The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Positive stereotyping is still stereotyping.
Before I begin to delegate the misconceptions of positive stereotyping, it is important to note that they differ between race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc.. This makes everyone’s experience personal, but there are still some instances where people with the same background might relate to the same experience of being stereotyped. As such, the examples mentioned throughout this article are from my own experience with positive stereotypes as someone of East Asian descent.
The American Psychology Association defines a positive stereotype as “a stereotype that purports to describe the admirable, desirable, or beneficial qualities and characteristics of the members of a particular group or social category.” It sounds like a compliment, as it comments on a person’s innate traits and abilities . However, a positive stereotype is no better than any other kind of stereotype because it is still a form of stereotype. While positive stereotyping someone doesn’t sound terrible , its implications are bound to create not-so-positive lasting effects.
Studies have shown that positive stereotypes can negatively impact an individual’s mental and emotional health. People who receive these kinds of comments feel depersonalised, as if their achievements are a result of their heritage and not their own hard work. As a result, using positive stereotypes to compliment an individual might yield the opposite effect as it demeans and disregards their efforts.
Speaking from personal experience, positive stereotypes often feel like a backhanded compliment. There have been times where I would express happiness for getting a good grade on an exam, only for the people around me to brush it off since I’m “born smart” because I’m Asian. What is more shocking is that these comments were said to me by other Asians. It’s hurtful to have something I worked really hard on to be seen as an expectation due to my race. It makes me resent these harmless and oftentimes genuine positive qualities of mine.
Whenever something about me doesn’t fit into a positive stereotype, I used to feel some odd, petty satisfaction about it. Even if those characteristics are good and oftentimes beneficial to have, I used to be ridiculously proud that I didn’t have them. That there was one less stereotype I would be categorised in. For example, a part of me was weirdly smug about the fact that I suck at math. Despite minoring in Economics, I liked going against the grain, pushing back at the expectations set out for me. We sometimes fail to see internalised racism as it is so ingrained in our society. Thus, it is completely possible for our casual conversations with loved ones to include racist connotations without us knowing. That doesn’t necessarily make us bad people though; just people who are a product of this society. While hegemonic patriarchy within most societies and cultures largely explains how we have internalised such awful narratives, it does not excuse racist actions if someone has brought attention to it.
Final note: just because something doesn’t sound offensive or uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it isn’t.