This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.
This past week, Tulane’s Asian American Student Union ran CelebrASIAN, a series of event celebrating and promoting Asian culture. These activities included a concert, free food events and a panel discussing representation of Asians in the media. The panel thoughtfully uncovered and smashed negative stereotypes about Asians. Following this theme, it is important for America as a whole to analyze harmful and generalizing perceptions about race.
Asian Americans represent a “model minority,” as they are perceived to high achievers, simply due to race. While at face value this does not seem dangerous, it oversimplifies the Asian-American experience. The reality is that there is diversity within Asian communities. The model minority stereotype largely applies to East Asians, while excluding and minimizing South and Southeast Asians. This is problematic because it does not represent the full community. It creates barriers between nationalities, which systematically elevates some while discriminating against others.
The implications of this stereotype can greatly affect people’s abilities to be successful. One panelist, Tulane’s Assistant Vice President for Campus Life Dr. Smita Ruzicka, told the story of how she got out of college math because her advisor assumed that she, as an Asian immigrant, was good at math. At the time she was grateful but retrospectively that assumption could be very harmful for students who need more help. It is unlikely that students who are assumed to be the smartest will get extra help and support. They may also experience more expectations and pressure.
The panel presented a tangible solution to this stereotype: media. It discussed the importance of TV and film in portraying and reinforcing different images of a culture. The panelists talked about the lack of representation, mixed with very specific roles for Asian characters when they were represented. The stereotypes reinforced by media generally related to intelligence, knowledge of martial arts and the over-sexualization of Asian women. Shows like Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” and Mindy Kaling’s “The Mindy Project” are important because they expose people to diversity while still providing entertaining and complex stories.
Accurate representation should be at the forefront of the agenda for media content creators. The AASU’s message of celebration and education is crucial to creating a more welcoming space for diversity. When approaching everyday life, it is important to keep in mind that stereotypes that might appear positive can be harmful.
Sarah is a freshman at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected]