When I was younger, I didn't think I was good enough at mathematics to pursue it to an advanced level. Math is one of those subjects that apparently you either can do or you cannot. People tend to believe that there isn't an in-between; you can't be OK at math, but work really hard and become great at it. These so-called "realities" are especially true if you're a girl. There's still a longstanding belief that girls are no good at math. None of these generalizations are true, yet somehow they still exist and still too many people believe them.
I don't understand why immigrants are made fun of for working at gas stations, laundromats and IT companies. Were they hired for other jobs when they came to this country? Immigrants were allowed into the US for certain reasons and could stay only if they completed certain tasks the country wanted done. If no one hired them to do white collar jobs, they still had to sustain themselves. Despite this history, we still blame immigrants for "choosing" their livelihoods.
We so easily divide human beings into "us" and "them." We, who are better than "them," have chosen to be better, while "they" have chosen to be worse. The reality is, in most cases, that the dominant and powerful groups in society shape the worlds of everyone else. If girls aren't encouraged to challenge themselves in math, they won't. If immigrants aren't hired at established companies, they can't. Somehow, the mighty and powerful use these consequences to explain the causes.
"Girls do not usually study math, hence they are not good at math," some say. People pay no attention to the equally important fact that girls aren't encouraged to study math; in fact, they are discouraged. "Immigrants are low-skill workers, for that is how nature intended it." Really though, if you don't hire them, what else can they do?
Unfortunately, to society, girls' lower mathematical ability is not due to circumstance, but being bad at math is their essential property. Incorrectly we hold that being bad at math is a property of being a girl. The same can be applied to Asian American immigrants. We assume that it is in their "nature" to start restaurants, laundromats and always remain submissive. These qualities are considered "essential" to their categorization.
I have myself made snap judgments of an individual's characteristics based on their race, sex, gender and ethnicity. I am Indian American, I am not ashamed of my culture or heritage, but I admit to using stereotypes when thinking about my own race and ethnicity. Having the same identifying characteristics will not make you any less of an "essentialist" just like having a working mother doesn't make you "un-sexist." We all, unconsciously, house biases about an individual's characteristics before we even know them.
The solution is to become aware of our biases and snap judgements. Ignoring them because we are "good people" will make our jobs a lot harder. It is important to make sure we base our stereotypes on historical fact. If I knew that Asian immigrants were barred from employment in most establishments when they first arrived to the US, I would have to be a really terrible person to still make jokes about them. It's not news that stereotypes stem from ignorance of some form.
If we, collectively, try to reduce our stereotypes and essentialism, we will be a bit closer to living in an equal world.