The Harm Behind Asian Stereotypes

Reason why society needs to acknowledge and discard Asian stereotypes as a norm


Mikayla Payawal

I’m sitting quietly at my desk when suddenly I hear my name being called. I look up, but my teacher is not looking at me. She is looking at my classmate across the room. She quickly realizes she had shouted the wrong name and apologizes. “Sorry Mikayla, you and Michelle just look so similar!” Except, we didn’t, and this was the third time it had happened this week. Besides us both being Asian and having black hair, my friend Michelle and I had nothing in common. This was my first experience with one of the many stereotypes Asians face today.

Asian-American stereotypes are more harmful than people think, while still becoming increasingly casual in society today. Many believe that microaggressions against the Asian community will go unchecked and that they can be taken advantage of.

Stereotyping has always been an issue within society, but most recently, new Asian-American stereotypes have come to light with recent events surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. Robby Berman from Medical News Today published an article stating that as of July 1st, 2020, there had been over 800 reported hate-crimes against Asian-Americans in the span of three months. News reports claim the virus originated in China and since then the belief that all Asians are “dirty” and “eat bats” has grown popular. This in itself creates a new stereotype but also follows the idea that all Asians are the same.

John Cho, an actor from the recent Star Trek film, released an article about how coronavirus is another reminder to the Asian-American community of how their belonging in American society is conditional. He speaks on an easily relatable topic to most Asian-Americans, as we were raised to be quiet, walk with our head downs, and fit in as much as possible. As someone part of the Asian-American community, it feels that our suffering of staying silent and acting under the radar was all for nothing, as society continues to not support us.

Another significant stereotype is the belief that all Asians are smart. I personally have let this stereotype affect me, break me down, and cause me endless car rides of crying an ocean to my parents about test scores. I have had countless nights of laying in bed staring at the ceiling worrying about college. This stereotype falls under the category often known as the “Model-Minority Myth” which is built off of the idea and success of hard-working people, strong family ideals, and a passion for education. The wrongs within this stereotype consist of failure to acknowledge the wealth and education gaps between the diverse range of Asian-Americans living here in the states. The strongest example of the harm within this stereotype is for Asian-American students of low socioeconomic wealth. They face this immense pressure to not only excel at school but in every aspect of their life, because if they do not they feel society will see them as a failure.

Take my family for example. My parents have worked hard to provide a comfortable life for my sister and I, but I would not say we are rich or wealthy by any means. My mom immigrated from Laos as a little girl and while growing up her family struggled. My mom did not graduate from college and neither did my dad. Knowing this, I experience an immense amount of pressure to live up to society’s expectations of the hardworking, successful Asian family. I feel a need to be good at everything I do because failing is not an option.

Now, some may say “how can this stereotype of all Asians being labeled as smart be so harmful? Other minorities face even worse.” My response to this is that no one said Asian-Americans have it the hardest or that we are here to compete. However, invalidating one’s emotions promotes the idea of suffering in silence. In a time of events such as the Black Lives Matter Movement and the fight for climate change, shouldn’t we as a society be open to listening to all voices? Assuming all Asians are smart ignores the sacrifices and dedication that was put in to getting a good grade or accomplishing something. “Oh of course you passed that test, you’re Asian,” disregards the hard work that Asian people put into achieving a good grade. Moreover, supporting and romanticizing this kind of stereotype by referring to it casually puts even more pressure on those who can not conform, often resulting in academic burnout and in some cases suicidal thoughts.

I am part of the executive council of Asian Student Alliance, an affinity club at O’Dowd where we discuss about the struggles of being an Asian-American, not only on campus but in America. I understand that many students experience casual racism on a daily basis, but due to the small percentage of Asian students on campus, they feel their emotions are not worthy talking about. Casual racism and stereotyping of Asian-Americans has only grown in popularity over the years. If we as a community do not speak up against these harmful stereotypes, when will we? In a time where voices are being heard more than ever thanks to social media, it is time for the Asian community to make a voice for themselves as well.