Asian Stereotypes: What do they reveal and obscure?

I found an article on Salon.com that muses on how Cho and other Asian shooters have been portrayed as "smart but quiet", "fundamentally foreign", and the unsettling ramifications of those stereotypes. The article by no means excuses the shooters' crimes but it raises some interesting points on the dangers of generalizing their actions based on race.

I have a complicated ethnic background and I look Asian and when I was younger, I remember being somewhat surprised and perplexed when I met someone for the first time and they thought I was either a science or math student, even though I've always been so artsy-fartsy. I could understand being asked about going into banking or business because of my parents' careers but I couldn't seem to wrap my head around why some people thought I liked math and science.

From Salon:

"Most of the perpetrators of mass school killings have been white," said Paul Niwa, a journalism professor at Emerson College. "After those shootings, do you think white people felt guilty that the shooter was white? Do you think white people felt that since the shooter was white, that the shooter would give society a bad impression of whites? A shooter can be white and nobody thinks that race played a part in the crime. But when someone nonwhite commits a crime, this society makes the person's race partially at fault."

Reading these comments, I found myself caught in a dilemma. I want to think that race is not a factor in the toxic mix of rage and psychological disturbance that has occasionally discharged as this kind of violence. And, certainly, in most cases it isn't: Teenage angst is colorblind, and the triggers for crimes like these have included parental abuse, schoolyard persecution, romantic obsession -- phenomena that exist beyond culture or ethnicity.

But professor Niwa is right: When race enters the equation -- when the perpetrator of a crime of this type is black, like "Beltway Snipers" John Allen Muhammad and his ward Lee Boyd Malvo, or Asian, like Cho -- it rises to the surface and stays there, prompting inevitable discussions about whether "black rage" or "immigrant alienation" were somehow to blame; whether in some fundamental fashion, color of skin, shape of eye, or nation of origin lie at the seething, secret heart of such tragedies.

More here.

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