“Just a Joke”

When I was younger, about six or seven years old, I remember asking my mother if I had large eyes for an Asian. I used to brag to other people that I did. I distinctly remember constantly playing a hand game as a child with other kids ending with the saying “Chinese, Japanese, Indian chief!” And with each race mentioned we would pull our eyes in different directions. It wasn’t until much later that another girl told me that that was inappropriate because it made fun of people’s eyes. Another time I came in contact with how Asians are perceived was after school when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I was watching YouTube videos and one of the suggested videos was titled “Why Asian Guys Can’t Get White Girls” I clicked on this video and naturally I saw nothing wrong with it, as I was young, impressionable, and it had already been ingrained in my mind that Asians were obviously a lesser, nerdier race. It made sense to me that we were less desirable.

One thing to note about Asian stereotypes, specifically East Asian stereotypes, is that they often fall under the category of the model minority stereotype. These would be ideas that Asians are smart, hard working, math geniuses, etc. Although these appear to be “good” stereotypes, there is really no such thing, and perpetuating them not only deny’s the struggles of many Asian Americans, but also implies the inferiority of other people of color. Another issue with this stereotype is that often people use the word Asian to solely refer to East Asians, which in itself isn’t accurate. There are also South Asians, Southeast Asians, West Asians, and Central Asians who are left out of the equation. With all these different physical features, cultures, and looks, it is impossible to generalize when each undergo completely different struggles and stereotypes.

In middle school, race jokes became a natural part of my social interaction. Jokes about Asians, jokes about non-Asians were all prevalent, and anyone was fair game, as it happened often in the hallways. At the time, I thought it was acceptable because someone always found it funny, and it felt rewarding to be an AsAm who could always crack jokes about her race, a small attempt to assimilate that I hadn’t understood until much later. The Asian jokes continued with statements of things like the combination of my Asian and Jewish identities would

make it perfect for me to be an accountant! Or others (and sometimes myself) would refer to me as a banana because I was “yellow on the outside, white on the inside.” I was unaware of the underlying meanings that came with what seemed like “just a joke” to me at the time.

These middle school habits of cracking race jokes not only fostered a strong amount of internalized racism towards my race, but also towards other and simultaneously gave others the message that such acts are acceptable.

– Written by Emma Shainwald (redefy contributor)