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Stereotype Trouble

There's a Chinese restaurant around the corner from my house, just a few doors down from my previous house. I was just walking by the block and saw that one of the restaurant's delivery boys seems to have driven his car off the road, past the sidewalk, over my ex-neighbor's garden, and smacked into the wall of her house. Strange doings. Discussing the situation with my ex-neighbor on the other side, she mentioned that she doesn't like to propagate stereotypes, but that it's so typical that an Asian dude would be responsible for a seemingly inexplicable driving mishap (he says he was "trying to park") like that. I didn't want to seem out of it, so I nodded, but I've never been aware of any such stereotype. Have I just been living my life in some kind of bizarre non-racist cocoon? I feel like I'm familiar with all your major stereotypes. Asians are short, unathletic, hard-working, good at math, etc. But bad drivers? Who knew?

On another note, man are the Pacers playing badly. I just tuned at at halftime, and maybe the first two quarters weren't this pathetic, but man oh man.

May 17, 2005 | Permalink


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I first encountered this stereotype in Los Angeles, where it seems widespread.

I can't say that East Asians seem statistically to be bad drivers; anecdotally, though, I *have* witnessed some extremely wacky driving perpetrated by a few people who at least appeared to fit that stereotypical profile.

Posted by: bobo brooks | May 17, 2005 8:45:27 PM

Ever heard of John Rocker?

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov | May 17, 2005 8:47:10 PM

Yup, pretty common. It's generally applied to Asian women more than Asian men, though I guess that might just be the intersection of the "Asians are bad drivers" stereotype with the "women are bad drivers" stereotype.

Posted by: wdw | May 17, 2005 8:51:16 PM

In such a situation, I would hope that I *would* want to seem "out of it." at least to the extent of making a remark to the effect of "I don't think you can generalize about 'all Asians' like that." Agreeing with racism just to be sociable is exactly what perpetuates it.

And there are myriad forms of racism. Asians are bad drivers; Asians are super-smart; blacks are oversexed; whites can't shoot hoops. Whatever -- it's always irrational, and always vicious.

Posted by: JonJ | May 17, 2005 8:53:22 PM

I've heard this one a lot, and that's saying something in NYC, where more or less everyone is a fairly terrible driver.

Posted by: Daniel A. Munz | May 17, 2005 8:58:09 PM

An extremely well-known stereotype, I fear.

Posted by: fffffffffffffff | May 17, 2005 8:59:49 PM

Bad vision? Ever seen the coke-bottle glasses in propaganda cartoons about the japanese during WWII?

(Maybe glasses is where the good at math thing comes from to).

I haven't heard of a specific driving stereotype though either.

Posted by: Brian | May 17, 2005 9:01:36 PM


Miami beating Detroit.

Kobe who?

Posted by: epistemology | May 17, 2005 9:04:06 PM

This was in a small plot line in the TV series "LA Law". Arnie gets rear-ended by an Asian man and goes ballistic. Others in the office get a good looking Asian woman to come on to him before yanking his chain.

Posted by: Carl | May 17, 2005 9:12:20 PM

The stereotype I heard is that Asia drivers have tunnel vision, as in they only see straight ahead.

Given the societal norms of certain asian countries (e.g. Japan) that consider glancing at someone in an elevator as extremely impolite, one can see how such a stereotype can gain traction.

Posted by: J Wilson | May 17, 2005 9:12:36 PM

Living here in Hawai'i, I can state that the stereotype is alive, well, and has some grounding in reality.

Posted by: Kimmitt | May 17, 2005 9:12:41 PM

After all the sterotypes about gays that people take as gospel (sic), sometimes it is OK to hear other sterotypes that make just as much sense, meaning none.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 17, 2005 9:25:32 PM

I live in San Francisco, and it's such a stereotype that a bunch of my Asian friends pretty much use it to explain away any stupid moves they make. I thought it was something exclusive out here, given the large Asian population (e.g., lots of shitty drivers everywhere, here there is a better chance of them being Asian because of the population) but I guess it's leaked elsewhere...

Posted by: greebs | May 17, 2005 9:27:31 PM

Well, I guess there are lots of Korean-Americans who are actually named Park. You'd think anyone named Park would be pretty good.

