My entire life I have always been defined by racial stereotypes. As someone who is of not just one race, but two, I was hit doubly hard by racial stereotypes for being of Asian ancestry, as well as being half white, half Asian, or the archetype of the mixture of the Western and Eastern worlds. Some of these racial stereotypes were good, in the sense that they helped to build up my self-esteem, or make me feel good about myself. But, most of them, were bad, in the sense that they made me feel ashamed of my mixed heritage. As a result, these positive and negative racial stereotypes served to show how terribly difficult it can to be half Asian as well as the terrible responsibility that I had to fulfill, or at least try to fulfill, these racial stereotypes. In this post, I will talk about some of the racial stereotypes I have heard for being half-Asian and how they have affected my self-esteem.
How Racial Stereotypes Affected My Self Esteem
1. You are good at math.
Throughout my school career, people have expressed unbelievable shock at my abysmal ability to do math problems. Since I am of partial Asian ancestry, people assume that I am good at math, but that is far from the truth. In fact, to this day, fractions, decimals, and percentages are the bane of my existence. I am simply not good at math, and only managed to get B’s in my math classes through hard work, dedication, and even private tutoring sessions. Math confuses me so much, and I just don’t feel at home as I do with some other school subjects.
2. You are very smart.
This is also a very common racial stereotype for anyone who is of Asian ancestry, particularly I guess if you are full Asian. Even in the media, Asians are portrayed as being super smart geniuses wearing glasses. In fact, in Harry Potter, the characters Cho Chang and Padma Patil are both placed into Ravenclaw, the Hogwarts House which is known for producing intelligent witches and wizards. In shows like Even Stevens, The Big Bang Theory, and Grey’s Anatomy, they feature Asian characters who are intelligent. When that is all that you see in the media (not that there is a whole lot of Asian representation), then that is what society is led to believe: that people of Asian descent are extremely intelligent, particularly in the subjects of science and math.
Much as I wish I was smarter, I’ve long come to the conclusion that I am average, like most people who inhabit this planet. There is certainly nothing wrong with being average, but because of this racial stereotype, society tells me that I am not good enough. It sets unrealistic standards for things that I really couldn’t help but be.
3. You are not very good at English.
Since people have assumed falsely that I must be good at math, the opposite is true as well. People have also assumed that I must not be very good at English. In fact, one of my classmates once expressed shock that I did better than her on the Critical Reading section of the SAT. I feel that society doesn’t think people of Asian descent are good at, or can even speak, English, because society views people of Asian descent as people who speak broken English with very thick accents. This misinformed perception to view people of Asian descent as foreigners is one example of the xenophobic attitudes that are still prevalent in American culture.
4. You can speak Chinese.
As anyone who is full or half-Asian can attest, if you are of Asian ancestry, then you’ve probably heard those childish taunts of “ching chang chong.” While it’s true that I heard this all the time, I also had kids go up to me and pretend to “speak” Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese. I’ve had people spit out a bunch of random nonsense, watching my reaction. Even the slightest reaction would be enough for one of them to proclaim that it must be a “real” word.
It’s not even just kids who assume incorrectly that you can speak Mandarin or Cantonese by simply looking “Asian.” Adults assume it too, or it is often the first thing that they ask. China may be a huge country, but there are 48 countries in Asia, each with its own unique culture and language. By simply lumping all Asians — particularly east Asians — together, people are unfairly reducing all Asian cultures under the same gigantic umbrella and making fun of a language that is one of the oldest surviving languages today. They are also showing their own ignorance by suggesting that anyone who “looks” Asian must be a foreigner, not capable of putting together more than two coherent words in a cohesive sentence, and not civilized enough to speak English well.
5. You are beautiful.
I’ve gotten this racial stereotype as someone who is of Asian descent, but also as someone who is multiracial. It is a common racial stereotype that all multiracial and biracial people are beautiful. While there are many beautiful people who are multiracial, there are attractive people who are monoracial too. Beautiful people can be found everywhere, in every city and country, no matter their race, ethnicity, or nationality.
I’ve gotten this statement a lot, even from my own extended Korean family. They’ve often told me how beautiful I was, because I was mixed. Asian people are seen as beautiful, but society seems to perceive half Asians as even more beautiful. Particularly eastern society seems to think of half Asians as very beautiful as they have a combination of western and eastern features. I can’t tell the number of times I’ve had full Asians tell me how beautiful I am.
Being told that you are beautiful simply because of your mixed heritage is certainly a strange feeling. On the one hand, it is nice to be told that you are beautiful. But to be told that you are pretty because of something that you can’t help is something that feels weird. It suggests that maybe I wouldn’t be as beautiful if I wasn’t mixed. It puts my physical appearance above all other traits I may possess, even indicating that it is the most important trait.
6. You are exotic.
Asians are often told not just that they are beautiful, but that they are exotic looking. The eastern culture is still something that the media portrays as being foreign and different. It is portrayed as something that is to be revered and totally opposite from western culture. I’ve been told a few times that I look “exotic.” This had more negative ramifications as it only serves to put me on a separate pedestal from everyone else. It’s not a bad racial stereotype, but it’s not good either. It makes me feel as if I am a strange animal on display at the zoo. It makes me feel as if I won’t ever fit in with others. It’s not a good feeling to have.
7. You are submissive.
Another common racial stereotype is that Asians are submissive people. Asians are thought of as meek and weak. I may not be as assertive as I’d like to be, but I certainly don’t think of myself as meek creatures who says ‘yes’ to everything. Sometimes people see Asians as people they can take advantage of. They see Asians as people who won’t fight back and simply do as they are told.
This is such a damaging attitude to have. For one, it is far from the truth. For another, there are many examples in history in which Asians were the aggressor and not submissive. To say that about Asians show that they are submissive because they are Asian. Your race or ethnicity does not determine what personality trait you ultimately end up having. Your race or ethnicity is only a very small part of who you ultimately are, and grow up to be.
8. You are good at fighting.
And finally, the last racial stereotype I’ve gotten a lot is that I must be good at fighting. On the contrary, I cannot fight to save my life. I have never been trained to do martial arts. I have never sought a physical fight with anyone in my life. And yet, I’ve gotten people asking me if I can do kung-fu, assuming that because I am half-Asian I must be naturally gifted in it.
As a half-Asian person in America, I have been told several racial stereotypes that have determined how I view myself. Most of these racial stereotypes accomplish nothing but make me feel pretty rotten inside. They are like things that I must strive to live up to simply because of what society perceives me as. But why must we constantly use racial stereotypes to assume something about people? Why must we just judge instead of getting to know the person? People are not what they seem. People are not the stereotypes that society has created. Every person is unique and every person should be treated as such, and not treated based on some preconceived notion of a racial group.