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Un-stereotype the Stereotyped: Chinese Immigrants = Nerds?

When I read in Vancouver Sun that the children of Chinese immigrants have a 70% university completion rate, which is…

By amanda sung , in The Immigrant , on January 12, 2009 Tags: ,

When I read in Vancouver Sun that the children of Chinese immigrants have a 70% university completion rate, which is about 3 times higher than other ethnic populations, I was pleased. I took pride in it. My parents crossed the ocean and brought me to Canada for better education. It wasn’t all for nothing.

I am not the only well-educated one in my Asian circle. The Liu daughter has a Bachelor of Science from UC Berkeley. The Koo family’s 24-year-old son studies biochemistry engineering at MIT. The Little Sung gets scholarships along with admission to SFU. I am the Big Sung by the way. My younger sister has kind of outdone me.

No wonder the keeners in TV shows are always Asian. In Grey’s Anatomy, Cristina Yang, portrayed by Sandra Oh, is a competitive surgical intern with a top-notch academic performance at Stanford. In Gossip Girl, Nelly Yuki, portrayed by Yin Chang, is an all-star student and ideal prospect for Yale. Such characterization is logical. Just a few days ago, Chris Powell wrote in his column that “the people of Asian descent are stereotyped as the ‘model minority’ for being disproportionally successful”. They are Asian and thus must be nerdy, and WikiAnswer also verifies it. We don’t even think twice about it. But the question is: why don’t we?

Some of us may find the bookworm stereotype relatively positive and see no point of challenging it. The issue is the psychology behind it.

Forming cognitive simplistic impressions of the person stereotyped without taking his or her individuality into account is highly problematic. With such mentality, we fail to identify an Asian as a person. Instead, we see them as a bunch of identical yellow-skinned human beings, who by the way, are supposedly all great at Math. It leads us to make unfair attributions and have prejudicial attitudes towards them.

Could we “un-stereotype” the stereotyped? It’s hard to say.

On Article Etc., a writer named R. M. claim that when some individuals decide someone is a geek or nerd, they tend to overlook any new or different revelations about that individual, which would question and contest their assumptions. They would rather hold on to their existing stereotype and be blinded by it to the extent where they disconnect themselves from any experience or information that somehow does not reflect their preconceived notions.

“Stereotyping is an impediment to effective interracial communications,” Larry Samovar and Richard Porter write in their book, Intercultural Communications: A Reader. Stereotypical representation of Asians in the media only reinforce and perpetuate the status quo. However, Walter Stephan makes an argument in his book, Intergroup Relations, that it seems to be a natural part of communication process, as categorization is often required to make sense of our world. Perhaps the non-Asians feel the need to essentialize and classify Asians in a certain way that they can respond to, otherwise the difference between “self” and “other” cannot be distinguished.