Survival bias is “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility.” Similar to the myth of model minority we have discussed during class, such mistake is usually caused by overgeneralization and lack of examination. After interviewing with my mother, a first generation immigrant, I am surprised about how people still hold many biased stereotypes towards Asian. When I ask my mother how she thinks people view and judge Asian American as a group, she replies: “Before I came to the United States, I didn’t know how Asians are viewed. After months later during conversations with others, I finally realized that they hold some deep misconceptions towards our group. ” The truth is, many stereotypes toward Asian Americans remain inaccurate, despite the rapid progress of internet and globalization, and they are another form of survival bias. In order to understand why so many misconceptions successfully spread out and survive, we have to dig the underlying reasons by examining the origins of them. Here, I will mainly focus on how Asian Americans, especially first generation migrants, are tagged with improper labels, in physical appearances, traditions and religious perspectives, and personalities.
Though it might be true that some Asians have smaller and narrower eyes because of different genes and DNAs, the statement is not right for all Asians, and definitely not a sign of ugliness. People’s different facial look is usually an adaptation resulted from different living environments. For instance, people living in high latitudes in the northern hemisphere tend to have tall and big noses to compensate for cold air. African people have dark skins because of their long-time exposure under the sunlight. Likewise, East Asians have slanted eyes to avoid wind and sun damage. Furthermore, people should not make fun of a person because of his or her physical appearance. Everyone has a different looking. Tall noses are not superior to short noses. Larger eyes are not better than small eyes. Simply assuming smaller eyes are ugly is one-sided, and my mother says, “if some of them do have smaller eyes comparatively, it is not their decision and thus commenting their eyes as ugly is disappointing and malicious.” Besides having small eyes, Asian are weak and physically unthreatening in some people’s mind. Apparently, those judgements are overgeneralized and misleading – in 2016 Summer Olympics medal table, there are 3 Asian countries in top 8 of the medal table. “Today, Asian athletes still hold and create world records, so how can they be weak?”, says my mother about such accusation. Two hundred years ago, Anti-Asian media left an indelible impact on Asians. Yellow-skinned people are dehumanized and portrayed with prejudice, and those incorrect descriptions of them has become their “labels” forever. Globalization has largely decreased hatred and bias toward different minority groups, while those long-live “labels” are still there without questioning.
Traditions and religions
Besides physical appearances, Asian people’s traditions and religious standpoints are often misinterpreted. For instance, Asians prefer to meet people from their own country and form small groups, excluding others from entering. In real life, many people do think typical Asians do not like to join parties and only social with their own small group of people. My mother expresses her perspective on this stereotype as such: “In China, people tend to form smaller groups with deeper friendship and relationship. It is different from the way people think here. As an Asian American myself, I like to meet different people, but sometimes we have different cultural backgrounds and ways of thinking. Saying that Asian people are excluding others is totally wrong and biased.” Unlike typical Americans, in East Asian cultures, the importance of having a handful of close friends is greatly emphasized, under the great influence of Confucianism. A famous poet in China once wrote “the pond is over a thousand feet deep, but it is nothing compared to Wang Lun’s friendship with me.”
In the other hand, human tend to stay with in a comfort zone. A close friend conveys the idea that he or she has to have similar properties and ways of thinking in Chinese mainstream ideology, and thus people may think Asian as not reaching out to others. Furthermore, another assumption is that the majority of people living in East Asian countries, such as Japan and China, do not have an official religious belief, because they are taught not to do so, reflecting lack of deeper level of thinking. When I introduces this point to my mother, she states that is purely a personal choice, and “people should be able to choose what they believe in.” Adding to her point, I believe it is critical and important to point out how Confucianism has influenced East Asian countries and their people. Though it is not a religion, traditional Asian people have their unique understanding of manners and etiquettes. Contrarily, most of Taiwanese have religious beliefs and many Chinese people actually believe in Buddhism and Taoism. My mother is Buddhism follower.
Personalities and behaviors
Asian, especially Chinese, are also commonly described as shy and introvert. During the interview, my mother expressed her feeling about this stereotype. In fact, most of her asian friends are very welcoming. The origin of this rumor may come from people’s unfamiliarity with Confucianism, which greatly emphasizes the importance of modesty and humility. My mother’s understanding is that “being quiet is not a sign of inconfident or introvert, it also means respect and agreement.” Meanwhile, besides the impact of different cultures, language barrier is also a potential cause for this stereotype. When my mother talked about her experience as a first generation immigrant to the United States, she mentioned how difficult it was for her at the beginning. Like most first generation immigrants, my mother is not able to communicate with others in English fluently. Therefore, it is difficult for her to make friends and have conversations with indigenous people. “I am very willing to make friends with different cultural backgrounds and nationalities”, she explains with subtle depression on her face, “but the language barrier is there.” Supposedly, if a person who is not a native speaker of Chinese moves to China for a living, he or she will definitely feel uncomfortable at first, therefore not as talkative as others.
