If you know anything about Korean people in America, or Korean-Americans or the 1.5 and second generation Koreans, then you know that 50% of Korean girls are named Susan or some similar derivation like Susie or Sue, 50% of Korean girls are named Grace, and the remaining 50% of Korean girls have English names, but use a Korean name because, like Sung-hi Lee, it’s very hip right now to be "ethnic." Sung-hi Lee’s real name is probably Susan G. Lee. You should also know that whatever their names are, 100% of Koreans, like all Asians, are awesome at math and science and should become doctors, chemists, and software engineers. But not accountants, because that’s boring ;)
This universal belief that all Asians are good at math and science is a stereotype because it “represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.” Basically, what Merriam-Webster is saying is that a stereotype is not always true of everybody. Not every Korean guy is named Brian or Steve. I’ve met a few Johns, too ;) The common names for Korean people is not really a stereotype, just more of a weird phenomenon.
I don’t come across stereotypes as often now, likely because 1) society is more informed and integrated today than it was say, 20 years ago, and 2) I live in Los Angeles where there is a large, diverse Asian population, and if you were foolish enough to stereotype, a gang of feisty, belligerent small-in-stature, big-in-bravado Vietnamese guys would beat you up.
But where I spent my elementary, middle, and high school years – Bloomfield Hills, a suburb of Detroit, was very non-Asian, and Cincinnati, OH was even less so – the Asian population was small, so it was much easier to generalize about the few representatives of an entire culture, whether you were the steretype-er or the stereotype-ee. In both places, the few Asian students made up the bulk of the math team, always took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the science fairs, and played violin. It would be easy to assume that all Asians were utter dorks.
In high school, I was good at math and science, but that wasn’t because I was talented in those specific subjects. I was a good student overall, and I, along with teachers, family, and others around me, simply focused on the fact that I earned As and A+s in calculus and physics and pushed me toward excellence in those subjects. We all ignored the good grades I earned in English and Spanish language classes. In fact, on the SAT, my Verbal score was much higher than my Math score. I blew that Verbal section right out of the H2O (that’s “water” for you non-Asians).
It carried up through college. I had been brainwashed into thinking I was actually good at math and science, and that the SAT Math score that wasn't good enough to get me into Stanford was just a fluke, so I started off as a biology major at Berkeley, destined for medical school. (I'm not bitter about the Stanford thing, really.) In high school, I got away with just being a good student and repeating back what I heard, but in college, you really have to know and think about what you’re doing. Scary. Because I was not naturally talented in math and science, I didn’t do exceedingly well. I dint even do well. In fact, I had to re-take advanced calculus, organic chemistry, and physics. It was ugly. The only “science” class for which I set the curve was biology. No numbers. Mostly drawing pictures of protozoa and stuff. It was art, you know.
I suck at numbers. There isn’t a sexier way to say it, I’m afraid. Aside from counting one through ten (and even there, I spell them out), I suck at numbers.
Math/science genius isn’t the only classical Asian stereotype that I don’t fit. There is also the common belief that Asian girls are quiet, modest, subservient and obedient. If they speak at all, they are soft spoken and cover their mouths when they giggle like the judge-ettes on the old Japanese Iron Chef. I don’t know where this whole twisted stereotype of Asian women came from, but I suspect it has something to do with Hello Kitty having no mouth. (She doesn't.)
Exactly. I’m no fair-faced Hello Kitty geisha with no mouth (don’t ask me about the eyebrows, though – it wasn’t my choice). I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily loud (except when I shriek *eek!* as an SAI groupie), but I’m certainly not quiet about my opinions. And subservience? Get your own damn beer.
So, where does that leave Sarah-not-Susan, she who couldn’t differentiate an integral or integrate a derivative or whatever to save her life? She who certainly won’t nod when you tell her what to do and shuffle off accordingly?
It leaves me with peanut butter cookies that turned out okay, even though I didn’t exactly follow a recipe, and in the end, just completely rebelled, rejecting the stereotype that all peanut butter cookies have criss-crosses made with the tines of a fork. (Wow, who knew my stereotype theme would work out this well?)
The naked peanut butter cookies were a mistake, of course, because I realized after they had already baked and cooled, that the criss-crosses are an important universal identifier of “peanut butter cookie.” With a brand new baby niece around, I know everything there is to know about honey and peanut allergies. No worries, because I just made criss-cross drizzles with melted chocolate.
Sometimes it’s okay to play to a stereotype. Damn right I’m exotic and sexy. Just don't call me Grace.