Popular Stereotypes in Society Make Searching for a Niche Difficult

Have you ever felt like wringing someone’s neck for trying to pigeonhole you into a category or group or for trying to label you with something that has derogatory implications? Have you ever felt compelled to apologize for being the way you are or because you think a certain way? I have had it up to here with trying to defend certain aspects of my identity.

If someone were to ask me how I identified myself ethnically, I would answer “”I’m Asian”” or “”I’m Chinese.”” I have ethnic and cultural pride and pride in being an American as well. But it seems to me that by that simple response, I have already put myself in a place where my identity is socially constructed.

Some people would say that I’m a typical Asian. I drive a Honda Accord. I eat pho a lot. I like pearl iced tea. I listen to rave music. I like Sailor Moon. Most of my friends are Asian, although I have friends of many ethnic backgrounds. On the other hand, I also like musicals and alternative music. I hate math and science and I belong to a Greek sorority at UCSD.

It seems I can’t win. Just based upon my looks, everyone already seems to have an idea of what I am or should be. My Asian friends often call me “”whitewashed.”” They can’t understand, for instance, why I might want to go to a certain fraternity party. One of my best friends asked me once, “”What the heck are you doing in that white sorority?””

Another time, I was in the car with a friend listening to Green Day’s “”Time of Your Life”” and he told me, “”I don’t understand this kind of music. It’s for white people.”” I like my life, and I like my friends, but sometimes people just make me want to scream.

I don’t know who coined the term “”whitewashed,”” but I know it’s something Asian people generally don’t like to be called. By calling someone whitewashed it implies inferiority, as if that person cannot embrace, or refuses to embrace, certain characteristics of being Asian. The whitewashed are criticized for not making the effort to better align themselves with their own kind.

Other people have called me “”f.o.b.,”” a derogatory term used to refer to someone who seems like they are “”fresh off the boat.”” I’ve been accused of being racist because I once attended a Chinese Church.

Just because I wish to go somewhere where I can identify with Chinese people doesn’t mean I’m racist. I remember getting upset at a friend who remarked, “”You’re supposed to be good in math!”” when I barely passed a calculus class. I responded, “”So, am I not supposed to be good in English?””

I try hard to balance myself between the two extremes, Asian-identified Asians and so-called whitewashed Asians. But everything I do seems to make people align me with one group or the other and the stereotypes that come with each. I run into a wall no matter where I turn.

I have even received bad reactions from people who don’t think I should associate with anyone who isn’t Asian. I once walked into a pho restaurant in Clairemont Mesa with a white friend and was stared down by a group of Asian guys who obviously disapproved of my association. So, although he was just a friend, I held hands with him just to piss them off.

I recently had an argument with two friends who had the gall to say they thought all black people are lazy. I cited the history of discrimination and prejudice experienced by African Americans in the past and up to the present day before exploding with, “”You freakin’ pricks! Have you ever actually taken the time to get to know or have a conversation with a black person? How many friends do you have who are black?””

It seems to me that the minute I do something that isn’t within the socially constructed realm of “”being Asian,”” I get slapped in the face with stereotypes and stigmas designed to put me in my place. The real truth is that I haven’t just experienced this in college. Since the day I was born I’ve been confronted with this programming that tells me to hate, judge and stuff myself into the nearest and most convenient pigeonhole possible. This programming also tries to socially construct who I am and what I can achieve.

I think it’s important to point out that we can’t assume that just because people are one ethnicity, they are automatically going to be prejudiced against another race. As a white friend recently said to me, “”Since I came to UCSD I’ve felt like I should walk around with a sticker on my forehead saying, ‘I do not discriminate against people of color.’ I have friends of all ethnicities. Don’t hate me because I’m white!””

I’m not trying to save the world. I’m just trying to be myself and live my life without worrying that people will constantly bag on me for who I am. I think other people should have that right as well.

Our nation is supposed to be founded on the principles of equality and freedom. Yet we’re not really equal and we’re not really free to be who we are.

I get beat on both sides. I get criticized for embracing certain so-called Asian characteristics, and I get criticized for being too white. It works both ways, and as a whole I think our society has a really jaded view of the social construction of race how people of certain ethnicities are “”supposed”” to be. I mean, not every Asian is going to like pearl iced tea, and not every black person is going to love rap. We should stop trying to shove people into molds that they did not create.

But when is it going to end? When am I going to be able to walk down the street with my black friend without getting stared at? When can I stop trying to walk between the lines of being called f.o.b. and being called whitewashed? When can I be myself without being judged?

If people can learn to think beyond what they have been taught to think, then maybe they can learn to extend beyond the limits of their own ignorance.

You can think what you want of me and how I live my life, but don’t hate me because I refuse to conform myself to the mold of programming that society has tried to indoctrinate me with. And in the meantime, the next person who calls me whitewashed is going to get a chopstick shoved up his ass.