Blatant racism and harmful stereotypes towards Asian Americans has been seen in school systems for decades, yet the issue goes unnoticed and is unaddressed.
I first encountered teasing and mockery of Asian minorities in kindergarten. One of my classmates was teaching me a handshake, and towards the end the handshake one was supposed to pull the outside corners of their eyes up and say “Indian.” Then pull the corners of their eyes down for “Japanese,” to the side for “Chinese,” and high five with both hands for “Korean.”
Not thinking anything of this at the time, I excitedly learned the handshake and went home, proudly showing it to my mother. She calmly explained to me that I shouldn’t do the ending part of the handshake. When I asked her why, she told me it was because people like to make fun of Chinese people by saying they have small eyes, and that by pulling my eyes I was making fun of an entire race, including my own. The rest of year I didn’t do that handshake with anyone else and instead taught myself “Miss Mary Mack.”
It was then, back in kindergarten when I was only four, that I realized exactly how normalized the teasing of Asian Americans is. Throughout the entirety of elementary school, I indirectly faced (because of being biracial) with jokes about Asians which were a lot less funny to me than to most of my other classmates. When explaining to my classmates that I was in fact Chinese, one of the first questions that I got was: “So do you eat dogs?”
This obviously made me upset, but I soon realized that I wasn’t alone in my anger. This was something that a majority of Asian-American students have faced before, and that provided little comfort, though not much. To this day it makes me upset that this is so widespread but isn’t discussed as it should be.
It’s not only teasing that is harmful to Asian minorities. There are also many stereotypes and presumptions. Meera Kamath, an Asian-American high school student, talked to me about the stereotypes that she frequently faces in school. She said that many people in her classes still seem to believe the “all Asians are smart” stereotype.
She said in her advanced algebra class, Asian-American students are often assumed to be smarter than her other peers and are constantly asked for help. As Meera explained, predominantly white students in her advanced math classes ask her for help regularly and with the class material even after she explains she doesn’t know how to help.
The perception among lots of Americans that all Asians are smart may not seem like a negative stereotype, but in reality, it has many drawbacks. First off, this stereotype is highly untrue. Being born into a certain race does not make someone any more or less intelligent. And due to this stereotype, a multitude of Asian-American students feel pressured to live up to that expectation. Meera says that she feels “pressured by society to be smart as everyone thinks Asians should be”.
Even in classroom discussions about racism, the struggles Asian Americans go through are barely mentioned. Most school-wide discussions about racism are primarily focused on white and black students, and other minorities are rarely talked about. Meera explained how even when Asian American students talked about matters like this in class, it wasn’t acknowledged at all. She said that she feels as though “our voices haven’t been heard as much.”
After seventy-seven years since the Chinese Exclusion Act was lifted, discrimination against Asian minorities is still very apparent in school districts and throughout our nation. It is upsetting to me that even though the United States has progressed greatly in terms of technology since the mid 1950’s, the same racial bias exists today.
Being part of two Asian minorities, this issue is very important to me. Addressing stereotypes and racism is one step you could take to helping it. Mockery of Asian culture is relatively normalized in the U.S. and calling out people who do things such as this is one step you can take to help this problem. As said before, this is an issue that goes widely unnoticed, and speaking out and advocating for yourself or others would be greatly appreciated, not only by me, but by the rest of the asian minorities as well.