Saturday, February 03, 2007

He Also Had Perfect SAT Scores.

I was sitting around at Caribou Coffee this afternoon, reading and listening to my jukie (read: people watching and looking for cute boys). Even though there was music being piped directly into my ears, I could totally overhear the conversation taking place two tables away from me. Evidently, it was a college interview: sprite, peppy, cute little 17 year old was busy telling a nice young professional woman about his interests and goals so that the nice young professional woman could decide whether he and Princeton University were a nice fit. (Yeah, I really did hear quite a bit.)

The nice young man was, of course, quite academically talented, with his interests skewed toward science. Advanced education was definitely in his future -- like, an M.D. or a Ph.D. -- in a science-related field.

Then the following exchange took place:

Lady: So tell me more about your coursework and your interests.
Kid: Well, while I'm interested in science, I like to keep myself well-rounded, so I take a variety of classes [couldn't hear rest of this sentence, but I presume it was the standard bullshit about "I'm totally well-rounded and multidimensional and perfect and not a completely one-dimensional science geek" stuff]
Lady: Oh, well that's cool. What instrument do you play? [Okay, clearly he just mentioned his musical talents.]
Kid: Violin.
Lady: Of course. [Interview continues.]

Here's my question: Would the lady's "of course" have sounded just a little less racist if the high school kid wasn't a little Asian boy?


JoeBlogs said...

Not sure.

p.p. said...

asians... haha.

MoDigli said...

Oh, I'm just jealous that you have Caribou Coffee!!! I LOVE that coffee shop. I would go ALL THE TIME back home in Ohio. But they haven't reached California yet.

I'm still dreaming.

BTW, I LOVE the idea of just putting the earbuds in and listening quietly - or better yet - not having the music on at all, just to eavesdrop on neighbors! hehehe... :)

Andrew said...

Yes, I think that comment was really quite racist, or at the very least insensitive - kind of like Joe Biden remarking that Barack Obama is "articulate" and "clean". I don't think the lady's "of course" would even had made any sense if the kid wasn't Asian.

Wyatt said...

Hmm, if the kid said he played in the orchestra, there are pretty much only four choices (violin, viola, cello, bass), with the violin being most likely but not being more stereotypically Asian than viola or cello. So the "of course" doesn't make sense as a racial stereotype no matter how you look at it. There's also a considerable difference between using racial stereotypes (which is what at worst she did) and being racist, which is holding the belief that one race is better than another.

Andrew said...

Unless he said it was a string orchestra (pretty unlikely, I think), it's also possible that he was a wind player - and wind instruments are less stereotypically associated with Asians than string instruments. And I would submit that violin *is* more stereotypically Asian than viola or cello (and certainly bass).

anne said...

I don't know... If a science student tells me he's a musician, I'll tend to think of the violin first, whether said student is Asian or not.

Dennis! said...

Having given more thought to this post (esp. in light of Wyatt's comments -- thanks), I have decided that the last question is simply poorly phrased.

Assuming a race-based stereotype -- really, "of course" totally came across sounding like "of course you play the violin, it's what you Asian kids do so well!" -- then those two words would have made no sense with an applicant of any other background.

I acknowledge that I missed some of the context which could conceivably have made the comment more innocuous. If there's more, then this extract is merely a humorous sound bite. Heck, if there's not, really it's not a huge deal anyway.

And for the record: I was a math/science geek in high school (did way better in math than I ever did in history or English) and I played the cello. And the kid who played the bass was a kid named Sam who was not taller than 5'5".

Food for thought.

Ryan said...

You know what's racist? Asian porn.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the person who is assuming that the "of course" was based on a stereotype is the one who is racist.

Dennis! said...

Quick postscript (which I'm burying in my own comments rather than amend the post):

I was IMing with a friend from high school today and repeated this story:

Dennis!: so, the other day i was in a coffee shop and ended up eavesdropping on a conversation....
Dennis!: a kid was doing his college interview
Dennis!: so the interviewer asks about his coursework...
Dennis!: and i missed a part of this, but the next thing i hear is the interviewer go "oh, so what instrument do you play?"
Dennis!: the kid says "violin"
Dennis!: and the interviewer says "of course."
Friend: lol asian kid?
Dennis!: EXACTLY!
Friend: uh yeah :)
Dennis!: omg
Friend: nothin glike fulfilling a stereotype

We did discuss after that the notion that the comment wasn't necessarily racist so much as it was playing into a total stereotype.

Shane Rollins said...

My roommate for a few years was the most non-stereotypical Asian you could ever meet. He was a fencer, 6'2", did not like math or science and had no desire to be a doctor. From him I learned what stereotypes people associate with Asians and playing the violin IS one of them. He played guitar at one point, whenever he mentioned he played an instrument to people they all assumed violin as well.

It is very possible the lady knew a great deal of violinists who attend Princeton, or she could just be succumbing to a stereotype.

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