Stereotypes of Southeast Asians in Western World
Stereotypes of East Asians refer to ethnic stereotypes living in Western societies. Notably, stereotypes of East Asians are often manifest in the media, theater, literature, as well as other creative forms of expressions, just like other ethnic stereotypes. More often than not, media portrays Asians on a Eurocentric perception rather than authentic and realistic representations of true behaviors, customs and cultures. However, the kind of stereotypes being portrayed has negative effects for Asians, as well as Asian immigrants, in their daily lives and activities. Most of these Asians experience discrimination as they fall to being victims of hate crimes related to their stereotypes. The situation is worsened by the fact that it has been used to create and foster xenophobic sentiments.
One important term to note about stereotypes is the manner in which the Western society interprets their encounter with the East; it is referred to as orientalism. The Orient denotes Asia as a place of romance, exoticism, and wondrous experiences (Said, 1978). It is also a term that refers to a negative contrast against the Western civilization. Notably, Western cultures are seen as those that are capable of modernization or change, while Asian cultures are looked upon as ancient.
One of the stereotypes that include hostility or exclusion is the 'Yellow Peril'. This term refers to a Caucasian fear that white inhabitants of Canada, Australia, or the United States would be full of massive immigration of Asians, who would then fill these nations with their incomprehensible speech and foreign culture to those who are already there and take all the jobs from most of the white inhabitants. During the nineteenth century, a number of anti-Asian sentiments were expressed by writers and politicians, mostly on the West Coast, with headlines like Japanese Exclusion Act, 'Conference Endorses Chinese Exclusion' and 'The Yellow Peril (Said, 1978).
The Asians were considered to be an undesirable race as the American Immigration Act of 1924 even went ahead to limit their numbers into the country. The same fears were expressed in Australia where a White Australia Policy was introduced that restricted immigration between the year 1901 to 1973. Moreso, some elements of the policies even persisted to late 1980s. Recently, the government of New Zealand was documented as they offered apologies to the Chinese who suffered a number of discrimination such as paying poll tax. Canada had also placed a head tax on Asians who migrated into Canada in the beginning of the twentieth century. However, a formal government apology was offered in 2007 as survivors of the discrimination and their descendants were offered compensation.
In most of America's history, Asian Americans have been looked upon as perpetual foreigners who cannot be assimilated despite their duration of residence in the United States or stature of citizenship. Moreover, the mainstream media coverage of how Asian communities live in the United States has been a sad one. Asian Americans do not seem to exist in the eyes of most policy makers and mainstream media. The same applies to America's politics.
A recent study has proved that most Asian-American actors have not had a tremendous or successful progress in their careers like on network TV. The report also found out that about five percent of the United States population is made up of Asians. However, only about two and a half percent are primetime television regulars. Moreover, shows that are set in cities that have large Asian population like Los Angeles and New York had very few Asian roles. As an example, the show aired by CBS known as 'The King of Queens' had not even a single Asian character in the whole season despite the fact that one in every five New York City borough of Queens has Asian roots. This series covered over twelve million viewers and had been released in over thirty countries.
Another example is the 'O.C.' in Orange County, there is not even one Asian represented in the show despite the fact that there are many Asians living in the county. The county has the largest Vietnamese population. Most Asian Americans buy homes that are twice the county average. This is also the county with UC Irvine, a university with more Asians than whites.
On another aspect, Asian Americans have also been stereotyped to be a model minority. This refers to the notion where positive traits are used as a stereotype. These Asians are seen to be hardworking, productive, inoffensive, intelligent, studious, and politically inactive, and people who have raised their social standing through diligence and hard work (Stacey, 1996). This label contrasts other racial stereotypes which mostly accuse minorities of harboring socially unwanted traits such as criminal behaviors and laziness.
However, many of the Asian-Americans take this model to be inaccurate and damaging. They are acting to do away with this type of stereotype. Major American news, scholars, and activists have started to dispel this stereotype. They refer to it as a misconception that over state the success of Asian Americans. According to them, this model stereotype is damaging by alienating the Asian Americans from other minority groups. Moreover, it covers up the authentic Asian American needs and issues that are still not yet being looked into in the United States to date. As an example, the widespread belief that Asian Americans earn income that is above the average hides facts such as the 'bamboo ceiling' phenomenon. In this phenomenon, the advancement into executive positions or highest managerial position is unattainable. The fact that most Asian Americans must attain more education or work for more hours than the whites so as to earn the same amount of cash is obscured (Stacey, 1996). The 'model minority' image is also seen to be damaging to students of Asian origin since their assumed success makes it possible for teachers to overlook Asian American students that struggle academically.
