“The irony is that in working so duteously to defy stereotype, I became a slave to it. For to act self-consciously against Asian ‘tendencies’ is not to break loose from the cage of myth and legend; it is to turn the very key that locks you inside.” (Liu 116).
Stereotypes are produced by conflicting viewpoints of misunderstood ideas, practices, and cultures. Stereotypes are an act of both defense and retaliation of one group upon another. They are born of ignorance and carried into the future by generations raised with the connotations of their mentors. It is here, in the mouth and mind of the up and coming, that stereotypes continue to thrive, multiply, and live on.
It is not fair to blame the origins of a specific stereotype upon that of the sender. Yes, the one attacking is giving life to the prejudice, yet it is up to the defendant whether or not it will be passed on through him and reflected through his culture. Worse, if the defender becomes defensive in a destructive way then often the defender will go on the offensive and become the attacker. This is the cycle of prejudice, as one is attacked, he defends. As one defends, he attacks. The only way to break this cycle is for the defender to become passive and respectful. It is easy (and for many an instinct) to automatically attack when attacked. The simplest means of such an attack is to retaliate with some stereotype, racial slur, or prejudice that fits in with the original attacker.
Attacking someone is easy, but not attacking when being attacked is nearly impossible. Liu doesn’t find himself at the forefront of hateful attacks, but if he did he would take a different approach. Instead of retaliation, Liu acts in the exact opposite of the stereotype being pursued. In his case he is avoiding all Asian stereotypes. He stays away from math and sciences and focuses on literature and history. He shyly avoids other Asians and specifically refrains from joining any sort of Asian extracurricular activities. Liu is attempting to shed himself of his Asian heritage and take on the histories and culture of his white peers. In doing so he is giving up his own heritage and creating a new, American heritage. Yet by doing so, by acting the opposite of Asian stereotypes, Liu is in fact reinforcing those stereotypes, not necessarily on himself (because he is “white” now) but on the Asians around him.
Liu is an example of full hearted effort to passively end prejudice but his endeavors are aimed in the wrong direction. Instead of listening to and learning stereotypes, one needs to listen to the inner workings of our mind. We are all Asian, Pilipino, Hispanic, black, white, red, green, purple, and blue. We all have stereotypes and prejudices that work against us. Yet instead of concentrating on our stereotypes we need to begin concentrating on ourselves. Who am I? What do I believe in? It is only when we begin to ask ourselves these questions in the face of prejudice that we will find the key, our uniquely individual key; cut, shaped, and stamped specifically for me, that will unlock the cage of prejudice and free us into a world of diversity.