Are positive stereotypes detrimental?

Recently, I watched Chelsea Lately during a episode of my insomnia. The host, Chelsea Handler, poked fun at one of the guest cohosts that she would go him to fix electronics over the Jewish cohost, because he is Asian. The prodded cohost began ranting about stereotypes, specifically how it’s not O.K. to generalize and assume that every Asian is good at computers. When he was told to relax, and that it’s positive, he responded that it wasn’t a positive stereotype.

Is there some truth to stereotypes? Particularly the notion that Asians are more academically driven and have better academic performance compared to whites and members of other races? I remember an excerpt from Amy Chua’s The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that went along the lines that when it comes to school, whites can only ask their children to do the best of their ability. Asian parents, on the other hand, demand perfection and straight A’s. I don’t believe that the intention of this book was to praise the superiority of Asian parents over whites, but it certainly raised questions for me when it comes to different parenting styles. In my personal experience, white children of overbearing parents who demand perfection often face negative psychological consequences later in life. Although I cannot speak for the majority of Asians, I have not heard a look of outspoken criticism of more authoritarian parenting styles. The new basketball sensation Jeremy Lin stated in interviews that his parents stressed the importance of good grades early on, and if he should have received anything less than an A-, he would lose his privilege to play basketball. Curiously, it appears in Chua’s book that in spite of the mother’s demands for perfection, the children retain a sense of loyalty. I found this to be interesting, as it has been my personal experience that members of my own race often hold resentment towards their parents who held extremely high expectations for them in their youth.

The question that the book raised for me is that is it the differences between Eastern and Western parenting styles that might contribute to academic Asian stereotype? Personally, although I feel that parenting differences may play into these stereotypes, I think that the “academic” label on Asians may serve as justification of their success, particularly if it is at the expense of whites. Some whites may attribute their success to their strict upbringings, which perpetuates this stereotype, because it may imply a conflict of cultural values. It may, perhaps, suggest that Asian parents place success over the well beginning of their own children.

But why is this ‘successful’ stereotype detrimental to Asians? I recently read an any Asian students in the United States are finding it harder to get into American universities, because of the association of high academic performance. In response to this, many prospective Asian students will not identify their race on their application, or they will check white if they are biracial. They have reported that by not identifying as Asian, they have a better chance of getting into the school of their choice.

What might be other negative consequences to a ‘positive’ stereotype?

4 thoughts on “Are positive stereotypes detrimental?

  1. This post and Michela’s response really got me thinking about the negative consequences of “positive” stereotypes. Honestly, before coming to Muhlenberg I went along with the stereotype that Asians are smart and endorsed. Now I realize how detrimental endorsing these stereotypes can be. Rather than assuming that someone is smart and someone is Asian, people are assuming that he or she is smart because he or she is Asian. This totally discounts that an Asian person is smart because he or she studies a lot. I wish that I had understood this before and had not endorsed the stereotypes. I wish I had understood sooner how detrimental associating an Asian as being smart simply because he or she is Asian.

  2. I actually got into an argument with my boyfriend’s old roommate, Carl. Carl began complaining about the stereotype, sarcastically stating: “oh so rough on them that everyone thinks they’re smart, what a terrible thing.” What was even more frustrating about this response was that he explained this in front of his girlfriend who is Asian American. What’s detrimental about any stereotype—even “positive” ones—is that that it not only minimizes the success of an individual by attributing it to a racial characteristic, but it also fails to acknowledge the cultural values, as Chris referred to. Additionally, it minimizes the implications of the internalizations of these stereotypes. I don’t think people who refer to that stereotype think about how much pressure it puts on an individual to fit into a mold. Anytime we stereotype, we’re essentializing a cultural identity to an often, inaccurate perception.

  3. The question that asked “what might be other negative consequences to a ‘positive’ stereotype” really got me thinking. I think that one of these negative consequences is to use positive stereotypes in a way to support that racism is over and everyone is equal (which as we all know is not the case). If individuals can use these positive stereotypes to support these untrue ideas, they are able to convince themselves that racism is over. This I believe only sets back individuals and our society even more and keeps them farther away from acknowledging the existence of racism.

  4. As with all stereotypes, there are people who “fit” the stereotype, and those who don’t. This academic association with Asians is part of the larger “model minority” stereotype, which is just that a stereotype. To answer your question I think one negative consequence could be the unfair expectation that all Asian people perform exceptionally well in school.

    I think that it’s easy for us to recognize people who fit into our preconceived notions of a group as belong to that group than it is for us to notice the people who do not. In this case, we see academically successful Asian and attribute that to their Asianness, but we have a harder time associating the academically struggling Asian student as a member of the group. Instead, we acknowledge the people who do not fall within our expectations as outliers, or exceptions to the rule. Why is it so easy for us to dismiss people who “disprove” the stereotypes as exceptions as opposed to dismissing the stereotypes themselves?

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