As an example, about twenty five percent of Asian Americans, who are over twenty five, hold a bachelors degree, while the general American population is only about fifteen and a half percent. This statistics give the general view of how Asian Americans are considered as being successful. However, despite this stereotype of their success, most Asian Americans remain to be unemployed (Stacey, 1996). The rate is even higher among Hmong Americans and others with refugee backgrounds.
However, unethical and criminal behaviors have been contrasting the model minority stereotype. In the year 2007, Asian Americans were implicated in political corruption, shooting sprees, and cheating scandals. The Virginia Tech Massacre by Seung-Hui Cho led to thirty three deaths plus himself. This incident stunned most of the Asian American population. Other scandals include the arrests made against Norman Hsu, Ed Jew, and Kim Kyung Joon. Moreover, about thirty four MBA students were implicated in a major cheating scam at Fuqua School of Business of Duke University. Nine of them were permanently expelled, fifteen suspended for a year, and the rest received failing grades.
There are also a few Archetypal Asians depicted in American fiction. Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu are two well known fictional Asian characters to appear in America's cultural history. Both were created by two whites; Earl Derr Biggers and Sax Rohmer in the beginning of the twentieth century. Fu Manchu is an intelligent Chinese, but a murderer with numerous plots of dominating the world. This reflects America's imagination of how the Asians seem threatening. On the other hand, Charlie Chan is an apologetic and submissive detective. He solves cases while ignoring many of the racist insults said against him by American characters. This shows America's representation of a good Asian. These two characters have become popular in a number of films and novels.
There are about thirteen novels that have been written about Fu Manchu, three short stories and one novelette. Numerous copies have been sold in the United States with publication in a number of American and British periodical, as well as adaptations to comics, television, film, and radio. With its popularity, Fu Manchu's image has been absorbed into the American mind as the archetypal Asian villain. Sax Rohmer introduces Fu Manchu as a cunning and cruel man, who resembles Satan, and essentially the Yellow Peril stereotype.
Rohmer also tied the evilness of Fu Manchu to the rest of the Asian population as that which represents the Yellow Peril (Rohmer, 1962). He also attributes the evil behavior to his race. Moreover, he adds an element of exoticism and mysticism to his idea of Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu is a character that contrives elaborate creative, but cruel methods of killing and murdering many of his victims. Manchu uses Asian methods in his endeavors such as death by silk rope. However, none of these have any base in reality. Notably, despite his ethnic representation, Manchu's cunning and evil behaviors are pan-Asian. This represents brings out Fu Manchu as a representation of the rest of the Asian populace (Rohmer, 1962). There are also other sentiments, put forward by white protagonists, which add up to the Asian stereotypes of exclusion, for example, 'the swamping of the white world by yellow hordes might well be the price of our future'. The use of sardonic means of murder by Fu Manchu, as well as the grudging respect for his intelligence offered by a white protagonist known as Denis Nayland Smith, reinforces the stereotypes that depict Asian intelligence, extreme cruelty, and mysticism.
On the other hand, Charlie Chan's character has been use in the writing of about ten novels, over forty American films, a card game, a board game, and a comic strip. However, Charlie Chan's role has always been played by mostly white actors. Charlie Chan is different from Fu Manchu in that, he represents the American view of a good Asian (Biggers, 1975). The character speaks flawed grammar characterized by a heavy accent. He is very polite and apologetic as well. With this character, Charlie is considered to be an Asian man that is not a threat to many audiences despite the fact that he is intelligent and capable of solving many puzzles. Many critics hold the view that Charlie Chan does not have the assertive, daring or romantic character traits given to white detectives of the time. This allowed the white American population to see the Asians as indifferent. The critics also argue that Chan represents the 'kissass' and model minority. However, most of Chan's intelligence and successes aim at showing white racists of his intelligence (Biggers, 1975).
There are also other stereotypes that have included Asian Men. Back in history during mid 1800, Chinese workers were given a weakened image due to their physical appearance. These laborers were called that due to the fact that they had jobs that most Americans looked at as women's work. Moreover, they had long braids and long silk gowns at times. These Chinese men were felt to be an economic threat to white workers, hence the introduction of laws that barred them from labor intensive factories. The Chinese ended up doing work considered to be women's, for example, childcare, laundry and cooking. Moreover, some Hollywood stereotypes Asian men have been referred to be supergeeks and asexual martial artists with no interest in love.
