By Rei Tanotsuka, 12 July 2019
“What is Americanism? ‘Clean living, clean thinking and pep.’ I think an American would reply. This means, in practice, the substitution of tidiness for art, cleanliness for beauty, moralising for philosophy, prostitutes for concubines and a general air of being fearfully busy for the leisurely calm of the traditional Chinese.” Bertrand Russell
Isn’t it quaint these days how certain nations have their cultural characteristics contorted and subverted so that they appear to be nothing like themselves?
Growing up in Australia, I imbibed certain ‘stereotypes’ about Asians that I contrasted with my immediate reality but could not orchestrate successfully. I was supposed to be a maths whiz and I was ostensibly drawn to the periodic table like Hollywood to Botox. In reality, I passed chemistry by 1% and only managed to get into ‘normal human maths’, not the type involving Greek letters and squiggles.
I apparently had a mum who was a ‘tiger’ and according to script, micro managed every facet of my academic life, only that she didn’t.
Mum was and still is, the most outrageous cult of personality I know! She made us stay up late to watch louche fiduciary dramas involving brutal family inheritance battles, inadvertently telling us we were lucky to never have to contend with that problem. Both my parents emphasised experience over books and told me to ‘get a life’ when I pondered the possibility of post grad studies.
The Asian boyfriend I was dating, despite being a hopeless romantic who hand wrote me love letters, showered me with petals and celebrated every single month we were together for the first 3 years, was allegedly a chauvinistic pig.
He did his best to protect and keep me safe but told me to get out there and ‘get a life’ too. Yes, he held my handbag when I was trying on clothes (a gentleman always does. Unlike some women who just want to assail Asian masculine traits, I appreciated it), and he was a real man. Gentle to women, kids and the elderly, paid for all the big ticket items but real enough to know that modern couples can’t pen Disney into reality. He encouraged me to go out there and find myself ……unfortunately I strayed a little too far. Another story.
How did we get stereotyped?
Just a brief history lesson here. Promise you it won’t bet too painful. Stereotypes are most successfully employed by Europeans, with their perception of each race being held as authentic. Why? This is due to the successful conquering of Asian and African nations from the 1400s to the 1900s.
Europe represents under 10% of the earth’s landmass but Europeans managed to conquer around 80% of the world at its peak. The gross generalisations pertaining to the races were documented and ready for future colonial rulers to use to adequately deal with the manacled.
It doesn’t take much provocation for the likes of Francis Galton (Cousin to Charles Darwin) to swiftly assign the White race at the top of the hierarchy with their ensuing characteristics as the base to measure the others with. Consequently all the other races came out as inferior. click here to read Galton’s Chinese in Africa theory.
Are Stereotypes a problem?
Yes and no. It is not a problem if there is adequate representation to show that a stereotype is something to be refuted or confirmed depending on the individual being assessed by allowing all the variegated personalities of each nation to come to the fore. However, if you have ever been a minority in any country, you will understand that this will not be a reality.
The way things stand at the moment, stereotypes are by default bad.
For example, as an Asian, this is all I see in Western media about Asians.
- Strict Asian mums who ensure their children achieve the highest level of academic success.
- ‘Romantic’ or debonair Asians only being so if they are Westernised. This is already an improvement mind you, it used to be that ZERO Asian men had any sex appeal or romantic proclivities. All sense of fun and spontaneity was jettisoned in favour of money and status.
- Asians chose success over fun that’s why despite having money, they are nonetheless miserable and pine to be the free life loving Australian/American/European etc.
- Asians are either exotic hot or butt f\@% ugly.
So are stereotypes false?
Absolutely. How can I possibly be so confident in my declaration? Simple. If stereotypes were based on facts, then all we would have in Asia are doctors, lawyers and engineers.
Well, how are things in Singapore, one of the most modern and developed Asian nations?
“Some of the best paying jobs in Singapore are held by sales managers, accountants, and engineers, and these professionals remain in high demand due to a scarcity of qualified applicants. According to Manpower Group’s survey, the professionals most in demand are sales representatives, engineers, drivers, and technicians. Project managers, accountants, IT specialists, manufacturing specialists, customer support professionals, and skilled trade experts like mechanics are also in high demand and round out the top ten hard-to-fill areas in Singapore.”Click here to read article
And, a shortage of ENGINEERS in JAPAN!! Yes, you read it right, a country that has earned the moniker of being a tech driven economy is actually short on engineers! click here to read the Nikkei article
Once you expand the numbers, all temperaments and eclectic personalities emerge to guest star in your drama about all things dry and sombre.
So, who are we?
Asians, just like Italians, Nigerians, Kazakhstanis and everyone else, come in all different flavours.
We don’t get good grades because of parental pressure anymore than Americans eat hamburgers because of peer pressure. Epigenetic and genetic factors all play a role. The truth is, most burn the midnight oil like Western kids and we do well because WE WANT TO DO WELL. Failing isn’t something anyone of any nationality strives for.
We probably do have an affinity with academics but that is a trait that could be partially explained by Asians bearing the CASC5 gene known to result in larger grey matter volume.
” CASC5 has accumulated many modern human specific amino acid changes, including two fixed changes and six polymorphic changes. Among human populations, 4 of the 6 amino acid polymorphic sites have high frequencies of derived alleles in East Asians, but are rare in Europeans and African.” click here to read pdf
Some crazy Japanese personalities you may want to know
Since I live in Japan, I am more aware of the silly antics and loopiness of the Japanese than other Asians, so here’s a small list of the fruitcakes that abound all year round and not just for Chrissy!
I get a shot of weekly insanity by watching this bizarre trio. They regularly appear on a Japanese TV show called ITEQ and they do such weird things and with aplomb! They show their full bellies, belch, cut the cheese and drop their pants…..basically like a good ol’, true blue Aussie bogan….except they are Japanese women.
Naomi debuted as Beyonce by shaking everything on her body that was shakeable. She is of Taiwanese and Japanese ancestry and plus sized, unapologetically so. And, boy can she move! To watch her as Beyonce, click here
I really do admire Suzuki, firstly for the rumour that he refused to learn English because he was hired for his baseball skills. Secondly, for finally learning how to speak English but refusing to do so! Lol.
You must understand that this is rare. Most Japanese people feel recognition from the West is the zenith of achievements in fields such as sports, but getting the Mariners contract did not faze Suzuki who pretty much knew he was good with or without that lucrative contract. He wanted to reach the top of his field rather than desire the approval of the West which is what quite a few Japanese believe is the definition of success.
“Personally, I don’t like the term ‘success.’ It’s too arbitrary and too relative a thing. It’s usually someone else’s definition, not yours. ” Ichiro Suzuki
Not an exhaustive list by any means
We need more Asians to dispel the myths enveloping Asians in the West in the same way that other majority minorities (African Americans, Hispanics) are doing by bringing out different facets of ourselves and mainly, quit toeing the line of confirmation bias.
I can not be the only Western Asian woman who has funny parents, a romantic caring Asian partner and not be into maths!! I am resolute in my belief that there are definitely more of us who don’t conform to Western stereotypes of us, than those who do. Let’s put a kibosh on our need for the West’s approval of us by reiterating what their version of our reality is.
It’s about time we took hold of our own story and wrote in a main character who is more nuanced and multifaceted than a bookworm who ended up practising law because she had dollar bills in her iris rather than rainbows!
To set our own beauty standard, click here