Posted by: praktike | May 17, 2005 9:32:04 PM

On the question of stereotypes and driving ability, I've found that hat size is a much stronger predictor of driving ability. I've observed a very tight inverse correlation and would hazard that ability varies in proportion to the volume of the hat (instead of height or width), so that Driver B, who wears a hat twice as tall as Driver A's, is in fact one eighth the driver.

Posted by: Patrick O'Neill | May 17, 2005 9:32:36 PM

Actually this was almost the very first Asian stereotype I ever heard, around 1980, courtesy of visiting relatives from San Francisco who assured us Irish people that Asians were bad drivers because they had no peripheral vision.

Posted by: Kieran | May 17, 2005 9:38:33 PM

{rolls eyes}

East Asian (Chinese!) drivers who immigrated to America and never learned to drive before they move here are some pretty bad (no, not bad, wacky) drivers. As are guys who recently immigrated from Africa and drive cabs.

In this particular instance, East Asian immigrants (not, BTW, the Japanese) drive roughly like drunks who who are afraid they'll get pulled over. Hyper-cautious. Stop fifty feet from the light. Etc. You can see them they around Little Korea or the (immigrant) Chinese section here. American teeny-boppers of East Asian extraction drive pretty much like all the other (white, black, Martian) teeny-boppers who were raised here.

I have never seen any adult Italian immigrants drive here, but if the traffic in Roma is any indication, I suspect they drive pretty bad too.

I'd expect that if I moved to another country and started driving they'd think I drove pretty badly too.

['Ok, get back on your hobbyhorse now!']

Posted by: ash | May 17, 2005 9:38:44 PM

I find Matt's ignorance (innocence?) of the stereotype less interesting than the formulation "I don't want to propagate stereotypes, but, eh... here goes nothing." It seems that in all honesty one should start "Howdy neighbor. I feel this compelling need to propagate a stereotype. You up for one?"

I tend to think of this as the "there's no greater pacificist than I... but I say nuke the bastards" formulation. I saw hints of it in Matt's recent assertion that no one was more upset than he about the Catholic church's stance on condom use. Generally, when you hear this kind of disclaimer, you can be pretty certain that it is about to be contradicted in the next breath.

Posted by: PaulC | May 17, 2005 9:47:58 PM

Oh, please. Yes, stereotypes are bad, but "vicious"? I think "white guys suck at basketball" is pretty harmless, and "asians are bad drivers" is not too harmful. There's certainly some evidence that certain ethnic groups can't drive. I mean, have you been to Italy?

Posted by: Steve | May 17, 2005 9:49:48 PM

"D.W.O.," or "driving when Oriental." that's what we said in my politically-incorrect South Jersey hometown.

Posted by: Eisbär | May 17, 2005 9:50:41 PM

To quote me "You can blindfold these people with dental floss." and "Why do they bother listing hair and eye color for Chinese people?"

Posted by: Andrew Silverstein | May 17, 2005 9:52:24 PM

How can you all roundly dismiss the stereotype as untrue? Obviously if someone says "Asians are bad drivers," they don't literally mean that every single Asian is a bad driver. But, while it seems perfectly acceptable to say that "Southerners like BBQ" and not have everyone get all up in arms because of its literal inaccuracy, one can't generalize about race.

It's not a question of whether ALL Asians are bad drivers, but whether Asians might have a tendency to be worse drivers than other races. Maybe it's true. Maybe it's not. But how can so many people assert out of hand that it's not?

Posted by: Alex | May 17, 2005 9:55:09 PM

for stereotypes galore about asian-american driving, see this web-page.

Posted by: Eisbär | May 17, 2005 9:59:06 PM

Have I just been living my life in some kind of bizarre non-racist cocoon?

Apparently so.

And I agree that there seems to be some basis in reality for the stereotype. That's especially true if you've ever actually been to China. Look out!

Also, PaulC says: "I find Matt's ignorance (innocence?) of the stereotype less interesting than the formulation..." Um, Paul, if you were genuinely curious about the existence of a stereotype, how would you propose to ask whether it exists without simultaneously propogating it?

Posted by: Al | May 17, 2005 10:02:51 PM

I had an accident research job first year out of college. This was in SE Michigan, near Ann Arbor. This steroetype was well established in the research office, usually to the effect that any accident that involved something really bizarre (not just run-of-the-mill speeding or DUI or running a stop light) involved an Asian driver.

Posted by: JonF | May 17, 2005 10:04:52 PM

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