Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Don’t you LEARN from Stereotypes? Doctors, Geisha and All That Jazz

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 25, 2008

A post in Racialicious yesterday about stereotypes opened a discussion between me and another poster. The other poster had replied to a thread on stereotypes that she would like a stereotype free home for her child. There’s no such thing. Everything out there is a stereotype. Cristina Yang (doctor of Korean descent) from Grey’s Anatomy is as much of a stereotype as Cio-Cio San (Madame Butterfly). Oh yeah, I forgot. A doctor is POSITIVE, while a geisha who commits seppuku is not. Especially if she gives up her life because she proves “tragic beauty and nobility by sacrificing yourself for the white man and abandoning your hapa kid!” (post number 61). I guess she doesn’t realize that Pinkerton, the American character is a stereotype too. The stereotype of the Evil American who Just Doesn’t Care. The authors of the story (can’t give Puccni all the credit, since it was adapted from a John Luther Long play, which was in turn, adapted from a Pierre Loti (yeah, French dude) work) were trying to show the West’s cruelty.

Another poster said:

…whatever Puccini and his collaborators had in mind, somehow that’s not what’s being seen on the stage–that’s why Madame Butterfly is such a contested piece of art. Especially when Madame Butterfly is still seen in a country, like the US, that continues to stereotype APIA women as “submissive girls.” So, Madame Butterfly is seen, therefore, as another vehicle that folks just looooove as art but perpetuates that stereotype.

I don’t understand this point because I also see the evilness of the west (represented by Pinkerton) and the east (represented by Butterfly) being a victim of the evilness. However, one stereotype I DO see is that Butterfly is a love-struck teen.

So really, what *IS* supposed to be shown on TV, film, etc when it comes to non-whites? You can’t make an Asian woman too submissive/tragic, because it’s stereotypical/racist. She can’t be a bitch either, because that’s the dragon lady stereotype. She probably can’t be a doctor (or accountant), because that’s what lots of Asian parents want their kids to become (nor can she be a music prodigy….Asian parents stereotypically send their kids to CLASSICAL music lessons). Maybe that’s why writers have trouble putting non-white characters on TV. They’re worried that someone will be turned off.  In any case, it’s probably better to confront stereotypes and learn why it’s wrong than to ignore it all together.

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One Response to “Don’t you LEARN from Stereotypes? Doctors, Geisha and All That Jazz”

  1. Nice piece. Very thoughtful.
    When I was in California, we called a group of girls “The Joy Luck Club”. We never thought of it as racist. These were our friends (three young hot Asian girls). One day at lunch, Mary-Joy (one of the girls) expressed that she was offended by their given name. We called the spoiled white girl clique; 9021-ho’s and thought of “Joy Luck” as being a compliment. I still speak to the girls but never refer to them as “JLC”.
    We all learn.

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