Breaking stereotypes: you’re doing it wrong

by doorhalfopen

One reason why I started this blog was to provide a bit of an in-between perspective on certain issues. One thing that I’ve experienced a lot while growing up is Asian stereotypes (good and bad) and how people react to them. From what I’ve personally observed, people can generally be placed in one of three groups when it comes to stereotypes.

  1. They are completely unaware of these stereotypes. This seems to be very common amongst immigrants because naturally they wouldn’t know what other groups are saying about them.
  2. They know about the stereotypes, but it doesn’t really affect them.
  3. They are aware, and they make a conscious effort to let people know that they do not fit the stereotypes.

I can’t say I know the solution to ending stereotypes. However, I firmly believe that the third option is not beneficial–perhaps even counter-productive–to this cause. To make myself clear, I am not referring to people who simply express that they don’t fit a stereotype. I am talking about people who make it a point to make sure everyone knows. This sort of behavior appears to be picking up steam as more people are aware of Asian American issues. I appreciate the spirit and intention, yet there are better ways to do it.

I’ve seen examples of this very early on in life. I used to go to Chinese school once a week, and throughout the years I encountered a lot of students who really did their best to be different from their parents. They didn’t want to speak a single word of Chinese in class. They were disgusted by any mention of Asian pop culture. During the Chinese New Year celebrations they would refuse to partake in any of the activities. We already know about certain stereotypes at a young age. I remember that the students sometimes joked about how cheap our parents were or the bad accents they had. They were embarrassed by these stereotypes. By showing everyone in the class that they hated everything about Chinese school, they felt more American.

Fast forward to modern ways of communication. There are blogs and videos about virtually any subject we can think of. As a hobby, I frequent some of the sites that focused on Asian American issues, and I see the same behavior. The most common example I can think of is regarding Asian American masculinity. This seems to be a very sensitive subject that can spark heated discussions everywhere. From what I’ve seen, these discussions usually start with some well thought-out arguments or suggestions. Somewhere along the line people hop in and start commenting about themselves. They are good in bed. They are assertive. They have a large manhood.

That tells us a lot (or even a little too much) about these anonymous posters. But what does it mean? First of all, we give very little credibility to anonymous posts like this on the internet. More importantly, they are presenting themselves as an outlier, which weakens the very argument they are trying to make.

Let’s take one of the examples above. If I am a person who truly believed the penis stereotype, then having a few people tell me that they have large penises isn’t going to change that. All that it would tell me is that some of these people are speaking out because they believe they are out of the norm. If they believe they are out of the norm, then my belief in the stereotype still holds.

In other words, instead of breaking the stereotype with the posts these people can actually be contributing to it.

I’ve been to a forum where community members complain about all roles that Asian men have in American media. The reason? Because they are not an ultra-masculine pimp with a muscular body who gets the girl. I think this is ridiculous. True, portrayals of Asian men in American media is pathetic, but it is due to the narrow selection of roles available. If the community on accepted Asian Rambo roles, won’t this just create the Asian Rambo stereotype? One can argue that this is a better stereotype, but it is a stereotype nonetheless.

My proposal is this: the only way to truly break stereotypes is to show everyone that we are as different and diverse as anyone. We do have shy men in our community who are not good in bed. We also have the opposite. And everything in between. And the only way to do this is to go about our lives with confidence, correcting ignorant people when necessary. Don’t force it. Trying too hard, too fast will only mean that Asian Americans are trying to be something other than ourselves. And if we are not ourselves, then we are just going to create new stereotypes.