In different aspects of American media, Asian men have been brought out as dangerous beings to the white women. The twentieth century depicted most Asian men as being predatory and lascivious. During this time, Chinese men were humanized and the Japanese seen as a security threat. The Asian men were seen to be dangerous against the white woman due to their belief that the woman's body symbolizes her tribe or country. Movies like 'Patria' show Japanese men invading the United States with the aim of raping white women (Kim, 1984).
The other stereotype of the Asian men is that they are insensitive, misogynistic and disrespectful towards ladies. They are taken to be a bunch of male chauvinists. In most of movies like these ones, the white men are the ones considered to be more suitable as romantic partners than the Asian men. However, there are changes on perceptions of the Asian males. Recently, the media has varied its depictions from the traditional one. This has been attributed to globalization (Kim, 1984).
On the other hand, the Asian woman has been brought out as being aggressive and opportunistic in the use of their feminine wiles. They are depicted as cunning dragon ladies in most Western moves and literature. This stereotype was mostly brought out in contemporary times. Some of the movies show Asian women as those with full of art of sexual pleasure that is unknown to the Western world. Ling who played the role of the Dragon Lady has been described to be a neo-Orientalist and masturbatory fantasy representation brought out by a white man who aims at satisfying the hidden needs of other white men who look for a temporary escape from their deadening and banal lives by engaging themselves in some visual cunnilingus while just relaxing on the sofa. Ling has also been note to send a strong message to the white population depicting Asian women as those who cannot be played with. She appears as being competitive in a job that exists on analytical skill and a lot of verbal aggression.
The other stereotype known as the China doll stereotype has existed for sometime in most American movies. This also include the Lotus Flower, Geisha Girl, Servant, which show the woman as being submissive, sexy, manipulative, docile, coquettish, obedient, opportunistic, helpless, and good-natured at heart. This stereotype of the Asian woman as being submissive has obstructed the Asian woman's economic prosperity. The Madama Butterfly, an opera in three acts, reveals a love story between a Japanese maiden and an American navy lieutenant. Their romantic relationship ends up producing an offspring between them. The Seaman goes for a journey and comes back with his wife. The Japanese lady kills herself on realizing this. The controversy with this opera touches on the racist and sexist themes. The fact that it is very common among the American white population refers to the notion of white male dominance over an Asian female who can be easily cast aside (Kim, 1984).
There are also a number of physical traits and attributes. Other critics have argued that the pervasive and racialized discourse has been present for quite some time throughout the entire Western population, especially in cinemas and network television. They have also argued that the physiological attributes against the Asians in the Western world include the epicanthic fold. They also represent the East Asian population in a negative way concerning their color. The white Europeans in the United States have been contrasted with the yellow skinned East Asians. Moreover, most Asians are always brought out as those with a lot of skills in martial arts, and with poor grasp in English.
In conclusion, Stereotypes of East Asians refer to ethnic stereotypes living in Western societies. They are often manifested in the media, theater, literature, as well as other creative forms of expressions, just like other ethnic stereotypes. The media usually portrays Asians on a Eurocentric perception rather than authentic and realistic representations of true behaviors, customs and cultures. However, the kind of stereotypes being portrayed has negative effects for Asians, as well as Asian immigrants, in their daily lives and activities. Most of these Asians experience discrimination as they fall to being victims of hate crimes related to their stereotypes. The situation is worsened by the fact that it has been used to create and foster xenophobic sentiments.
The Orient, as shown by Western society, denotes Asia as a place of romance, exoticism, and wondrous experiences. While Western cultures are seen as those that are capable of modernization or change, Asian cultures are looked upon as ancient. One of the stereotypes that include hostility or exclusion is the 'Yellow Peril'. This term refers to a Caucasian fear that white inhabitants of Canada, Australia, or the United States would be full of massive immigration of Asians, who would then fill these nations with their incomprehensible speech and foreign culture to those who are already there and take all the jobs from most of the white inhabitants.
Asian Americans have also been stereotyped to be a model minority. This refers to the notion where positive traits are used as a stereotype. These Asians are seen to be hardworking, productive, inoffensive, intelligent, studious, and politically inactive, and people who have raised their social standing through diligence and hard work. On the other hand, the Asian woman has been brought out as being aggressive and opportunistic in the use of their feminine wiles. They are depicted as cunning dragon ladies in most Western moves and literature. This stereotype was mostly brought out in contemporary times.
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