by Annah Rah
“Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees look at these,” goes an anthem innocently sung on grade school playgrounds during recess. Growing up as one of the few Asian kids in my elementary school classes, I felt attacked by that simple chant. When I confronted my classmates about their nursery rhyme, I could never come up with a good enough reason for my distress, so they sang on. And it was fine— it was, after all, just a silly rhyme. No harm was meant. In middle school, my most impressionable years, I let every Asian stereotype sink deep into my heart and brain and invade my body. I played the piano, I said math was my favorite subject, I prided myself in high standardized test scores. I didn’t think anything of or say anything about the backhanded remarks about my eyes which were “pretty big for an asian” or cast off my academic accomplishments as a part of me being Asian.
After 11 years of dealing with racism and discrimination in school veiled by the guise of a cheap compliment, I now know how to articulate and identify the unconscious demeaning of Asians. The problem faced by many Asian Americans lies in the “positive” stereotyping that ignores and invalidates Asian struggles and feelings of oppression.
“Asian Stereotypes can’t possibly be as harmful because they’re all positive.” This very thinking perpetuates and encourages a lack of consideration for the experiences of Asian Americans. Not only does it justify stereotyping of Asians, but it also ignores the negative effects and stereotypes that exist, raising issues such as self hatred and white fever. Our portrayal in American pop culture comes as the model minority: perfectly docile, hard working, respectful, and submissive. When stereotypes become an expectation, a dangerous line is crossed, forcing a blanket identity upon a widely diverse group of people.
Some foolishly declare that “model minority” is a genuine compliment to Asians, but the deeper undertones and connotations of the label alienate Asian Americans by driving a wedge between Asians and other minorities while still alienating them from white people. As a result of this uncomfortable limbo, Asian activism is silenced. Typically, the model minority images causes many Asians to feel an obligation to maintain a neutral, uninvolved and meek demeanor. A majority of Asians refrain from scenes of activism and are assumed to be silent bystanders. The model minority imposes an image of submission and almost inferiority upon Asian Americans and gives the stereotype a dangerous opportunity to become an expectation.
Additionally, academic stereotypes regarding Asians create additional pressures on Asian-Americans in academic professional settings. I remember being in middle school when I first heard the joke that an A- is the “Asian F.” While just a joke, it connects to a larger issue of society assuming academic excellence is the result of the “Asian Advantage,” which discounts Asian success as a product of a stereotypical portrayal and expectation.