After years of self-denial, awkward conversations and sad semi-autobiographical fiction writing, I’m finally coming out. I confess it now: I’m a minority. That is to say, I am of Asian descent, meaning that I belong to an (not uncommon) ethnic minority within the Australian continent.
Hypothetically speaking, this could mean a few things. First of all, it drastically increases the probability that I am studying something in Commerce or Science, that I have had a phase of World of Warcraft addiction, and that I have a small penis. I was probably good at maths back in high school, and I should like eating Asian rice dishes or noodles over steaks or spaghetti.
Some of these cultural stereotypes may or may not be true of me. A lot of them aren’t. I major in English Literature and Philosophy, and I actively participate in the university theatre and debating societies in my spare time. I enjoy musical theatre. Instead of AKB48 and Jay Chou, I listen to Lady Gaga and Nightwish (actually, that’s pretty fucked in and of itself).
What am I then, some sort of double-minority?
I’m not really sure, to be honest, but that does lead me to the point of all this – the fact that self-identification, based on factors like ethnicity (and also gender, and so forth) is incredibly confusing. In my first year, I was taught the possibility that these factors are all socially constructed, and that there is no “objective reality” beyond what we have ingrained within us by society. So basically, it is nurture, and not nature, which determines everything.
A part of me does believe in some of this. Without consulting Wikipedia first to check for case studies, I reckon that if you were to lock a bunch of boys in a room from birth, and told them repeatedly that Justin Bieber is the model human being, then they could very well sustain such a belief until later life. Hell, I think if I created a page on Wikipedia right now about such an experiment (citing an appropriate number of imaginary sources, of course), quite a few more people would believe such a thing.
With that said, do I think that behaviour is entirely influenced by society? Probably not. In my case, my parents are both Chinese migrants and medical practitioners, but from birth I’ve always had a deep fascination with literary fiction, with the theatrical, and indeed, with symphonic power metal (seriously). It wasn’t until I became old and jaded that I realised stereotypes expected me to play violin instead, or to solve maths problems in my spare time.
More pertinently, the Asian stereotype found its way into my life as well, not from outside, but from within. I’ve always preferred Japanese Anime to anything showing on Western television, except for possibly The Simpsons. Starcraft came into my life before I realised it was the favourite past time of thirty year old Korean virgins. Hell, despite my love for crazy European singers, I have to admit that Asian pop resonates within me in some sick, perverted fashion as well, not just because of the short skirts, but because the melodies are naturally more listenable for me than, say, Radiohead.
Again, I’m not taking a single stance on these ideas of questions of identity. More broadly speaking, however, I do think it important that we constantly consider both sides of the argument before we make quick, critical judgements about what incites people’s behaviour, particularly in relation to the influence of forces such as ethnicity. Maybe racist jokes hurt so much because they serve only to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Or maybe they hurt, because they discriminate based on an inevitable truth.