As an American of Asian descent, I have found that my place within the context of U.S. society is rather ambiguous. Like all racial minorities, Asians are treated by the dominant culture -- white Americans -- in a particular manner, and are greeted with a host of stereotypes: "Asian-Americans are often viewed as a model minority that has successfully overcome discrimination," (Asian-Americans: Growth and Diversity, 2). Yet, this characterization of Asian-Americans itself is a perpetuation of racism. In other words, Asians are, to some extent, automatically expected to behave in certain ways which, although they may be viewed as somewhat favorable, assert a prejudicial quality to the way in which they are viewed by mainstream culture. Of course, this is a phenomenon intrinsically associated with being a racial minority in the United States; since the vast majority of people who live in my community do not look like me, they naturally place judgments about me depending upon my apparent racial makeup.
Overall, my community is comprised of Caucasian-Americans, with a few clusters of Asian-American areas. It is a middle-class to upper middle-class area, in which the number of Asians is at least somewhat proportional to the number of African-Americans. The general differences between the way I look and the ways the majority of people in my community look consist of the most noticeable distinctions that people tend to make between the races. I have dark hair and dark, almond-shaped eyes, and am somewhat shorter than many other people my age -- perhaps shorter than the national average across all races. My skin completion is comparable to that of the majority of people who live in my community; yet few people here would be confused about my particular heritage. I am fairly obviously of Asian descent.
The white people who live in my community make-up the vast majority, as in the rest of the United States, and they look different than me in many ways. The most obvious is the stereotypically more course facial features of many people of European descent: Caucasians tend to have more pointed noses, sharp jaws, and rounded eyes. They also have a more wide variety of hair color and eye color, but the varieties of completions seem comparable to that of Asians. My relatively light completion seems to be common among the dominant racial group here. Nevertheless, our commonalities are more numerous than our differences; we all have the same number of appendages and features, and are organized in approximately the same manner. We interact and communicate in similar, if not identical, ways. Still, since human beings tend to notice race so routinely, most people in my community probably see the differences between us first and the similarities second.
As a consequence of the democratic system, people of Asian descent are relatively scant among community leaders, and can further be divided along the lines of Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Filipino cultural practices and beliefs: "Many people in the United States find it difficult to distinguish between Japanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans physically, culturally, and historically," (Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans, 3). Certainly, in some predominantly Asian communities around the nation, members of my racial makeup often rise through the ranks of politics and activist groups. Yet where I live, there are virtually no community leaders who look as I do. Naturally, this is a consequence of the predominantly white voter base here, and the associated overwhelming call for politicians to address the issues important to them.
Asian-American representation within the media where I live is extremely limited. There are no Asian-American broadcasts or strictly Asian perspectives presented within the media. Although there are maybe a handful of Asian-American reporters or broadcast people within the major networks, they do not present the stories important to the Asian community very thoroughly, or at all. Generally, this is fairly disappointing, because Asians as a group in the United States have increased in percentage far more quickly than that of any other racial minority in the past few years: "This group comprises 5% of the total population. Since Census 2000, the number of people who are part of this group has increased 9%, the highest growth rate of any race group," (Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, 1). Unfortunately, this increase has not coincided with a proportional increase in media representation in my community.
One of the consequences of the under-representation of Asian-Americans within my community is the specific way in which I am commonly treated by members of the dominant race. It seems that whenever encountered by an individual of Asian descent, white Americans tend to assume a number of things about them: first, that they are Chinese; second, that they were not born in this country; third, that they are good, diligent workers, possibly studying math; and fourth, that they do not speak English very well. Personally, I was born in the Untied States, and although I am fluent in the language of my ancestors, I am just as fluent in English. Despite the fact that I fail to neatly fit into this stereotypical mold, I constantly find that I am forced to prove to those around me how these stereotypes are inadequate. Essentially, their automatic assumptions about who I am are clouded by white culture's notion of race.
This is not to say, however, that many of the preconceptions that come along with being an Asian-American are not also linked to concrete statistics. According to Asian Nation, people who identify themselves as Asian-Americans are nearly twice as likely as white Americans to graduate college, more than three times as likely as African-Americans, and almost four times as likely as Hispanics/Latinos (Asian Nation, 1). Perhaps there are cultural as well as economic explanations for this statistic. But it still fails to warrant the very different ways in which Asian-Americans and, for example, Latino-Americans are treated by the dominant culture. I believe that many of the social problems that are prevalent today arise from the stereotypes that such statistics seem to reinforce. In other words, although some stereotypes may appear to be backed by broad statistical generalizations, these generalizations cannot be used to judge people on an individual level.
I had a sociology professor a few years ago who repeatedly made the point that "race is a social construct"; she would, virtually every day, restate the phrase, "There is no biological backing to the notion of race." However, she would never satisfactorily expand upon exactly what this idea meant. From the way she presented the concept of race, she made it seem as if a woman of African descent and a man of European descent were just as likely to have children who appeared Asian as they were to have children more visibly related to their biologic backgrounds. Clearly, there is a relationship between what could be termed "race" and human biology; specifically what my professor never made apparent was that precisely where people draw the lines between races is what is arbitrary. Yet, the evident result of this, to my professor, was that "race is a scientifically groundless conception." Although the first two statements made by her could undoubtedly be understood as accurate -- from a certain point-of-view -- her last point is simply too broadly declared to be true. Just because the definition of a race must, necessarily, be subjective, does not suggest that race itself is an invalid or useless concept.
This is fundamentally why human beings notice race. Also, since people can perceive the trends between different populations, they commonly want to think their differences make them better. Racism is a combination of attributing populational trends to every member of a population -- stereotyping -- and assigning some scale of value to these trends. This has ingrained itself to such an extent in human society that today, "Growing up…