Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Are Not Our Stereotypes

This article by Vivia Chen touches upon what the Korean has been trying to say about Asian Americans and the way we handle stereotypes against us.
But how do most tiger cubs fare? Not so well, according to the panelists, which included Javade Chaudhri, GC of Sempra Energy; Wilson Chu, partner at K&L Gates; Don Liu, GC of Xerox Corporation; Linda Lu, associate GC of Allstate Inc.; Larry Tu, GC of Dell; and me. . . . Are APAs too deferential to authority and too quiet about blowing their own horn? The audience said yes.

Personally, I found this discussion pleasantly ironic because I didn't get the impression that this was a shy, timid crowd. Quite the opposite--both the panel members and the audience were highly articulate and forceful. I'd go a step further and say those qualities hold true for just about everyone I met at the convention.

Which brings me back to my original point: This was not a dweeby crowd. Ten or twenty years ago, more APA lawyers might have fit that bill, but I think there's been a sea change.

So are APA lawyers still saddled with a nerdy, not-ready-for-prime-time image? Is this the way law firms and corporations perceive Asian Americans, or the way we perceive ourselves? Whose stereotype is it?
Asian American Lawyers: Still Too Nerdy to Get to the Top? [The Careerist]

The Korean shares the same observation with Chen, at a larger scale. The Korean simply does not see a disproportionate number of Asian Americans being timid, robotic, uncreative, or any of the other usual stereotypes associated with Asian Americans. If anything, he is seeing an over-representation of bold, adventurous, creative and leadership-oriented Asian Americans in the younger generation, who will surely reach the top echelons of American society in a decade or so.

The Korean briefly touched upon this topic in this post, but it bears repeating: Asian Americans are internalizing the negative stereotypes about us. Even when an Asian American ends up being successful, like the panelists or the audience in the discussion described in Chen's article, such Asian American considers him/herself to be an exception rather than the rule.

That's the thing about stereotypes -- it is self-perpetuating as long as there is one example of it. Few people ever engage in an honest-to-goodness counting of just how many of the Asian Americans around them fit the stereotypes. But sure enough, a lot of people know at least one Asian American who fits the stereotype. Because of the confirmation bias, a few examples are all we need for the stereotype to live on. This much, we all know.

But what is particularly disconcerting about Asian Americans is that we internalize the negative stereotypes against us like few other social groups do. Few women would readily agree with the stereotype that they are bad at math and sciences, or the stereotype they lack leadership skills. Few African Americans would readily agree with the stereotype that they are lazier and more crime-prone. But these high-ranking Asian American attorneys -- partners, general counsels who are leaders of their fields -- publicly espouse the stereotype, even though they themselves are the living counterexamples of the stereotype. To the Korean, this makes no sense.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

10 comments:

  1. Reminds me of the Vietnamese American co worker of mine who kept insisting not just that all Asians are bad drivers, but even that all the area's bad driver's are Asian! I told her I'd seen all varieties of people going 45 mph in the right lane, but she wouldn't have it.

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  2. I'm very curious about this phenomenon also, though I have to disagree that it's a uniquely Asian-American issue. Internalized racism/stereotypes has been studied and discussed within African-American circles for quite a while.

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  3. What is unique is not the phenomenon, but the degree. It's certainly true that other social groups internalized stereotypes against them, but few other groups would hold a conference about how those stereotypes are true, for example.

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  4. It does seem to be true that many Asian Americans have internalized these stereotypes. Another example: Those "Meet the Reader" Q&A's that various Asian American sites run. You know, the "Tell us who you are" ones. Over the years, I've read my share. Most are very interesting. They really contribute to showing that there is no longer a single stereotype that accurately reflects the Asian American community.

    But I've also lost count of the many Asian Americans who have written that they "break the mold" or "aren't your typical Asian" or something very similar. And inevitably, these people go on to state proudly that they are "creative" and "opinionated" and "adventurous" or, again, something very similar. After reading their stories, I find myself having a strong desire to tell them to look around. There is no mold to break. There is no typical Asian American, especially those under 40. We're a wide and varied group. Really. We are. Just take a closer look at all those Q&A's you're a part of. It's great that you see yourself as "opinionated" and "independent" and "creative." These things need to be said. But you can make these statements without throwing the rest of us under the bus.

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  5. It's sad that some of us don't seem to see ourselves as being individuals. Apparently only white people have the privilege of being individuals -- how many stereotypes apply to all white people as a race?
    ("Fat" is not one; it only applies to Americans.)

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  6. In reply to the OP:

    "Few women would readily agree with the stereotype that they are bad at math and sciences, or the stereotype they lack leadership skills. Few African Americans would readily agree with the stereotype that they are lazier and more crime-prone."

    There have been many studies done that show women do in fact internalize such stereotypes, and it's to the point where the degree of internalization affects their performance on tests. Here is one such study: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103106001508

    A quick and dirty literature search didn't find any studies on African-American attitudes towards laziness or propensity towrards criminality. But you seem to be unaware of a very well-known and strong counterexample of African-American internalization of a negative stereotype.

    The Clark Doll Experiment, and subsequent follow-ups, have shown that AA children identify dolls of their own skin color as "bad" due to internalization of the stereotype that white/fair is more beautiful.

    Here is a good summary on the history of these studies: http://abagond.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/the-clark-doll-experiment/
    Here is a link to a recently done follow-up: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/13/expanded_results_methods_cnn.pdf


    Regarding this comment:

    "What is unique is not the phenomenon, but the degree. It's certainly true that other social groups internalized stereotypes against them, but few other groups would hold a conference about how those stereotypes are true, for example."

    This is a subjective valuation, but I would say the degree to which women and AA have internalized the above stereotypes is exemplified by the fact that studies have been done for the express purpose of measuring it's impact on psychology and actual academic performance. There exist people who do not question the stereotype to the point that their internalization becomes a legitimate and pressing sociological issue to be quantified and studied.

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  8. "The Korean simply does not see a disproportionate number of Asian Americans being timid, robotic, uncreative, or any of the other usual stereotypes associated with Asian Americans."

    Obviously the timidity, etc is not a stereotype of Asian Americans, but Immigrant Asians. Just think: language barrier maybe? Cultural barrier maybe?

    Asian-born Americans are.. well.. American. That's their culture (in a large part).

    The 'irony' here is that you're taking an unfair stereotype used on Immigrants (sorry, the term FOB might be offensive), and wondering why it doesn't 'work' on Koreans and Chinese that have been living in the US for 20+ years.

    Get it? There is no stereotype of Asian Americans... they speak perfect English and grew up watching the exact same TV shows and playing the same sports. Why the hell would they be 'shy'? It's not a racial thing (obviously), it's a cultural thing. Since AA and White Americans have largely the SAME culture, there's no gap.

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  9. It makes me disappointed and annoyed every time one of my Korean-American or Korea immigrant friends says anything about how they're experiencing "Korean rage" over something. A half-Korean friend who embraces far more of her Japanese heritage once told me "I'm a proud Korean woman so don't make me angry" after I joked that she needs to practice her aim at Billiards.

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  10. There is no stereotype of Asian Americans...

    You're an idiot.

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