I’ve always believed that I am accidentally a stereotype. I have been living with a rather ambiguous racial identity, or at least, certainly not “Asian” or “truly” “Asian-American.” And yet … I’m really good at math. Seriously. And I’m smart, and into computer-y things, and organized. To be fair, I’m atrocious at all sciences and don’t even know what nanotechnology is.
But in some ways, I feel like I fit so accidentally into one of the “Asian” stereotypes. My parents sent me to a special elementary school and my extended family generally considers me to be obnoxiously intelligent. I am learning to accept the fact that at least halfway due to an insane amount of privilege, I am a smart person.
Sometimes, though, that bothers me. I guess this is more of a nature vs. nurture argument, but so much of me rues the fact that I still can easily be categorized into the “Asian” stereotype, and not just by the virtue of my skin tone or eye shape. In some ways this is simply the arrogant teenager still within my bones, the one who threw things at her teachers and talked back in class. But I want to badly to set that idea afire, to totally fuck it over and over again. I want to ruin what you thought of me when you first met me.
I want this so that my boss doesn’t have to tell me that her husband recommended that she only hire Asians because they/we are the only ones who work hard. (She has largely followed his advice.) I want this so that I feel the power to not let others take my industriousness for granted. You shouldn’t assume that I will work hard and be insanely diligent (even though I will and am, Christ) just because I am an Asian woman. You ALSO shouldn’t assume that I do the kind of work that a white person in America probably wouldn’t accept these shit-ass wages for. And to make it personal, I know that you’re paying your old white male friend at least six times the amount that you will pay me for the same or less work.
I also recognize that this frustration is actually… a little ridiculous. Yes, the model minority myth is incredibly harmful, but I don’t know how harmful it is to me directly. It’s true that I am too poor to afford the kind of computer that my employer has and therefore cannot see the differences in the website that she sees. It is also true that I insanely benefit from the stereotypes that are afforded my race, whether they are true for me personally or not. No cops are shooting me in the street, okay? Let’s not get it twisted. It may feel isolating when everyone else in the room has a brand new MacBook that they don’t think twice about, but someone might actually care if I were kidnapped. Plus, I can afford a lot of things.
But, after all of that ranting, I can’t help but wonder, both as vacuously as Carrie Bradshaw and as deeply (?) as Holden Caulfield, whether my magnetism to stereotypically “Asian” talents is natural, as in, of my own volition or own internal talents, or whether these stereotypes have forced themselves upon me in such a way that I cannot escape them, no matter how artsy I can pretend to be. So I am good at math, but I cannot tell whether it is simply, “yes, she is good at math;” or, “the world and the universe and American stereotypes and I will subconsciously prod her to be good with numbers.”
Just when I felt stuck trying to get this entry out of a long tangent about economic privilege, I turned down the invitation from a “friend” to get drunk and have sex on a weekend evening. I decided to that no, I did not want to play games and did not want to have a one-night stand that evening. Also, my Asian-hiring boss was having a heart attack and it was my job to make the problems go away. So instead of saying, “No, I don’t want to do this any more,” I said, “No, I have to work.”
Sure it was at least 50% a lie, but the reason shouldn’t matter, really. I was not leaving the house that evening. I got a few typical, “I’m going to try to guilt you into this” messages, which are warning signs yes we know. I expanded and said, basically, “Look, I have a lot of freelance gigs right now, and sometimes that involves having to stay in and work on a Friday night.” And they said, “I understand; it’s an Asian thing.” And then eventually said, “C’mon! Reply! I’m starting to feel racist” when I did not respond right away.
I didn’t say they weren’t racist, but I did assuage them. I shouldn’t have, but sometimes the idea of being right and telling someone off feels too exhausting. Luckily, I don’t have to do it very often, so that muscle of mine is weak. But it was extremely frustrating to have to read those words and then feel socially forced to validate these assumptions:
1. That because I previously and overtly expressed sexual interest in this person (and am a woman; I think that’s an important factor), I should immediately be open to last-minute-drunk-sex.
2. That the only reason why I could possibly turn them down is because I am Asian and therefore absolutely insane about work, as opposed to simply being busy
3. That I would come to rescue their fragile ego when they realize that they said something really fucking shitty.
Unfortunately, in the end, those assumptions about me turned out to be correct. Okay, maybe I’m just weak. This person didn’t have a gun to my head after all. But I just don’t need all of that fake apologetic bullshit that I would be sure to receive had I pointed out these assumptions, or questioned why they were assumed. I can tell you it’s not because you know how I realistically would react in this situation. You barely know me.
I think I want to cleanly blame this person. And generally I do. But I also don’t want it to feel like blame. I more just want it to be, “This is a thing that occurred, and it should not have, because that’s some bullshit.” It’s complicated as all hell, but it’s also that simple.