Eugene Cho

asian stereotypes & prejudice

I’ve always felt like I stood out like a sore thumb.  Why?  Because people kept telling me that Asians should be a certain way and I kept defying their stereotypes.  I confused them.

Computers.  Numbers.  Math.  Kung Fu and Nanchuks. Intelligent.  Eat dogs.  Play the violin.  Ivy League.  Quiet.  Passive.  We speak Engrish well.  [insert your stereotypes here].

Couple months ago, I received a Seattle PI article headline [via my RSS reader] entitled, “Bellevue Boy Wins National Math Title.”  All I get is the title.  I only click about 10% of the articles from the Seattle PI that get to my reader depending if they interest me or not.  But when I saw the title of that article, the first thing I thought…

“I wonder if he’s Asian…”

Be honest.  You’re curious too, aren’t you?  You can’t resist.  I couldn’t so I clicked to read the article.

This week, the NY Times published an article based on a report through various sources what many Asians know but what the larger culture might not know.  Asians are diverse.  We are not all the same. If you know one of us, you don’t know all of us.  We are all unique.  While there are commonalities because Eastern culture tends to be more communal than the Western elevation of independent culture [stereotype or accurate assessment?], Asians and Asian-Americans need to be given the space and freedom to be who they are and not thrown into a collective group. 

Questions:  Are stereotypes always bad?  How about good stereotypes?  How do you agree or disagree with the NY Times article below.

Let me just say the next time someone asks me to speak because:  they want me to speak about the Asian experience; Asian perspective; the Asian church; encourage the Asian constituency; speak to the Asians in the group, be an Asian panelist because they want embrace diversity…and so forth, I am going to kick someone’s ass, crack the whip, and turn tables.  I am seriously serious.

I can speak about all those things but I will also speak to the White Church, the Black Church, the Western Church, the Mainstream Church; I will encourage the broader church, community, and city; I can speak about many perspectives; I will not only speak to the Asians but to everyone who has ears to hear; and will not just be an Asian panelist but I will be the sharpest, bestest and articulatest panelist and speaker you will ever get on your damn panel or conference.

I am me.  Fearfully and wonderfully made.

And if you don’t believe me, watch this amazing video done couple years ago by folks that participated in our church’s Faith & Race Class.

Here’s the NY Times article:

The image of Asian-Americans as a homogeneous group of high achievers taking over the campuses of the nation’s most selective colleges came under assault in a report issued Monday.

The report, by New York University, the College Board and a commission of mostly Asian-American educators and community leaders, largely avoids the debates over both affirmative action and the heavy representation of Asian-Americans at the most selective colleges.

But it pokes holes in stereotypes about Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, including the perception that they cluster in science, technology, engineering and math. And it points out that the term “Asian-American” is extraordinarily broad, embracing members of many ethnic groups.

“Certainly there’s a lot of Asians doing well, at the top of the curve, and that’s a point of pride, but there are just as many struggling at the bottom of the curve, and we wanted to draw attention to that,” said Robert T. Teranishi, the N.Y.U. education professor who wrote the report, “Facts, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight.”

“Our goal,” Professor Teranishi added, “is to have people understand that the population is very diverse.”

The report, based on federal education, immigration and census data, as well as statistics from the College Board, noted that the federally defined categories of Asian-American and Pacific Islander included dozens of groups, each with its own language and culture, as varied as the Hmong, Samoans, Bengalis and Sri Lankans.

Their educational backgrounds, the report said, vary widely: while most of the nation’s Hmong and Cambodian adults have never finished high school, most Pakistanis and Indians have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The SAT scores of Asian-Americans, it said, like those of other Americans, tend to correlate with the income and educational level of their parents.

“The notion of lumping all people into a single category and assuming they have no needs is wrong,” said Alma R. Clayton-Pederson, vice president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, who was a member of the commission the College Board financed to produce the report.

“Our backgrounds are very different,” added Dr. Clayton-Pederson, who is black, “but it’s almost like the reverse of what happened to African-Americans.”

The report found that contrary to stereotype, most of the bachelor’s degrees that Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders received in 2003 were in business, management, social sciences or humanities, not in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering or math. And while Asians earned 32 percent of the nation’s STEM doctorates that year, within that 32 percent more than four of five degree recipients were international students from Asia, not Asian-Americans.

The report also said that more Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders were enrolled in community colleges than in either public or private four-year colleges. But the idea that Asian-American “model minority” students are edging out all others is so ubiquitous that quips like “U.C.L.A. really stands for United Caucasians Lost Among Asians” or “M.I.T. means Made in Taiwan” have become common, the report said.

