Stereotypes

In this post, I’m going to focus on Americans and Asians/Chinese.

I taught in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school district for thirty years (1975-2005). In fact, Nogales High School in La Puente California had a student population that was about 70% Latino, 8% black, 8% white, 8% Asian and 6% other.

Most of my Asian students did the homework and earned mostly A’s. One Asian girl earned an A minus on a quarter-report card and came after school to find out what she’d done wrong and how to fix it.  She was in tears.

My wife and daughter are Chinese and I’ve seen them worry about the occasional A minus too.  Why?  Because an A- is too close to a B+. Doing exceptional in school is an important cornerstone in most Chinese families.  Did you notice that I added “most”? There are always exceptions.

In one class I taught, a Latino student said that the Asians were smarter than the rest of the ethnic groups.  That particular class had no Asians in it. 

Everyone in the room agreed but me. I replied, “You’re wrong. Asians aren’t smarter than the other races. The difference is that Asian culture values learning more.  Most Asian parents are more dedicated and involved with their children’s educations.”

In this YouTube video, a female Chinese teen talks about the common Chinese stereotype that “all” Chinese eat rice, avoid the sun, are good at math and are Kung Fu experts.

This spoof shows Americans as stupid and violent.

This video is a Feel-Good rant from a Chinese teen who doesn’t want to be seen as an uncool, unpopular nerd who only eats fried rice and dumplings.  Kevin says there are three main Asian stereotypes that he has to deal with. 

1. Others think he is cheap
2. That he is a nerd
3. And has no social life…

This one was shot by a teen who points out that Americans are rebellious and meddling.

Another Chinese teen talks about Asians and school.  She says that in a Chinese family everything the child is “NOT allowed to do” is linked to success in school.

Australians think of Americans as being fat, arrogant, and obnoxious.

What do you think about other cultures and races?  Do you stereotype others?

See the Failure of Multiculturalism in the United States or Education and Cultures Collide in the US

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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6 Responses to Stereotypes

  1. songaihua says:

    Lloyd, your comments about the keen focus among Chinese mothers on the educational performance of their offspring really resonate with my own observations and experience. I am married to a Chinese and we have two young Anglo-Chinese children. Before I met my wife, I had no clear expectation about her attitudes to education and I had no idea then that this trait I now see was “stereotypical” – even though I did at that time stereotype Chinese in other ways (and – in a fashion – still do stereotype other races that I know less about).

    I do now firmly believe that this education focus is a more common and deeply ingrained characteristic among Chinese mothers compared to, say, English ones. My belief is based on my own experience – and not just experience of my wife but of her friends and mine, and on what I see going on among the Chinese community and media here and elsewhere, compared to what goes on in the non-Chinese community I am also a member of. My belief is not based on a publicly-promulgated image that I have somehow picked up on, accepted (or just absorbed) and then applied in some prejudicial way – which is what I believe stereotyping to be.

    The very act of describing “a culture” is to over-simplify and risk stereotyping, but of course that doesn’t mean it is wrong to do it. We need and like to classify things, even complex animate systems such as culture which at the same time we know are impossible adequately to classify. The real problems arise in a number of situations including…
    – When the description of another culture is deliberately negative, for example being based on exaggerations about selected characteristics that for one reason or another jar with (or more benignly amuse) those doing the defining. Often I think this is what people mean by a stereotype.
    – When the stereotype is exploited collectively (for example by mass media or indeed governments) to manipulate individuals in their constituencies into holding inimical attitudes – or even behaving oppressively or aggressively – towards the stereotyped community, the scapegoat.
    – When individuals apply the stereotype in their own specific interactions with real people in the stereotyped community at the expense of seeing the real person truly and clearly without prejudice. This just frustrates ‘humanity’.

    So are stereotypes ever good? Well, knowing how others perceive you (even via an inadequate and shorthand description of your culture) can be illuminating, causing you to examine values and behaviours that you have so far accepted because they are norms in your own place, and which you might not have previously evaluated in any objective fashion. It can also help explain why others interact with you in otherwise difficult to fathom ways. Conversely, a stereotype can be a handy start point for learning about another community, so long as it is combined with curiosity and humanity – it’s a “leg up” in other words. My own getting to know and enjoy Chinese culture has on occasions been assisted by exploring what is real and not in reference to the stereotypes that exist, and by trying to understand what is behind and beyond those stereotypes of East Asians that we have in the West.

    Finally, though I didn’t fully view all the clips in your post, Llloyd, I noticed that the stereotypes of Americans in there seemed more hostile and personality based than those of Chinese: arrogance and insularity versus eating rice and practising martial arts. Not sure why that should be, but in any case there are plenty of pejorative stereotypes of Chinese around – I found this Wikipedia article interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotypes_of_East_Asians_in_the_Western_world

    Thanks for your post which was thought provoking.

    • Thank you for your comment. I hope others read it.

      I have learned that stereotypes exist in the general population in a nation like the US toward China or the other way around. For example the conservative radio talk show stereotype of liberals or the stereotype of for right conservatives. I’m sure there are going to be individuals who fit or almost fit the stereotypes that seem so easy to accept for so many, but there will be many who will not fit in some way.

      When I was teaching, I taught my students through literature that people are complex like a many faceted diamond and every facet reflects a difference we won’t find in anyone else.

