We Are Not Our Stereotypes

This article by Vivia Chen touches upon what the Korean has been trying to say about Asian Americans and the way we handle stereotypes against us.
But how do most tiger cubs fare? Not so well, according to the panelists, which included Javade Chaudhri, GC of Sempra Energy; Wilson Chu, partner at K&L Gates; Don Liu, GC of Xerox Corporation; Linda Lu, associate GC of Allstate Inc.; Larry Tu, GC of Dell; and me. . . . Are APAs too deferential to authority and too quiet about blowing their own horn? The audience said yes.

Personally, I found this discussion pleasantly ironic because I didn't get the impression that this was a shy, timid crowd. Quite the opposite--both the panel members and the audience were highly articulate and forceful. I'd go a step further and say those qualities hold true for just about everyone I met at the convention.

Which brings me back to my original point: This was not a dweeby crowd. Ten or twenty years ago, more APA lawyers might have fit that bill, but I think there's been a sea change.

So are APA lawyers still saddled with a nerdy, not-ready-for-prime-time image? Is this the way law firms and corporations perceive Asian Americans, or the way we perceive ourselves? Whose stereotype is it?
Asian American Lawyers: Still Too Nerdy to Get to the Top? [The Careerist]

The Korean shares the same observation with Chen, at a larger scale. The Korean simply does not see a disproportionate number of Asian Americans being timid, robotic, uncreative, or any of the other usual stereotypes associated with Asian Americans. If anything, he is seeing an over-representation of bold, adventurous, creative and leadership-oriented Asian Americans in the younger generation, who will surely reach the top echelons of American society in a decade or so.

The Korean briefly touched upon this topic in this post, but it bears repeating: Asian Americans are internalizing the negative stereotypes about us. Even when an Asian American ends up being successful, like the panelists or the audience in the discussion described in Chen's article, such Asian American considers him/herself to be an exception rather than the rule.

That's the thing about stereotypes -- it is self-perpetuating as long as there is one example of it. Few people ever engage in an honest-to-goodness counting of just how many of the Asian Americans around them fit the stereotypes. But sure enough, a lot of people know at least one Asian American who fits the stereotype. Because of the confirmation bias, a few examples are all we need for the stereotype to live on. This much, we all know.

But what is particularly disconcerting about Asian Americans is that we internalize the negative stereotypes against us like few other social groups do. Few women would readily agree with the stereotype that they are bad at math and sciences, or the stereotype they lack leadership skills. Few African Americans would readily agree with the stereotype that they are lazier and more crime-prone. But these high-ranking Asian American attorneys -- partners, general counsels who are leaders of their fields -- publicly espouse the stereotype, even though they themselves are the living counterexamples of the stereotype. To the Korean, this makes no sense.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.