Asian-Americans make up about 5 percent of the nation’s population but 10 percent or more — considerably more in California — of the undergraduates at many of the most selective colleges, according to data reported by colleges. But the new report suggested that some such statistics combined campus populations of Asian-Americans with those of international students from Asian countries.

The report quotes the opening to W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1903 classic “The Souls of Black Folk” — “How does it feel to be a problem?” — and says that for Asian-Americans, seen as the “good minority that seeks advancement through quiet diligence in study and work and by not making waves,” the question is, “How does it feel to be a solution?”

That question, too, is problematic, the report said, because it diverts attention from systemic failings of K-to-12 schools, shifting responsibility for educational success to individual students. In addition, it said, lumping together all Asian groups masks the poverty and academic difficulties of some subgroups.

The report said the model-minority perception pitted Asian-Americans against African-Americans. With the drop in black and Latino enrollment at selective public universities that are not allowed to consider race in admissions, Asian-Americans have been turned into buffers, the report said, “middlemen in the cost-benefit analysis of wins and losses.”

Some have suggested that Asian-Americans are held to higher admissions standards at the most selective colleges. In 2006, Jian Li, the New Jersey-born son of Chinese immigrants, filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the Education Department, saying he had been rejected by Princeton because he is Asian. Princeton’s admission policies are under review, the department says.

The report also notes the underrepresentation of Asian-Americans in administrative jobs at colleges. Only 33 of the nation’s college presidents, fewer than 1 percent, are Asian-Americans or Pacific Islanders.

Filed under: politics, religion, ,

25 Responses

  1. Shaun King says:

    Right on man! Right on. Awesome post.

    -Shaun & Crew

  2. Jan Owen says:

    I think the same thing could be said for two stereptypes I bump into: being a woman (particularly in leadership) and being a southerner or – for that matter – being in a Baptist church. I’m always surprising people. Some of the things that they think make me laugh but sometimes the truth is that I hit a glass ceiling because of it – and that is hard to take. Or people – as you say – only think my audience should be certain people. Now, I do believe that God uses my gender and my background and my affiliations in ways I will never know or understand. But sometimes (particularly with my gender) it seems to be all that they see and focus on. That has limited opportunities for me at times and – yes, it bothers me. For the church in particular, I wish we could really learn to respect that CHRIST is in us all. Stereotypes are there because there is some truth to them (yes, the males in my house hog the remote and can’t find things) BUT they are not the whole truth. As you say, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made and God is so creative that we defy definition at times. I think that is beautiful.

  3. Sue says:

    GREAT POST!
    Thank you.

  4. Ryan Beattie says:

    Very interesting article. One thing I’ve been watching for (mainly because of comments and posts on your blog) is the attention paid or not paid to Asians in the presidential campaigns. I noted that Hillary mentioned “Asian Americans” in her endorsement speech last week when she listed off non-anglo voting groups. Sadly, my man Obama seems never to do this – the usual “Hispanic, African American” and the occasional “Native Americans” make his lists. But not Asian American…I’m guessing this does not go unnoticed – yes?

    And the whole “only invite non-whites to speak when the topic relates to diversity” thing has to end in churches. I’ve been guilty of that in the past but have seen the error of my ways – so you hopefully you won’t have to kick this pale ass…

  5. Tomas says:

    Eugene,

    How come no one rarely comments when you write anything about Asian-American topics or issues? Where are the other Asians?

  6. petertlee says:

    I “ran into” your blog just the other day. It’s good to read what you’ve been up to. You might remember me as the brother of Pastor Joon Won Lee (who worked at Seattle Onnuri 12-13 years ago) who went to Fuller Seminary and married Ji Hye from the same church. We are now working in North Africa, and have three kids. I’m trying to establish an intercultural consulting practice here. Anyway, this is a great post. I can really identify with you. But I tell you… America is not too bad when it comes to stereotypes. As an Asian, I am always grouped together with the Chinese and all these other Asian nationalities. America has come a long way although it still has a long way to go. I realize that being an Asian outside Asia is still not a very natural thing to do.

  7. Joe Louthan says:

    I love being Korean-Anglo. I get to know two cultures without the burden of the stereotypes with either.

    That goes triple for my son who is African-Korean-Anglo.

  8. Wonderful blog, Eugene. I am white, my husband is a Korean adoptee, and we have 2 biracial sons. I will definitely keep tuned to your channel. Feel free to check out mine too.

  9. tasithoughts says:

    This one of the most powerful blogs I have read. I appreciate the thought provoking dialogue between writer and reader. We live a society that tries to put everything into some sort of box. It tries to explain, sell, buy and make decisions on that box mentality. Individuality and uniqueness seem to scare us like we are all somehow stuck in one eternal Middle School.

