My whole life, everything I have done has been linked to my race. It’s a strange sort of racism, one that many people don’t see as problematic because they assume that racial stereotypes are only bad if they are negative. A lot of people don’t see that harm in saying “Asians are smart” even though they recognize that saying “Asians are bad drivers” is offensive.
When I was younger, I often wondered what I would be like if all of my qualities that people had attributed to my Filipino identity would be stripped away. Would I still be good at math? Would I still be able to play the piano? Would I still be pretty? I heard so often “Of course you’re good at math and music, you’re Asian, right?” or “Asian girls are so attractive.”
People are often confused when I tell them that these sorts of statements are offensive, in spite of the fact that they are disguised as compliments. But the problem with racial stereotypes extends far beyond the ones that can hurt someone’s feelings. Sweeping generalizations about any group of people are wrong, whether or not they are meant to offend.
When people attribute positive qualities to someone’s race, it diminishes them and paints a false image of that race. Asians are typically generalized as being intelligent, but this carries with it several problems.
Those who work hard have their contributions minimized since it’s assumed that their natural intelligence means less effort needs to be put in. Those who are bright are written off as “typical” and their intellect therefore is not significant. Even worse is the impact this stereotype has on those who are not academically inclined. They are mocked as inferior, as failures to their race.
As proud as I am of my Filipino heritage, I am often bothered that I am always seen as Filipino and not just as myself. Because of my background people are apt to say things like “Filipinos are so kind” or “Filipinos are so generous” or “I bet you like karaoke.” Rather than being judged on my own merits, people have preconceived ideas of my strengths, weaknesses, and even my hobbies.
While my Filipino upbringing has instilled certain values in me, it would be wrong to say that my traits are inherent or universal among all Filipinos or Asians. I am a product of my raising, not my race. Stereotypes of any sort are damaging, and we should all remember that people are, first and foremost, individuals. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.