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BREAKING ASIAN STEREOTYPES: What Does it Mean to be Asian?

Updated: May 9, 2021

One word - Asian. What comes to your mind when you hear this? Do you think these people are Asian?

Indeed, they are. Quick, what do you think of these pictures?

Some people may have taken some time to decide whether they are Asian or not and concluded that they do not know, while some may have immediately decided that they are not Asian. The others, who are a minority, know that they are Asians. The ‘brown’ Asians out there know what it’s like to not be considered an Asian. So, who do we define as Asian?

The US Census Bureau defines an Asian as a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam. This includes people who reported detailed Asian responses such as: ‘Asian Indian,’ ‘Chinese,’ ‘Filipino,’ ‘Korean,’ ‘Japanese,’ ‘Vietnamese,’ and ‘Other Asian’ or provide other detailed Asian responses.

Most people tend to think that all Asians belong to the Mongoloid race, excluding the ‘brown’ Asians like those from the Indian subcontinent and Philippines, as well as those from the Asian side of the Middle East. There are many other stereotypes surrounding Asians, and often these stereotypes are molded in our brains by popular media such as movies and books.


Stereotype #1: The Model Minority.

This is THE most common stereotype about Asians, particularly Asians from the Far East and India. We all see many Asians win all sorts of prestigious competitions and do extraordinary things. Remember the Indian-American inventor Gitanjali Rao? The math prodigy Terence Tao? And the tons of Asians who won the Spelling Bee? Unfortunately, it is due to these examples that many people believe that Asians are extraordinary in Math, or are all-rounders, excellent at academics, so on and so forth. We are considered the ‘model minority.’ While some could be good at Math, or be all-rounders and good at academics, not all of them are. It is this stereotype that often causes pressure and even depression in Asian students at school; teachers have high expectations of them. I believe that arises from the pressure within the Asian community. If you compare a school in an Asian country, say, India or China, with a school in a European country or a North American country, they learn almost the same things, sometimes only in different languages. So what's the difference between Asian students and the others? It's the way they study. Being an Asian myself, I believe Asians study with a purpose. In Asia, education is considered the main path to success; it is the top-most priority. So, Asians are perceived to be diligent, hardworking, competitive and ambitious. But this is just a part of the population, and this internal pressure from Asian relatives causes the pressure from other people like teachers.

Stereotype #2: All Asians look the same.

This stereotype is something all Asians agree exists. This stereotype is related to the test we had on your perception of images shown to you in the beginning. Many people think that Asian have the same eyes, the same hair and the same complexion.

Stereotype #3: Asians lack athleticism.

Many people believe this because they do not see many Asians in sports. Sure, the NBA has only had 22 Asian players till now, but here’s a fact - the best badminton players are Asians. So think about this when you think Asians lack athleticism.

Stereotype #4: Asians are poverty-stricken, superstitious, and polytheistic.

Not all Asians are poverty-stricken, superstitious and polytheistic. In Asia, you can find a motley mixture of people with various economic backgrounds, races and religions. There are poor people as well as rich people. There are many Christians, Muslims and Jews in Asia, and they are definitely monotheistic. But being polytheistic is not bad. Superstitions do exist but only in the small pockets of Asia; Asia is a vast continent and is developing exponentially!


The Coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in anti-Asian violence, around the world. Research by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission found that 54% of the Chinese had experienced discrimination since the start of the pandemic, and the UK police data report a 300% hike in hate crimes towards East and South Asians. Hate-mongering comments such as those by the former president of the United States, Donald Trump (who called the Coronavirus ‘the Chinese virus’), is one of the main reasons for this rise.

Asian have been subjected to various forms of bullying - being ostracized, subjected to physical abuse, and being at the receiving end of derogatory comments. In Spain, two men attacked a Chinese-American so badly that he was in a coma for 2 days. In May, Malaysian authorities had carried out mass raids to round up refugees claiming that the Rohingya and other undocumented migrants were responsible for the spread of the virus.

Anecdote by a resident of Singapore:

We asked a resident of Singapore about the discrimination against Asians in general in Singapore; let's call her T. Here's what T said:

"Singapore has a 75% Chinese majority, but the local-born Chinese differentiate themselves from China-born Chinese because they think the latter is “smug” and so on. Those who distinguish themselves as China-born Chinese (e.g. with a mainland China accent) received the brunt of Covid-related racism and xenophobia.

Also, when there was an outbreak among guest workers (foreign workers who come from countries such as India and Bangladesh working in lowly-paid industries such as construction) some locals expressed racist and xenophobic sentiments blaming the workers and their “backward habits from their backward countries” as the reason why cases suddenly skyrocketed in Singapore. In fact, one commentator had written a letter in a newspaper saying that their habits of “eating with hands” and “sitting under trees” were dirty and unhygienic when many Singaporeans eat with their hands (as most Muslims do).

In many ways, this discrimination was linked with racism."


It is important to put an end to this discrimination to have a healthier community. Here's what a group of people in the United States have done:

Compassion in Oakland

A diverse group of young volunteers walk the streets in Oakland Chinatown every day, escorting and walking with people from one place to another. Meet 'Compassion in Oakland,' an organization founded by Jacob Azevedo, a local from Oakland. It all started when Jacob watched the video of an 84-year-old Thai American being fatally shoved down to the ground on a pavement in San Francisco. This video affected him deeply and inspired him to start 'Compassion in Oakland.' This organization provides a chaperone service to senior citizens in Oakland Chinatown. Since the Atlanta shootings, this organization saw a big increase in the number of volunteers. With more than 1000 volunteers, the organization is trying to expand to other cities in the Bay Area.

There are some things you can do too if you witness discrimination against Asians:

  1. Intervene- If you witness it, do speak out and defend the victim. Do not be a bystander.

  2. Report- Do report the crime to your local police if it crosses the line.

  3. Ask them what you can do to help- If hate crimes or discrimination is common in your area, do check in with your Asian peers and ask what you can do to help.

  4. Advocate for awareness at work/school.

  5. Educate.

It is important to learn about the history of Asians in your country.

These steps can be taken to support the Asian community in your area. Do you have any other suggestions? Comment down below!




Sahaana Vijay

I am a proud INTJ who is passionate about Cosmology and Theoretical Physics (Especially Quantum Gravity). Being a STEM enthusiast and an amateur writer, I founded STEM 4 Everyone last year, which combine my two passions. Apart from writing and STEM, I also like to research, solve puzzles, learn new languages (I currently know 4 and I am learning 2) , and to travel.

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