    All I know that voices like yours touching minds like mind helps to break the habit of stereotype-itis….. there is still much to be done.

  10. Erika Haub says:

    My brother is Laotian, and he does not fit ANY of the stereotypes mentioned here, setting records in his high school for weight-lifting, shot putting, and standing out as a leader in the football program. Math and science were a challenge.

    He joined our family when he was fourteen, and, coming from a diverse urban community in Chicago, learned to adjust to life in Shoreline, and through his experience and our family’s journey I have learned a great deal about the scope of what “Asian-American” can mean.

    Currently I am church-planting in an African-American/Latino community, but a lot of our “relocaters” are Asian-American college grads (lots from UCLA!). They too challenge certain stereotypes I have heard as I see them forsaking educational opportunities, familial expectations, and boldly crossing ethnic boundaries for the sake of loving Jesus among the poor.

    We all fall into sterotyping behaviors on some level. Thanks for the reminder of how ignorant that is, whatever the grouping. The key to not ? Relationships. Relationships. Relationships.

  11. eugenecho says:

    @tomas: i don’t know.

    @erika: great comment.

    “relationships. relationships. relationships.”

  12. DiAnna says:

    Eugene, I’d like to link my friends & readers to your blog. Even the non-Asians ones, {sorry, couldn’t resist}. Any objections?

  13. Donna says:

    In 1999, I was in the grocery store, just back from China and adopting my daughter. While standing in the check-out line, a lady complimented me on my beautiful daughter. Bursting with pride and joy at my new daughter, I thanked her. She followed up her compliment with the comment, “And I’ll bet she really likes rice.” That was my initiation into the world of Asian stereotyping.

    Nine years later, I still grit my teeth every time someone says to me, “I’ll bet she’s really smart.” And, “Does she play the violin?” And, nine years later, I admit I have a knee-jerk “WTF?” reaction every time it happens.

    I have no pithy commentary or observations to make on your post…just sharing.

    FYI…I stumbled across your blog when I was reading about the death of Steven Curtis Chapman’s daughter, and have been reading daily ever since. I find your writing powerful and thought provoking, and appreciate your fearless posts.

  14. eugenecho says:

    @donna: welcome to the blog, thanks for sharing your comments, and thank you for your kind words.

  15. DiAnna says:

    At the risk of getting my ass kicked, I would suggest that there is no one better to speak about the Asian experience than an Asian…does that mean that others shouldn’t speak about it? Of course not, just that you are “uniquely qualified” to understand, represent, and lead others to a fuller appreciation of Asian culture. As a survivor of violent crime, I spoke for many years about my personal experience in an effort to enlighten people that rape victims are not sex pots in mini-skirts. Others who were not survivors also spoke about life after a brutal assualt. But I daresay, I had more credibility. And I was humbled & honored each time I was asked to speak, not to sensationalize my experience but to educate & perhaps help prevent. Like it or not our gender, ethnicity and our experiences blend together to make us who we are and God has thus allowed &/or ordained each of these for His purposes. Just my humble opinion…I’ll bend over now & take my kickin’.

  16. Linda says:

    @tomas: I was at a retreat all weekend and didn’t have internet so that’s my story and I’m stickin to it! :-)

    @Donna: Thank you for sharing that perspective. I partially feel bad that you’ve been brought into the mix of Asian stereotyping (or any stereotyping) because it’s such a negative experience. I get that “WTF” reaction too, and it’s been 26 years for me. On the other hand, I’m glad when non-Asians (non-minorities) get a glimpse of it, because it’s another step toward and another advocate for eradicating racism.

    @DiAnna: I get what you’re saying and completely agree — messages do mean a lot more when it comes from someone speaking from direct experience. But I think Pastor Eugene’s point was (please correct me if i’m wrong!) that it’d be nice to be asked to speak because of who he is, and not because of his race. And it’d be nice to be invited to speak about things beyond diversity issues instead of being typecast into that. Note Ryan Beattie’s comment “And the whole “only invite non-whites to speak when the topic relates to diversity” thing has to end in churches. ” (<– I’d like to add not only in churches but ANYWHERE)

    (On a somewhat related side note, “diversity training” videos, meetings, and paper tests bug me to no end! You just can’t ‘train diversity’ like that! Argh!)

    @Ryan Beattie: Good point about the candidates! Notice the mass media do not often mention the “Asian votes” either.

    @eugene: Thank you for the post! This topic will always be a hot topic for me. I don’t think stereotypes will ever be changed in my lifetime. However, I should keep in mind it was not too long ago that people slightly older than my parents said the same about segregation. Another reason I love Quest Church so much is the inherent multi-ethnic, cross-SES makeup of the members, and its concordant strive toward interracial relationships and understanding through the series of classes, serious discussions, ongoing projects/programs, and constant living-out of those virtues.

