6

One of my main characters' family is Asian (specifically Korean-American). The oldest sister, Chelsea, is a child prodigy. When her toxic and shitty parents found out, they exploited the hell out of it, bragging about her, making sure she got into the best possible college. She was their golden child.

They never let her have a real childhood. She was never able to play, or make friends with kids her age, and left for the University of Pennsylvania at 13-14, and is absolutely miserable there.

I know Asians being depicted as smarter than everyone is a harmful stereotype, so what could I do to have it be less possibly offensive?

3
  • 3
    Is the character's Korean-ness an essential element of the story you are telling? Apr 28 at 12:10
  • 3
    It wouldn't have occurred to me. Child prodigies can happen anywhere, as can toxic exploitative parents. I suppose you could always have her interact with other child prodigies (possibly even smarter ones) from different backgrounds.
    – towr
    Apr 28 at 12:39
  • 4
    "Asian", in the UK, means South Asian (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh). Please be aware of this when writing for an international audience. Apr 29 at 9:29

3 Answers 3

12

As an Asian (southeast Asian + East Asian), I have seen many Asians depicted as smarter than other people, because of the impression that we can all do math. And it's always math that we are good at, presented in fiction and media. So I have a few answers for this one:

  1. Have another Asian that isn't as smart as Chelsea, or make her the complete opposite. This character could be a foil to her or whatever that could fit the story.

  2. Have another smart character like Chelsea, but who isn't Asian.

  3. Have her not be good at math.

The point of those first two is to neutralize the stereotype. Asians with racist stereotypes have that as their only personality trait. You have Chelsea miserable from being forced to do everything perfectly as a child prodigy, and you must try to develop it from her, so that it's not her only trait. Flesh them out; give them a character arc.

You could flesh out the parents too.

I of course can't represent Asians as a whole or give a one clear answer for your problem. As my experience as an Asian person might be different than other Asians. So another thing I would suggest is to gain other Asian writers' opinions and answers. And do more research on Asian stereotypes and representation.

5
  • I actually already have some of those. Chelsea's younger brother Daniel, is of average intelligence which lead to his parents constantly comparing him to Chelsea and asking why he couldn't be like her. And I have another character who's also a kid genius. Thanks for the suggestions! Apr 28 at 14:03
  • your welcome, good luck writing.
    – Crimsoir
    Apr 28 at 14:07
  • 2
    flesh out the parents - because that's the actual stereotype. The only people who are bad at math are those who didn't put the work in. And if your parents didn't make you put the work in, you're probably not very good at math.
    – Mazura
    Apr 29 at 2:34
  • In this case it's usually the cause of generational trauma; which many Asian parents have. But if you don't flesh out the parents then they are one note stereotypical Asian parents.
    – Crimsoir
    Apr 29 at 3:32
  • 2
    +1 for defusing stereotypes with character building. I'd note part of the generational conflict might come from immigration status. If parents are residents/naturalised, they might have a different outlook about their place in society than their US-born children. They might have faced injustice and bent backwards to avoid being thrown out, when their children are more likely to stand up for themselves. Can apply to social migration (i.e. parents born poor, worked hard to raise their social status) as well. Every family being different of course, and don't trip on immigrant stereotypes either. Apr 29 at 7:55
1

Lean in:

Rather than shying away from the stereotype, lean in and make a point of recognizing it and discussing it. In some ways, this is breaking the third wall, but it can be something Chelsea or her sister are picked on about, or feels self-conscious of.

Perhaps Chelsea deliberately behaves contrary to her stereotype to make a point of it being false. Perhaps she dislikes her Asian heritage because she blames it for how her parents treated her. 13-14 is a little young to be portraying promiscuity, but some other kind of abusive behavior (it's college, so weed or booze would be available) would emphasize this. She might discuss having surgery when she's older to get double eyelids to look less Korean, or seeks makeup and hair color to blend in with Westerners.

Ultimately, this will make her feel more ashamed of her identity, but she's doing it to get away from a stereotype. What's a bigger stereotype than a foreigner acting shamed or ashamed of their native culture?

0

I'd say, just don't worry about it. Not for one character.

If you wrote a book with 20 Asians and 20 black people and every Asian is a math whiz and every black person is a violent criminal, I'd say that is indulging in stereotypes. (And as always, there could be cases where it makes perfect sense. Like if the setting of the story is a school in Korea for math prodigies, then the fact that all the children in the school are Korean math prodigies wouldn't be particularly remarkable. Etc.)

But if you have one character who fits a stereotype, so what? I find it tedious when someone goes out of their way to make a character not match a stereotype. Like when the auto mechanic is a woman and it's obvious that the reason why the author made the auto mechanic a woman was because he wanted to break the stereotype that most auto mechanics are men, etc, it's just trite. I get it: you can write a story where we'd expect a 90 year old black woman but instead you made the character a 19 year old Swedish man. That doesn't challenge the reader's stereotypes. The reader knows you're deliberately reversing the stereotype, so all it does is confirm them.

2
  • It's good to try and be different and offer something unique and surprising. That doesn't mean mechanically reversing everything so instead of a 10 year old white girl you have a 90 year old African man, but it requires being aware of stereotypes and how your audience will react and expect things to go, and showing them something new.
    – Stuart F
    May 11 at 20:29
  • @StuartF Absolutely! WHEN WELL DONE, breaking or reversing a stereotype can be a neat twist. But when done mechanically, when it appears the stereotype was broken just to break a stereotype, it's lame.
    – Jay
    May 12 at 13:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.