Combining those two points together, it is not hard for us find what may cause this rumor to spread out. Another famous stereotype is specifically aiming at Asian parent, whom they call “tiger parent”. Follow the definition from Wikipedia, the stereotyped figure often portrays a Chinese mother who relentlessly drives her child to study hard, using authoritarian parenting methods for her children to achieve academic excellence. Undeniably, people do emphasize the importance of academic excellence in China and many other countries in East Asia, but this misconception is still an overgeneralization. When I was in elementary school, I did poorly in test one time, and one thing I remembered the most is how my parents responded. Instead of blaming me for not studying well enough, they said they wanted me to be happy and think beyond scores and grades. It is true that some Asian parents are, in some way, stricter comparatively, but this “tiger parenting” concept is demonized and inaccurate to reflect the real situation here.
Besides all the stereotypes mentioned above, which includes physical appearances, traditions and religious perspectives and personalities, there are a myriad of positive and accurate stereotypes correspondingly. Most stereotypes are not meant to hurt or make fun of a certain group, but more or less a product of lack of deeper understanding of one’s cultural background and historical reasons. Consequently, it is easy for some mistaken ideas to emerge and spread out. In fact, I enjoy reading stereotypes and portraits about Asians, knowing that they are not there to hurt us. After a careful examine upon the underlying reasons behind some of these deeply rooted misconceptions, hopefully, people are able to generate a more unbiased and just portrait of Asians.
Appendix: Transcription for the Interview
Q: Who do you think are the “indigenous people”? Do you think you are one of them?
A: People who are born in this place and have parents that are living in this place long before other immigrants.They are assimilated to become Americans and they represent the majority of the United States. I am definitely not one of them. Although I am physically here, my thinking process and ideologies are still Chinese.
A: Many of these misconceptions sprouted from people’s lack of knowledge of others’ culture and traditions.
Q: So around 6 years ago, you and my father decided to migrate to the United States. What are the underlying reasons?
A: The most important reason is because you are going to St.Stephens (my high school in Austin), so we want to make sure that we can provide you with more opportunity. Also, your father is doing environmental engineering business, and many of the large petroleum companies are located at the United States. Without the necessity to travel too much, he can make business and bargain with them. Additionally, the CPI (consumer price index) is too high in Shanghai (China) and air quality is almost unbearable. That’s basically why we made the choice.
Q: When you migrate to the United States, what are some difficulties that you have encountered? Something unexpected?
A: Language barrier is definitely one. I have no relatives here, only a few friends, so it is like starting a new life. Also the food here is very different, and it is almost impossible to “remake” the same taste. Before I came to the United States, I didn’t know how Asians are viewed. After months later during conversations with others, I realized that they hold some deep misconceptions towards our group. That was very unexpected for me.
Q: What do you think is some biggest misconceptions that people still hold towards Asian Americans today?
A: There are many of them. For example, Asians, especially Chinese, are characterized as shy and introvert, while the truth is not like that. Also, they think that Asians prefer to meet people with their own nationality and form small groups. Asians have small and slanted eyes, and they look ugly, and etc.
Q: What do you think of the assumption that Asians have small and narrow eyes?
A: Not all of them are like that, and even if some of them do have smaller eyes comparatively, it is not their decision and thus commenting their eyes as ugly is disappointing and malicious.
Q: Long time ago, people view Asians as weak and physically unthreatening, do you think that is still true today?
A: This opinion is racist and clearly not true. Today, Asian athletes still hold and create world records, so how can they be weak?
Q: You mentioned that people always think that Asians are lack of confidence and introvert, what do you think about that?
A: In fact, most of my friends and asian people I’ve met are not introvert but very welcoming. The reason why people believe in this idea is because they are not familiar with Confucianism in china, where humility is greatly emphasized. Being quiet is not a sign of inconfident or introvert, it also means respect and agreement. Biased judgement like that is definitely true.
Q: Great. Another rumor is that Asian people try to form small groups and exclude others from entering. Any comments?
A: In China, people tend to form smaller groups with deeper friendship and relationship. It is different from the way people think here. Saying that Asian people are excluding others is totally wrong and biased. I am very willing to make friends with different cultural backgrounds and nationalities but the language barrier is there, and besides sometimes we have different cultural backgrounds and ways of thinking.
Q: In East Asia, most people do not hold a religious belief, while almost in everywhere else in the world people usually have some belief. Do you think that is a problem? People sometimes relate this to lack of deeper thinking, what is your opinion?
A: I have read many articles criticizing how China is one of the only few countries that does not emphasizes the importance of religion. To me, however, it is a personal choice. People should be able to choose what they believe in. I believe in Buddhism, for instance.