    Again, I’ve strayed far from your original blog question! Stereotypes are generally bad. They box a person in before he even has a chance to show himself. On the other hand, I must admit I like that the Asian stereotype is generally positive because others tend to have high expectations. Not that it’s necessarily made me want to get better at math just to live up to their higher standards of me. It’s just much better than the alternative; I despise low expectations when viewing another person. And i like that article because it uses a number of apparently valid resources to dispel some myths. I concur. :)

  17. Donna says:

    @Eugene – Thanks & you’ve got a reader for life…I find your blog a great way to start the day & kick my brain into high gear. Keep us on our toes!

    @Linda – That’s what I have learned…I am an advocate, both for the racial stereotyping & for the sometimes the wildly ignorant comments about adoption as well. (Why didn’t you adopt here in the states? there’s so many kids here that need homes. Why did you go there? It’s not like having your own children, you know…). Sometimes your head spins when getting hit w/the racial sterotyping & the intrusive adoption questions in one conversation & in the craziest of places. And I have learned to say, and have taught my daughter as well, to toss the ball back by politely saying, “I’m not comfortable answering that question” or “I’ve always wondered what would make a person say something like that”.

    @DiAnna – no arse whumping from me…I see your very valid points as well.

    Okay, now I have to tell one more sterotyping story…geez, it’s great to be able to share these & know people GET it.

    Last year, at an awards ceremony at Jen’s school, they called her name & listed the awards she’d won. As Jen was collecting her awards, the woman next to me turned to her husband & said, “Well, it figures she’d get all those awards.”

    I leaned over, w/a huge grin on my face & said, “Thank you SO much! That’s my daughter, and I couldn’t be prouder of her.” Both of them looked at me with a priceless expression on their faces, realized I wasn’t joking, turned beet red, and actually got up & moved to another part of the auditorium!

  18. djchuang says:

    this past weekend, I stop by my community pool, and as I walk in, one of the non-Asian guys with his little party entourage says to his gang, “She bangs… come on, that’s funny”. I’m pretty sure it was targeted at me, and identifying me with the mockery of William Hung. And with a goatee, I’d think I look nothing like him. But I was still indirectly mocked.

    I had mixed emotions, whether to confront him in front of all his friends, or walk up to him and strike up a conversation.

    I decided not to respond. Wasn’t worth my energy. I went a different direction, took a little swim, left in about 15 minutes.

  19. Jack+ says:

    Excellent post. You can also add to the list that people expect Asians to be:
    humorless and mystical.

    I’m a Priest (Pastor) who happens to be Filipino. Can’t tell you how many blank stares I received when I told people I was dropping Pre-Med to go Religion in college.

    But, my family hasn’t helped the stereotyping all that much. My Dad is a Chef, and my younger sister owns a dry cleaners. I have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and play the piano. I’m also a terrible driver. And, my food has appeared on “Fear Factor” (balut, anyone?).

  20. Linda says:

    @Donna – I actually gasped out loud when I read what that person said! Out of curiosity, may I ask where you live? Sounds like you get more than your fair share of insipid remarks. That only happened to me mainly when I lived in a very small town in Arizona for a bit. I was told I spoke English well (gee thanks, I’m a speech-language pathologist. I should hope so. I’m probably teaching your kid how to talk.). And I was constantly requested to clarify “No, where are you really/originally from?” because being born in Chicago wasn’t enough.

  21. Donna says:

    @Linda – When we lived in Baltimore, MD, people came on in the back door with the racial stereotyping & always led into the sterotyping after they’d weighed in with the adoption questions/commentary first.

    Now we live in Jacksonville, Florida. The majority of the racial comments have come from parents of children at Jen’s school since we’ve moved here. The principal at Jen’s school about passed out one night when she heard a parent tell me she was sure Jen was “a natural” on the violin because “they” always seem to play it so well. (My daughter attends a magnet elementary school of the arts).

    I groaned at your story about being told you speak English well…

  22. Becky says:

    Tell it bro’!

  23. MiNG~ says:

    An M.I.T~ but born in South Africa- (random!)

    This website cracked me up, then I read your blog while researching for my english oral speech: http://shianux.jiyuuu.org/2004/10/02/which_asian_stereotype_are_you/

    Entertained. I is what I am right now.

  24. miles says:

    Stereo types suck. It makes me cringe when I hear others stereo typing Asians. I think that as an African American we get it even worse. I wish that someone could stereo type me as an over acheiver at the least.

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