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    Critical Race Theory Essay (1442 words)

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    All Asians are smart, good at math, and drive slow! All Mexicans are illegal immigrants! All Arabs and Muslims are terrorists! All people who live in England have bad teeth! Most people have heard at least one of these racial stereotypes. Racial groups are constantly discriminated against and new stereotypes are created all the time, afflicting the lives of people as they try to prove to the world around them that these stereotypes aren’t true. Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese, uses his own personal experiences with discrimination and incorporates it into the novel through the characters of Jin, Suzy, and Wei-Chen. While Yang demonstrates how stereotyping negatively affects the characters, he also reveals the importance of overcoming racial adversities and taking pride in your own unique identity.

    In the graphic novel, Jin Wang endures racial stereotyping which at first makes him feel ashamed of himself and his culture. The first event of stereotyping occurs at the start of Jin Wang’s story when his mother tells him an old Chinese story of a mother and her child who move from town to town. In each town that they move to, the child learns a new hobby. The mother, frustrated that her son is acquiring these “hobbies” instead of learning, decides to move once again to try and change her child’s behavior.

    Finally, the child stops his hobbies and instead “[spends] all his free-time reading books about mathematics, science, and history” (Yang 24). Jin, after listening to his mother’s story, quickly realizes that his mother was intending to connect her want for Jin to be more studious to the child in the parable. It is one of the most common stereotypes, even in today’s society, that all Asians are exceptionally smart and academic geniuses in school and if they aren’t they are frowned upon for not reaching their expected potential. Later on, when Jin and his mother visit the herbalist, the herbalist’s wife asks Jin what he hopes to become one day. Jin responds by saying “…I…I want to be a transformer!” (Yang 27). Jin’s transformer toy is a symbol for his desire to “transform” into a white boy. He thinks that the only way he will be content with himself is if he is no longer Asian American. Jin feels that if he is no longer seen as being different from everyone else than he will finally be accepted in society.

    The teasing that occurs in Jin’s class causes him to feel embarrassed of where he came from. For instance, when Jin is at school, his fellow classmates talk about how Chinese people eat dogs. Jin’s teacher overhears the comments and responds by telling everyone “I’m sure Jin doesn’t do that. In fact, Jin’s family probably stopped that sort of thing as soon as they came to the United States” (Yang 31). His teacher completely disregards the fact that she was also stereotyping Jin like the rest of the students. This shows the ignorance that a lot of people have regarding the Asian culture. In April Dawn Paris’s critical essay, she states that “Jin attempts to disassociate himself from his Chinese heritage in order to fit in and reduce his visibility as a target” (Paris). We see this stand true in the graphic novel when Jin decides to eat sandwiches instead of a typical Chinese meal that he would normally eat. Jin also changes his hairstyle so that he would blend in more with the rest of the kids at his school.

    Jin’s dreams of being white finally become a reality when he transforms into the character of Danny. In the book, Danny is unexpectedly visited by his cousin, Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee’s character embraces all of the negative Chinese stereotypes into one monstrous, overly exaggerated being. Chin-Kee is drawn with extremely slanted eyes, two buck teeth, and traditional Chinese garments. He also speaks with an overemphasized L and R switch. Chin-Kee symbolizes Danny/Jin’s insecurities regarding their Asian background. In an interview with PBS, Gene Luen Wang expresses that “sometimes a stereotype needs to be dressed up in bright yellow skin and a queue in order for folks to recognize its severity” (Barajas). It is with these rampant exaggerations that empowers the reader to feel the shame of racial stereotyping. After Jin transforms into the Danny character, he believes that he has finally achieved the happiness and satisfaction that he has always hoped for. It is only until the transformed version of Jin (Danny) is visited by the Monkey King who guides Jin into finding his true self-acceptance. The Monkey King tells Jin that if he can change into his true form then Jin do the same. After explaining to Jin how great it is to be a monkey and that he should embrace who he is, Jin comes into a change of heart. This light-bulb moment is a major turning point in the novel and is significant as it reveals the major lesson that Yang wanted to teach his readers.

    Suzy, similar to how Jin was in the beginning, struggles with the racial stereotypes that are held against. One day while at school, Suzy opens up to Jin about being called a “chink”, a common racial slur towards Chinese people. Suzy has difficulty when trying to process the hatred she previously witnessed. This racist commentary makes Suzy feel embarrassed of being Asian which is similar to how Jin felt after being stereotyped by his peers. Rather than embrace who she is and where she came from, Suzy ends up feeling unsatisfied with herself after being made fun of by her classmates. Yang wanted to show how stereotyping and labeling others can have a negative effect on people.

    Unlike Jin and Suzy, Wei-Chen embraces his culture and is not afraid of showing it even after being confronted with discrimination. In American Born Chinese, Wei-Chen speaks almost entirely in his native language throughout the novel instead of in English. On the opposite end, Jin finds this disconcerting and in order to fit in decides to speak in the English language. Jin, embarrassed of Wei-Chen who doesn’t want to change to fit into the American society, resorts to making fun of his friend by calling him an “F.O.B.”. However, even after being called names by his own friend, Wei-Chen stands strong and doesn’t let words get to him. Wei-Chen’s character shows that it’s okay to be different from everyone else. In fact being different means that you are unique which should be seen as a positive rather than something that is negative. Wei-Chen is a good representation of someone who realizes that it doesn’t matter what others may think or say about you because you were made to be a unique individual and not like everyone else.

    Even though racial stereotyping and other forms of discrimination will continue to remain, people must fight against it and embrace one another as unique individuals. In American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang stresses this idea and the importance of self-acceptance with the characters of Jin, Suzy, and Wei-Chen. Yang shows how each of the characters dealt with discrimination in different ways. Yang intends for this to bring awareness of being cautious of what you say to others into his readers. Although each character endures discrimination and is affected in one way or another, the three of them eventually realize that being different is a good thing. At first, Jin is ashamed of himself and his culture so changes his ways and wishes to be white. Later on, Jin comes into a new realization that he should embrace who is and not be anyone else but himself. Similar to Jin, Suzy is hurt and embarrassed by the negative comments about her Asian background said by her fellow classmates. Wei-Chen on the other hand is a portrayal of someone who is okay with being unlike the rest of his peers. Rather than mulling over his differences, Wei-Chen choses to embrace them. Yang not only reveals how stereotyping can be hurtful and damaging to others but he emphasizes the significance of embracing who you are as an individual and ignoring any prejudices that may be placed upon on you.

    Works Cited

    1. April Dawn Paris, Critical Essay on American Born Chinese, in Novels for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2012.
    2. Barajas, Joshua. “This Chinese-American Cartoonist Forces Us to Face Racist Stereotypes.” PBS NewsHour, 30 Sept. 2016, Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.
    3. Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. Color by Lark Pien, Square Fish, 2006.

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