Last week we read Mrs. Spring Fragrance by Sui Sin Far, an English-born author with Chinese heritage. The story talks about two marriages of a white woman. During the first marriage, she was married to a white man and she was dissatisfied by his husband’s irresponsibility, apathy as well as arrogance. During her second marriage, however, she married a Chinese man named Liu Kanghi, who cared about her a lot and was a complete opposite of her first husband. The main character regards the Chinese man was the one who can giver her a real home. When writing about the second marriage, Sui Sin Far deliberately emphasize the “goods” of Chinese people—they are kind, friendly, hardworking and caring. This is the first time that we read about such positive stereotype in our class. Before that, all we have read are about negative stereotypes of African American written by white people.
Positive stereotypes also exist in our real life. For example, many people always think that Asian students are all good at STEM courses, especially mathematics and physics. Well, this is partially true. I don’t know about other countries, but in where I am from, China, our math trainings at schools are indeed very intensive and our exams are extremely hard. We started to cover very complex geometry problems and a little bit of calculus since the start of middle school. I can feel such an advantage while I am taking the SAT test, during which I can always finish those math problems pretty easily. However, not all Asian students are good at mathematics. They are just like others with their own special talents. Some of them are good at writing, some of them are good at arts and maybe some of them are good at history and philosophy. Many students are struggling with math problems just like ordinary people. By using the stereotype that “all Asian students are good at math”, is it suggesting that if an Asian student is not good at math, he/she is not Asian? That doesn’t make sense right?
One of my Asian friends living in the same house as mine once said that “I am an Indian, but I am not supposed to fix your computer”. This is also a positive stereotype that we always use—that Indian people are all computer genius. Although it’s true that many people working in the Silicon Valley are of Indian heritage, but that does not mean that all Indian people are good at computer science. While I was first in the US, I also had this kind of positive stereotype. However, the longer I am here, the more I discover that it’s just not the case. We can see Asian students pursuing degrees in all kinds of fields besides STEM majors.
Positive stereotypes is definitely better than negative stereotypes, at least it does not contains those derogative elements. But sometimes, it’s just that it can also cause some misunderstandings sometimes, or more precisely, unnecessary high expectations that are not realistic.