“I wish I was Asian, you guys are so good at everything.”
“It’s not even a surprise that you got an A, you’re Asian.”
“Why did you get a bad grade, aren’t you Asian?”
These are the things I grew up hearing as I continued on from grade school all the way to university. Asian, Asian, Asian. That was the only identity I knew for the majority of my life. It is the word that many others use to define me and an explanation for the way I am or who I am. I didn’t know how to see myself other than “that smart Asian girl.” Don’t get me wrong, I love who I am; what really frustrates me is the perpetuation of stereotypes upon me.
I remember in my senior year when I took a Sociology class, the topic of a 'positive stereotype' came up in class. Stereotypes are generally seen in a negative light because they give an oversimplified image for a specific group of people, but my professor’s argument was that not all stereotypes are necessarily bad. “There can be good stereotypes. Let me give you an example,” he continued, “Asians are smart.”
Hearing that as a young, insecure seventeen-year-old girl, I automatically brightened. At that time, I felt one of the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life. College applications were due soon, the stress of finding and applying for scholarships, working 25 hours per week, and on top of that I had my classes which I regretfully did not prioritize. So if I was feeling low and if people could see me as smart and talented just from who I was born as, didn’t I want that? I embraced the idea of a positive stereotype and took it in stride. It wasn’t until only recently that I realized how problematic this view on us is, and its potentially detrimental effects as well as the perpetuation of the 'Model Minority.'
By labeling the stereotype that all Asians are smart as a ‘positive stereotype,’ we as a society are ignoring its effects on the intended audience. On the subsurface, it comes off as a compliment and something that we as Asians should take well. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be considered smart, right? Wrong. By encouraging these ideals, there is opportunity to invalidate the achievements people have garnered. When I got a good grade on a paper, a test, or passed the year with a 4.0 GPA, to other people it wasn’t because I worked myself nearly to death and pulled all-nighters to study for exams, it was because I’m Asian and nothing less than that is expected from me.
Not only does it invalidate my success as a student or as an individual, but it continues to make me feel like I’m not enough as a person. I’ll be the first to say that I’m definitely not a perfect person. I make mistakes, I’ve failed on several things, and I haven’t gotten an ‘A’ in every single course I’ve taken. I remember once in class someone asked me what grade I got on my Pre-calculus test and I told them it was a ‘C.’ Rather than asking why, or sympathizing, or even anything else, they said, “You got a C? Are you even Asian?” With this "positive" discrimination created by society, I’m not allowed to do poorly on an exam without questioning my very identity and whether or not I deserve to even be my own race. And though these problems of imposing the idea of a positive discrimination are important to discuss, it exposes the even deeper issues of why this was invented in the first place.
We all know what the ‘model minority’ is. It is a group of minority people who are perceived to achieve higher success than the average person. And who is the poster child for it? Asians. With this idea of a model minority, it instigates a deeper divide of trying to address the issue of racism. By society saying Asians are achieving success at a higher rate than other minorities because we work harder than others or our values are in the right place, it creates an automatic contrast that says black people or other people of color are not able to achieve this level of advancement simply because “they’re not working hard enough,” therefore implicitly placing the blame of their ostracization in society on themselves rather than actually admitting that we, as a whole, are a racist society. It was a mechanism created in an attempt to cause a split between people of color, making them go against each other, instead of actually tackling the complications of racism.
So next time you see a talented person who happens to be of Asian descent, don’t make some off-hand joke about them only being able to do it “because they’re Asian” or if they fail at something, they definitely can’t be Asian because Asians are good at everything. Because by doing this, you would be contributing to the enemies, both literally and figuratively, that people of color already face and inhibit our ability to be seen fully without judgement.