Last year, during a discussion about prejudice and stereotyping, one of my high school teachers asked the class if good stereotypes exist. I was surprised to see that almost all of the class said yes. But when our teacher asked for an example, I knew exactly what was coming next. Everyone immediately jumped to the most obvious one: "Asians are good at math." It was said so confidently, so matter-of-factly. At that moment, it was hard for me not to notice that I was the only Asian student in that class.
I sat and listened to all of my classmates' arguments. They saw the stereotype as a compliment. Why wouldn't you want people to think you're good at something? Isn't it a good thing that they think you're smart?
I've heard my fair share of arguments like these. When anyone tries to point out issues with stereotyping Asians, someone always comments something like "boohoo, everyone thinks you're smart and successful." The problem is that, on the surface, these stereotypes do sound like compliments. They sound like something to be proud of and something that Asians shouldn't be complaining about because someone else has it worse. Regardless, stereotypes are still stereotypes, and this isn't a competition of who suffers more. Even a "good" stereotype like "Asians are good at math" can be harmful.
I was first exposed to this stereotype of all Asians being smart in elementary school. When I did well on assignments and got good grades, my classmates would often comment on my being Asian. Any success I had in school was because I was Asian and all Asians have good grades. As a child, I internalized all of this, and I began to hold myself to a higher standard. All of those stereotypes were what I thought I had to be.
Somehow, I had gotten the idea that I could be a "bad Asian," and that there was something wrong with me because I wasn't as smart as I thought I was supposed to be. It didn't help that math was my weakest subject. I would hide some of my grades, even from my friends, because I thought that everyone else had the same expectations of me.
Because I was exposed to them so early on, these stereotypes are something that will stay with me, possibly for the rest of my life. Even now, I still have some of the same mentality. Of course, with time, it became easier to pull myself out of that mindset, but it never went away completely. For me, all of those stereotypes about all Asians being smart had a negative impact on my self-confidence. They were not compliments in any way, but a constant reminder that I couldn't live up to the standards that many Asians are held to.
For many others, these stereotypes gave credit to their appearance and ethnicity rather than their hard work; I've seen my fair share of comments like "they're Asian, it doesn't count" or "of course, because they're Asian." Again, this is not a competition of who has it worse or who suffers more. I am in no way comparing my experiences to those of anyone else, only shedding light on an issue that is often not seen as a problem.
Any stereotype, regardless of whether or not it sounds negative, is harmful to the group it is directed towards.