Who Are You?

November 7, 2011

Political Theory


I have often identified myself as an Asian American woman from New York. I have recently realized that people often perceive me based on several aspects of my identity as well as appearance, which in turn create societal expectations.  I have never once considered how intersectionality and my personal appearance affected my everyday life until now.

Race and gender play major roles in regards to how one may be perceived by society. Though people may say that they are not racist or sexist, there are still certain expectations that people have from those of certain races and genders.

For instance, I remember I once was at a coffee shop ordering coffee and the woman at the counter was shocked that I spoke English well and without an accent. Race is easily perceived through somebody’s appearance. The woman was able to easily identify me as Asian. Through her experience with other Asians, she had preconceived thoughts of me before we had even spoken. She based her thoughts of me solely on my appearance

Most recently, a friend of mine had introduced me to her white male friend and he immediately started speaking Chinese to me. He then proceeded to ask me if I was Chinese or Korean after noticing my hesitant reaction. I was puzzled because I had no idea what he was saying to me since I am Vietnamese. I was also baffled by the fact that he just assumed that I was only Chinese or Korean, he ruled out all other countries. People often assume that all Asians are Chinese when there are so many different Asian countries throughout the world. This person immediately after meeting me assumed that I spoke an Asian language just based on stereotypes and appearances. I’m shocked that people fit you into such small categories just based on what you may look like.

Since I am a woman as well, my gender affects the views that people have of me. Appearance also assists in determining the gender of a person. Society creates gender norms and standards that people are supposed to fit into. By the way that I dress and represent myself, people are able to see that I am a female and they expect me to be feminine as well as reserved. However, most people that I know are often shocked when they realize that I am not afraid to voice my opinion, that I’m assertive or that I just like sports. This shocks people because these characteristics are often expected and associated with men.

I personally do not fit all stereotypes and expectations of gender as well as racial norms that affect me. Appiah demonstrates ideas in regards to identity. He discusses the idea that identities are often being chosen for the person. The concept that your personal identity can be forced upon a person rather than be chosen seems immoral. Contingent facts play a major role in a person’s life because they are predetermined at birth. A person cannot change their biological features. The way that society perceives these contingent facts affects their expectations for the person.  This creates issues for those who do not fit into these norms. There becomes a pressure for people to fit into the norms of society and to fulfill certain stereotypes.

Do you agree with Appiah’s argument about identity? Do you think contingent facts affect your everyday life? Do you feel as though your identity predetermines what you will become or how you’re perceived? Do you feel that society has any expectations of you and if so, do the expectations make you want to fit into these norms?

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3 Comments on “Who Are You?”

  1. maxmoray Says:

    I find your argument about students stereotyping other students extremely compelling. Unfortunately, I do agree with your thesis that many at the University of Michigan (and probably at most other schools) judge students on their social and cultural backgrounds before getting to know them. For me, I feel as though the stereotypical people are the ones that are insecure. I suspect that many people find that judging others distracts from their own weaknesses. Likewise, by doing this we as human beings feel better about ourselves. In addition, those quick to point others as deviants to the norm tend to have their own skeletons on their closets. This is most likely the reason to start this judging and stereotyping, to make others look away from them.
    As another student mentioned a week or so ago about stereotyping Halloween Costumes to fit different minority attire, I see a connection in this post that makes me real think hard about the situation. It seems social media has impacted college students heavily on how we make assumptions. Movies like Harold and Kumar, only worsen the hope for Asian and Indian students to avoid these social stereotypes. However, there is still a large percentage of students who do not judge anyone before getting to know them.

  2. sgbraid Says:

    While it is incredibly ignorant and a bit racist, the experience that you had doesn’t surprise me at all. Even though the world — especially the United States of America — appears to moving rapidly in trying to erase ignorant, racist, and sexist behavior, there is still a fair amount o puzzling behavior out there. And although we try to rid ourselves of this kind of behavior, each of us has been instilled with certain societal connotations and stereotypes that we have witnessed or experienced growing up. In his book Blink Malcolm Gladwell does an excellent job explaining how our mind works and how its possible for us to unknowingly behave racist or sexist.

    Even though one’s identity can have an impact on the jobs or activities we take up, Its important to note that not everyone of the same race or sex does the same things. That being said, with so many societal stereotypes floating around, perception is often formed through these stereotypes. It’s unfortunate, but everyone stereotypes no matter how much you think you don’t.

    I also agree with Machiavelli’s beliefs about upholding good appearances because many people tend to want to uphold their good reputation and in order to do that, they have to take part in the activities or act a certain way that they are expected to. Thus, in order to keep up his good reputation, he has to take part in the activities for while.

  3. roshray Says:

    Your encounters did not really surprise me at all. I do think people in Ann Arbor, and probably almost everywhere, have preconceived notions based on isolated past experiences, media, and general stereotype. A few days ago even, I was walking down Main St. surveying people for a project and somebody, seeing that I was some sort of South Asian, started asking me who my favorite cricket player was and trying to talk to me in the few words they knew in some Indian language that I couldn’t even recognize, definitely not one I could ever speak. I was a little taken aback at first and pretty annoyed, not just because he thought all Indians thought like this, but because he made assumptions about me that made it seem to him like he knew me, like he knew where I came from (Chicago…), and he knew my culture. This is what stereotyping is, essentially, and it is, to say the least, obnoxious. What was probably sadder is that people sometimes don’t even recognize that they are doing this. Sometimes, by knowing 2-3 things about what Indians do or like, and knowing a few words in one Indian language people think that they are more cultured through their stereotyping. This shows a breakdown in Appiah’s idea of cosmopolitanism, which calls for a more substantial cultural understanding and liking of diversity.

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