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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stereotypes are all hype

Just like any group, Asians are defined by a lot of stereotypes. Think back to high school. I guarantee that if asked to sum up a racial or cultural group with one adjective, many of the descriptions would be the same.

Stereotypes, like it or not, exist. And they're pretty difficult to dispel.

There's a lengthy Wikipedia page called "Stereotypes of East Asians in the Western world." Websites like Asian Fanatics have compiled lists of "81 stereotypes for korean" (sic), setting off a firestorm of angry responses. Included:
- good at math
- narrow-minded
- always angry
- look hot and break dance

Couldn't those describe anyone? Who says Koreans have a lock on being good at math? And if anything, a person perpetuating some of the more unpleasant stereotypes (which I won't print here) is more narrow-minded than the average Korean.

Then there's AllLookSame, which offers a recognition quiz on the differences among Chinese, Japanese and Korean faces. Try it. Don't be ashamed if you do badly, though; many times, country of origin is obvious but there have been situations when even my Korean friends can't tell if another person is Chinese, Japanese or, yes, Korean.

The most common Asian stereotype, from my experience, is that they are quiet, shy and smart.

Well, yes. So are hundreds of millions of other people from every cultural group.

Are Koreans smart? Definitely. Korea has a 97.9% literacy rate and higher math and science scores than Canada and the United States.

During a conversation about relationships in Korean culture last week, Chloe said with a coy smile, "Highly intelligent women don't get married young."

So yes, Koreans can be quiet, shy and smart.

But they can also be funny, kind, crazy, friendly, loud, affectionate and confident.

One of my good Korean friends told me that before she started working with Americans, she had a negative impression. She assumed we were all loud, rude and brash. It wasn't until she got to know Americans -- both on a personal and professional level -- that she realized every individual is different.

I hope that I helped her view Americans more positively... and we owe it to everyone to do the same in return.

(Oh, and the facial recognition quiz? After living in Korea for a year, I still only scored "normal," just a few points higher than average.)

Do you think stereotypes are hype or are they based in truth?

1 comment:

  1. hmmm...i think some stereotypes are based upon truth- but certainly not for everyone. i had to really convince my classmates in school that even though i'm asian, i SUCK at math!! wow. barely passed pre-cal. i'd like to make a suggestion: maybe asians are good at math because those countries need students with skills in this area in order to progress in terms of technology. 30 years ago in taiwan, boys were basically told that it was necessary for them to pursue science and math tracks- it's like they had no choice, whether by social pressure or job opportunities. it's like asians are "good" at math because they have to be. guess i missed that boat!!