Friday, March 16, 2007

Are There Positive Stereotypes?


In high school, I had to take speech class. I didn’t want to take speech class, but it was a graduation requirement so I took speech class. We had to give an informative speech. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to inform anyone about and, even if I could, I didn’t want to inform my whole class about it. In the end, I chose to give a speech about stereotypes. It started something like this:

“I don’t like math. I do speak English. The chances of my knowing karate are about as good as Ronald Reagan becoming a Democrat.”

Someone recently pointed out to me that many of the Asian stereotypes are not as negative as some of the stereotypes about other groups (i.e. Black Americans, Hispanics, Muslims…). However, I looked back over the stereotypes that I’ve faced and I really couldn’t think of them as positive. Instead of assuming bad things about Asians, many of the stereotypes have to do with how Asians have high IQs and are better at certain tasks.

Stereotypes are dangerous. Even stereotypes like “all Asians have high IQs” are dangerous. They take away from the individual person and people can make harmful assumptions. People in Asia really do have the same general range of IQ scores as any other area. Some of the perceived difference may be cultural. Studies have shown that Asian families put a lot more pressure on their students than American parents do and the studies are much more rigorous. Would a child who is working as hard as he/she can be unfairly labeled as underperforming because of expectations shaped by stereotypes? This same stereotype has also led some groups to believe that Asians think they are better than other races. It may have even caused some Asians to believe they are better. You can never make a general statement that “all” Asians feel a certain way and have it be truth.

By nature, I am a very reserved. Consequently, I am also very quiet. There is a stereotype out there that suggests all Asian women are submissive. It’s amazing how many people are surprised when an Asian woman has a “take charge” attitude. People have often mistaken me to have a submissive demeanor. They don’t do that twice. However, I’ve also heard people call Asian women derogatory names when they assert themselves because it takes these people by surprise. It really shouldn’t anymore because, in recent years, I’ve noted that Asian women (at least in the United States) are really taking the world by storm.

I feel like I’m rambling because quite frankly this could be a book (and some people have written books about it) and I can’t say everything that I would like to in a short post. What concerns me is that sometimes I hear parents of Korean adoptees perpetuating some of these “positive” stereotypes. I’ve heard parents talk about their daughters as “China dolls” and that their son’s genetics suggests a career in mathematics. Even when they seem harmless, stereotypes place unreasonable expectations on our children.

So, let me reiterate, I don’t believe that a stereotype can be positive. Any time that we group people together by the way they look or where they come from, we create a dangerous precedent. It would be so much easier if we could look at everyone as an individual and base our expectations on what they do (instead of who they are).

1 comment:

Mommavia said...

In my other life as a Health/PE teacher, stereotypes was one of the topics I covered in Health. I would let the kids come up with all the stereotypes they see themselves (no need to tell them what others there are out there); then we'd talk about how they could be hurtful or beneficial. In the end, the students decided that no stereotype could be beneficial. If an Asian student is stereotyped to be good at math, then it oculd really hurt them if they need help and the teacher brushed them off. It was pretty neat to see middle-schoolers realize this.

My son is a very vocal child, just like him Mom. Even at the age of 2, I have heard several comments stereotyping him..."Oh, he already knows his colors and talk so much! He'll be so good at math too." I usually ask an innocent what do you mean? I hope the world becomes a little smarter...stereotypes stink.