ethnicities are wont to do. Instead, sons and daughters of Asian parents are told to stay home, study hard, get into a good prestigious college, and live life with a high-paying, high-status job.
Old Chinese and Japanese people are described as being extremely wise with long beards, the image drawn from the Chinese philosopher Confucius. East Asian food is stereotyped as well, the most well-known Chinese food among Westerns being egg rolls, “chow mein”, and “chow fun”, and fortune cookies. Surprisingly enough, most of the “Chinese food” Westerns love to eat is almost 100% a Western adaptation of the original. The fortune cookie we know today was invented in America, not China as most ignorant people believe. Asian stereotypes based on physical appearances also exist. During World War II, efforts were made to distinguish “enemy” Japanese from “friendly” Chinese simply through physical appearance therefore leading to further stereotyping and the attribution of physical traits to each group. Such stereotypes include slanted eyes for slits.
In the past, Asian men in particular have been thought to be fairly feminine. The main reason for this stereotype lies in the fact that Asians used to do what was considered “women’s work.” These Asian workers were, as a whole, shorter than the average American man, sported long braids, and sometimes wore long silk gowns. Chinese men were seen as an economic threat to the white workforce so laws were passed that prevented the Chinese from working in many different industries. Due to those laws, Asians were forced to do what was deemed “women’s work” by the society at the time.
In the media, Asian men were often compared to white women. Two important fictional Asian characters in America’s cultural history are Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan. Both were created by white authors Sax Rohmer and Earl Biggers in the early 1900s. Fu Manchu is an intelligent, evil Chinese murderer with plots of world domination. He is the picture of America’s imagination of a supposedly mysterious and threatening Asian race. On the other hand, Charlie Chan is a submissive Chinese detective who solves cases while politely accepting or ignoring the numerous racist insults thrown at him by the white American characters. Charlie is the picture of America’s view of a “good” Asian. Both characters found huge popularity in many novels and views. Through these two characters invented by white Americans however, the American consciousness has been disillusioned with these stereotypes of Asians.
As Asian men have stereotypes, Asian women also have stereotypes created mainly through the minds of perverted Americans. Asian women have been described as aggressive sexual beings. Western culture has promoted stereotypes of Asian women, calling them “Dragon Ladies”, “China dolls”, and “Geisha girls.” According to UC Berkeley Professor of Asian American Studies Elaine Kim, this stereotype of Asian women being submissive sex objects impedes their economic flexibility and has caused the increase in demand of ethnic pornography. Stereotypical portrayals of Asian women created by sexist white men continue to be a presence in movies despite their now disguised form.
Researchers have theorized that the common stereotypes today could possibly be influencing the perception of Asians’ ability and probability of earning managerial positions. The stereotypes involving Asians as nerds, submissive, and quiet leads to the mindset that Asians are a good labor source. Therefore, this leads to the expectation that Asians are incompetent leaders. Because our society today values individuality, Asians find it extremely hard to fit in with these expectations, due to their original values of close families and groups. This stereotype has sometimes led to Asian employees being taken advantage of and lowers the likelihood for Asian professionals to be considered for a management position. Asians are supposedly highly qualified scientists and engineers, but lacking characteristics for leadership positions. Among all other racial groups, Asians have the least chance of advancing into leadership positions. A pattern has been created of education helping entry into professional fields, over-representation in technical fields, but under-representation in executive positions.
The stereotype that Asian students are geniuses prevents them from accepting academic and emotional problems and asking for help. Whether they are excelling or having problems, it is imperative to acknowledge that Asian students may be experiencing school, social, and family stresses in order to uphold their model Asian image. Stereotyping Asians increases peer discrimination such as being threatened, having racist comments said to them, and being excluded from activities. By only focusing on the Asian stereotype of exceptional students and generalizing all Asians with it, this model does not take into consideration the large number of Asian American students and their families who suffer from poverty and illiteracy.
Chen, Tina T. “Asian American Empowerment.” Model Minority. May 2004. Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University. 15 Dec. 2008 .
Kim, Angelea, and Christine J. Yeh. “Stereotypes of Asian American Students.” ERIC Digest. 15 Dec. 2008 .
“Stereotype: East Asian stereotypes.” Wikipedia. 14 Dec. 2008 .
“Stereotypes of East and Southeast Asians in the United States.” Wikipedia. 14 Dec. 2008 .
By doing this project, I have learned much about stereotypes and essentially racism against Asians. Prior to doing this project, I had already known some stereotypes, even some which were used on me. Among some of those I knew are Asians as smart students, Asian parents as very academic focused, and Asians that have poor English and driving. In reality, I had planned on writing a research paper on stereotypes in general, but there probably would’ve been too many aspects to cover. Therefore, I decided to choose a single stereotype, which was the East Asian stereotype. Through researching, I have learned many different stereotypes for Asians. For example, I now know different stereotypes pertaining to Asian men as well as Asian women.
While writing my research paper, I was rather surprised at the number of stereotypes I was unaware of. On the other hand, I already knew some of the stereotypes mentioned. It was just a matter of taking some of the stereotypes in my own life to add details to the stereotypes I found online. By the time I finished researching and writing my paper, I felt like I knew tons more about Asian stereotypes than I had before. It was a bit saddening to see how many completely wrong conceptions there are today of Asians. Although I am Asian myself, I do not find any offense in any of these stereotypes for I know that they are not true. They may apply to a majority of the Asian American population, but I rest in the knowledge that I can be an exception to the stereotypes set by today’s society.