"Asian Nerd" Dominates Jeopardy, Reveals Racism is Alive and Well

Answer: Arthur Chu.

Question: Who is the new villain of Jeopardy?

Chu, an Asian-American, has been all over the news of late for his controversial butt-kicking on the quiz show, a result of aggressive buzzing and superior intellect. Now some are wondering if, perhaps, the backlash has something to do with his ethnicity. Could it be that peoples' reflective annoyance has something to do with the perception of Asians as overachieving, socially off-putting geeks? Chu himself has said he embraces the "Asian nerd" stereotype that people are responding to. And indeed, this stereotype continues to dominate the media and public consciousness.


Asians have long been considered a "model minority" able to attain greater success than other groups. Amy Chua, the tiger mother herself (we'll get to that stereotype later) has perpetuated this idea in her new book The Triple Package, which contends there are eight "superior" cultural groups: Jewish, Indian, Chinese, Iranian, Lebanese, Nigerian, Cuban and Mormon.

The offshoot of this idea is the bespectacled, socially inept Asian geek stereotype. A couple years ago, the Washington Post did a great article on the depiction of Asians in advertising. Many companies tout their tech products by utilizing nerdy Asian characters, and Asians themselves are inclined to like tech products if promoted by another Asian, and to favor non-tech products if endorsed by a Caucasian.

In the media, while we have moved past the most egregious examples of this stereotype--remember (shiver) Mickey Rourke as I.Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's or Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles?--the stereotyping still persists, with Asian nerds making appearances in shows such as The Big Bang Theory and 2 Broke Girls, and movies including Harold & Kumar, The Internship and The Dark Knight. The other angle is to build humor around our assumption of nerdiness, like Mr. Chow, the heavily accented bad-ass in The Hangover films (an awkward Asian guy kicking butt instead of doing math equations? LOL!)

Sexy Asian girls ready for a good time!

This stereotype isn't the only one affecting Asians: Women, if not seen as uber-nerds, are often depicted as giggling airheads ready for a good time. The worst recent example of this is the show Dads, which featured an Asian assistant asked to dress up as a "sexy Asian schoolgirl." Type in "sexy Asian girls," and be prepared to pore through more than 2 million results. And don't even get us started on Asian porn. But fear not, there is another option for Asian women: the overbearing "tiger mother." Consider that the same character in Dads also talked about "being beaten with a textbook until the age of 16." (Haha!)

Sure, there is hope that media is making powerful strides in the right direction on this issue. But the Jeopardy kerfuffle highlights how stereotypes continue to rule the day. For more, check out this sadly and ridiculously long list of stereotypes from Media Action for Asian Americans.

As for Chu, we'll continue to root him on, because his smarts are dazzling. And no, that's not just because he's Asian.

Image: commons.wikimedia.com

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