Term Paper: Asian Racism and Stereotypes

Pages: 8 (2761 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: History - Asian  ·  Buy This Paper

America is supposedly the Melting Pot of the world, where people of many different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds come together in peace to establish one united and equal society. As one of the most developed countries in the world, the United States is, to many individuals, a symbol of enlightenment and advancement in all areas of the arts, sciences, and all aspects of life. The Melting Pot may indeed be an accurate metaphor for America, and the contents of that pot do originate from many nations and cultures. However, there are implications of that metaphor that may not be thoroughly analyzed by gung-ho, idealistic, patriotic American citizens. Is a Melting Pot really that desirable of a place to be contained? Consider, for a moment, the actual state of affairs within a melting pot on a hot stove; it is not a pretty picture. Like the many cheeses and spices that combine to make fondu when heated, there is an attempt by this pot to homogenize the contents of the nation into one desirable dish, yet to retain the claim to having a wide range of ingredients. Indeed, it is to be dutifully recalled that one can expect to find burned scum along the bottom and sides of a melting pot that have been sacrificed due to their inability to flow properly with the rest of the pot contents. The ingredients that do integrate rather than being cast aside or destroyed in this pot have one fate: to be consumed into the lumpy mass by the other ingredients, as well as eaten alive by the omnipresent diner. This analysis of the American way may seem a little over the top, however, the point remains quite valid. People from other countries that enter America face a number of heated problems when trying to become a part of American culture, retain aspects of their own culture, and find a personal and cultural identity within these surroundings. Asians in America have a particular dilemma because there is a complex dichotomy to their cultural identity within Western culture. The Orient is perceived as exotic and mundane, intellectual and disadvantaged, chic and impoverished; orientalism and the Asian identity within America are both idealized and degraded.

One of the signature goals of every downtrodden and underprivileged group of people within this country to demand proportionately accurate representation, whether that be the fight for representation within the government, within the mass media, or within public perception. However, a proportional amount of representation does not necessarily mean equal representation. "It is crucial for all of us living in the industrialized West to obscure and willfully distort relations between East and West, between Asia and America. Our standard of living depends on it." (Shah) Americans want to believe that this is a land of endless opportunity and open understanding, and therefore many efforts are made to create an illusion that this is the truth. In the case of Asians and their culture, there is a great deal of representation. Asians are popular in America not only in king-fu type movies where a complete universe of Oriental inspiration is created, but also in Western-style projects that call for a little ethnic oomph. Asians are represented in such American art forms as action movies, pornography, sold-out self-help books, bizarre children's cartoons, and the commercialized news media. Certainly, the appearance of more Asian characters in all forms of media is to be appreciated, particularly for the few Asians whose paychecks are the result of such creations, and for the many audience members who are entertained in one way or another by these creations. Take, for example, the 1994 sitcom "All American Girl," which was groundbreaking in that it featured an all-Asian cast of characters. However, the show was riddled with stereotypes about the Asian-American, such as the girl always dating white boys, her mother being sternly against that choice, and the brother being a quiet dateless nerd. (Mura) in some ways, perhaps this is equal representation, for most sitcoms are based on stereotypes and easy jokes; in many ways this is something that gives the impression of having accepted Asians into American mainstream, but at the same time exploiting them and encouraging the rifts between the ethnicities in this Nation. Another example is the movie "The Joy Luck Club." This movie was one of the most amazing Chinese achievements within American culture: "It is a big-budget story about Chinese-American women, directed by a Chinese-American man, cowritten and coproduced by Chinese-American women. That's a lot to be thankful for." (Hagedorn) However, even this piece which can be analyzed and interpreted to a very large degree as a fair, unprejudicial, and accurate of Asian culture, still has strong stereotypes and negative consequences from the weepy implications of the film. One can also see in countless representations of the Asian and Asian-American that the dichotomy of American understanding of them is quite complex. The Asian is laughable and weak, but also intellectually superior. Studies deal out statistics that show the superiority of the Asian intellect, from high test scores to masses of brilliant scientists of Asian origin. The Asian is expected to be surpassingly smart and academically achieved, and for many Asians that creates further prejudice. If the Asian student is up to par with classmates but not surpassing them on tests and in performance, then he or she may be perceived as actually underachieving rather than among the top of the class. The intellect of the Asian makes the masses expect him to save the world, and at the same time leery of him because he may be a mad genius bent on global destruction. It is difficult to assess if no representation is preferable, such as one recent study found that "Asian Pacific American and Native American children are virtually invisible on local news." (Gilliam)

Another concern about Asian assimilation into America is what may be referred to as "Orientalism" or "Americanization." This is the corruption of the culture from the Orient as it is changed into something that is pleasing and marketable by the West. Asian clothing, food, art, and religion have all undergone this process, and the understanding that the majority of Americans have regarding these cultures is skewed by this. For example, the American understanding of Chinese food is inseparable from the Fortune Cookie, yet this was an American invention created to help the ethnic foods sell in America, not a traditional Chinese treat. Another example is Asian fashion being incorporated into American styles. "Pop singer Madonna donned dyed black hair, bindi, sari-like wraps, and mendhi after her first child... The Material One trying to mimic a traditional South Asian matriarch." (Shah) Asian culture is something to don when it is comfortable, and to shun when it is not. Other examples of this include the recent trends of Feng-Shui for interior design and seeking serenity with one's surroundings. The Americanized understanding of Feng-Shui relies on easy to remember catch phrases and short anecdotes about Ancient beliefs that are easy to read and pleasant to remember. However, most of the principles taught by modern "Feng-Shui" experts are completely removed from the long-standing sacred art of the placement of objects and surroundings, and completely missing the point. However, this provides Americans an easy way to feel multicultural, and an even easier way to make a pile of money off of the exploitation of a culture. One trend-watcher referred to the trend as "inflashion." "The result of the infatuation is Om cologne, popular books on feng shui, pillow hams modeled on Buddhist prayer mats, and a host of other Asian-esque consumer items...while Asian-inspired things may become fashionable or lucrative, actual Asian people are not." (Shah) Everyone wants to be Buddhist, but no one wants to actually learn about Buddhists or study the religion, and certainly no one wants to have anything to do with modern Asians. The admiration for the Asian is a kind of twisting of the old and rejection of the new. The result of this Orientalism is the selling out of Asian culture by Asians (and anyone else) to Western culture to try to compete economically and meet the demands of the consumer. Buddhists will serve Mongolian Beef Lunch Specials with a smile to American customers, passing the folded take-out containers right under the nose of a mass-produced Buddha statue despite the religious frowning of eating beef. Japanese and Korean immigrants will present themselves as being from China so that the American fast-food consumers will think they are getting "authentic" Chinese food at the China House Take Out restaurant. Even Asian-Americans that were born in America, speak English fluently, and have no noticeable accent of any kind will put on a fake barely intelligible dialect when serving customers so that Americans are comforted by the assurance that "real" Asians cooked their food and wish to serve them hand and foot. Devoted religious followers and atheists alike will produce replicas of holy artifacts from the Orient to appeal to American consumers that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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