      During the thirty years I spent teaching in a multi-ethnic school district, I reminded myself daily not to judge my students even when they had been in my classroom for months. It wasn’t easy to stay calm and treat each incident as if it could be an isolated one. For example, a pretty girl, who many men would call eye candy, walks into the class for the first day and I would notice and the stereotype of the ideal beauty would influence my attitude toward her until she did something entirely out of character in a vulgar, aggressive way, revealing a dark character, which knocked the beauty off that eye-candy pedestal. After dealing with the shocking negative behavior, I never saw them as eye-candy again. Does that make sense?

      Regarding China, when I went to China the first time in 1999, that same kind of thinking had me ready for a very drab place where everyone dressed the same with dour faces and went about their work as if they were aunts and the queen bee was the Communist Party. Needless to say, after that trip, that stereotype was banished and I’ve been exploring China’s culture and history sense, because that first exposure to a culture alien to the one I grew up lifted the fog from my eyes and thoughts.

      It is not easy to resist falling prey to stereotyping people and cultures that are unknown and foreign to you.

      There are two types of awareness: People who are ignorant because they do not know any better (they have never learned) and those who are stupid because they have been exposed to discovery but refuse to accept what they learned and stick to stereotypical beliefs no matter what.

      Also, many Chinese have stereotyped Americans. Example: Since I have been a vegan since 1981, I arrived in China slim and trim–almost thin. Later my wife shared with me that her friends and family had trouble beliving I was an American because they expected all Americans to be fat, loud, and obnoxious people. Many of her Chinese friends predicted our marriage would not surive because of that stereotype. However, my wife says in many ways I’m more Chinese than most Chinese men. I’m still not sure what she means by that.

  2. I feel there are ‘tough’ parents within all backgrounds of culture, religion, ethnicity, Canadian because as a teacher (now retired) there seemed no predominance, more, I saw, an intergenerational legacy. Interesting the self-identification (?) as Chinese-American as citizenship or ethnic self-awareness? How does that affect stereotypes I wonder.

    • A agree with the intergenerational legacy. However, for the Chinese that might also be a cultural intergenerational legacy. I don’t know if I mentioned it but my wife is Chinese. She grew up in China and came here when she was in her twenties. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to be around many Chinese mothers and when these Chinese mothers get together, they always talk about education and their children. That is the only topic they talk about. From the birth of their child, their goal is to get their child into the best university possible. To achieve that, they stay on top of their children’s education. When the child earns anything less than an A for any assignment on any subject, all of these Chinese women are off to see the teacher to find out what went wrong.

      I was also a teacher for thirty years and I’m now retired too. I taught in a multi-ethnic school that only had 8% Caucasians and 8% Asian and the Asian parents turned out for parent conferences in higher numbers then the other ethnic groups. The Asian students competed to see who would earn the highest grade. One time, I had a Korean or Chinese girl come after school in tears because she earned an A- and wanted to know what she could do to make that up. I had to explain to her that she had been doing all the extra credit and was carrying more than a 100% average and had the highest grade in the class.

      For seven of those thirty years, I was also the journalism advisor for the high school student newspaper. One would think the student staff of that high school newspaper would reflect the ethnic breakdown of the school. It didn’t. More than 90% of the staff was Asian and few Latinos, who made up 70% of the student population, were on the staff. None of the Asian students was interested in a career in journalism. They were in the class so it would be on their transcripts when they applied to college. For the same reason, almost all of the editors of the paper were also in Academic Decathlon and carried as many AP and Honors classes as possible for that transcript.

      In China, the competition is fierce to score high on the national exams and qualify to get into colleges/universities there. However, China only has room for 15% of the students who graduate from the mandatory public education program. China, Japan and South Korea have the highest suicide rates among teens and the common reason for suicide is not getting into college because they didn’t score high enough on the national exams.

      The Chinese invented the examination process. I would have to check to see when but I believe testing was started during the Han Dynasty after Emperor Wudi adopted Confucianism. Imperial exams may have been used in China for about two thousand years to see who deserved to move on. These same exams rewarded the top scores with posts in the government. Someone who scored exceptionally high often would find his government post higher than the others–maybe even the governor of a large city.

      Confucianism emphasis education. When I checked the Old and New Testements (Jewish – Christian), I could not find any similar language supporting the importance of an education. Instead, I discovered the opposite. I wrote a post about that somewhere and cited which passages in the Bible actually put down the educated, which makes sense when you study the history of the Catholic Church. Often, priests were the only people who could read–even many kings were illiterate. This allowed the Church to be the sole interpreter of the Bible giving the Church great control over the lives of almost everyone who lived in Europe. That started to change after the Reformation.

      However, even today, millions allow individuals to tell them what the Bible means and how to live their lives, which also makes sense because the Bible isn’t easy to understand when the person reading it has the average reading level for an America, which is about fifth-grade reading level.

  3. The persistence of stereotypes (gender, ethnicity, religious) intrigues as I read/view your post. The post also resurrected a quite old stereotype of teaching about 3 decades ago. Due to the ‘smart Asian kid’ stereotype it took extreme labour on the part of several teachers and school administration to have an Asian student placed in a special education program. Interesting how a cool irony plays well wrt stereotypes.

    • There is “some” truth to the stereotypical Chinese parent being tough on their children.

      Once, when we had a house full of Chinese dinner guests, about eight Chinese American kids (all born here but their parents immigrated from China) gathered downstairs to watch a move while their parents stayed upstairs to chatter in Mandarin.

      I don’t speak Chinese so I joined the kids.

      They picked Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club–sport of like a busman’s holiday.

      There are several scenes in the movie where the mother is giving her daughter a hard time. During one of those scenes, the most dramatic one, I witnessed every one of those Chinese American kids look at each other, laugh nervously and agree by shaking their heads yes.

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