Francis Newton Souza - Expressionistic Artist

Just So Stories of Stereotypes

I used to tell people who asked about school that math was my favorite subject, and I was good at it.  They would usually then tell me something along the lines of, “That’s pretty typical of your people.”

Americans love to talk a lot about how Indians are good at math, science, medicine, politics, business, etc.  It’s positive as far as stereotypes go– but it’s also unfounded.  And, in my youth, I thought it was better to not waste energy on the good stereotypes, unfounded or not.

After I married an artist though, I changed my tune. Becoming part of the art community helped me realize that the stereotype was a double-edged sword.  The unspoken aspect of the popular stereotype is that because Indians are so good at the maths and sciences, they are bad at the physical things and arts.

Which is to say, in my adulthood, I learned that there’s really no such thing as a positive stereotype. I’ve probably let a lot of misguided generalizations slide.

It’s been a long time since my aptitude for math has come up in casual conversation, but if it did, I don’t think I’d just smile at the not-quite compliment. (Because the words also suggest that I didn’t own the talent, or work for the grade. I just inherited a country’s genetic genius.)

I hope I’d say something like this:

Let me tell you about India, in a way only a non-historian could– out-of-order, without references, and with no considerations for global importance.

India is a mother. She cares for her children, no matter where they move, who they marry, or what jobs they have.  India is conflict, full of heroes who fight, saviors who call for peace, farmers who pray to Gods for a bit of rain, and entrepreneurs who build skyscrapers next door. She is a green oasis, a dry desert, an icy mountain range, and the dark seas.

India is faith and abundance, a long fairy tale of words and beliefs. She tells stories of a little blue boy who holds the entire world in his hands and a benevolent elephant god who eases obstacles. The moon is her personal, protective Goddess– a mother protecting a mother.

India is the story of a military invasion betraying a country’s ideals, a fable of a common woman cursing a king, and the tale of a prince finding his way home. There are bad people in her fairy tales– evil stepmothers, demons in the forest, and common people driven by greed.  There are heroes in her pages– cow maidens turned princesses, children turned prophets, and expats of other countries adopted into her arms.  There are regular people who she smiles upon, who milk the cows and clean the castles and raise the children who might be kings.  And each of those characters, no matter their conflict or path, regardless of their juxtaposition or desires, are her children. As are their children, and their children’s children.

India is an old country, an aging mother, and her millions of descendants are made up of all types. Some princes, some demons, and some who just light the way home. Some of her children cling to traditions of yesteryear, and some are pioneering the new frontier of a global world.

And some are good at math, while some are not..

In other words, you can’t Cliff-notes an epic story.  You can’t stereotype India or her children.

Here are some Indians who didn’t go into business, math, science, or politics… and are rockin’ it. It isn’t a big sample, but it’s enough to remind me that there’s a possibility of a non-mathematical future for any Indian who wants it enough.  (But why would you? Math is beautiful.)

Rachel Roy – Fashion Designer

Vikas Khanna – Master Chef
(and one of People Magazine’s 2011 Sexiest Men Alive)

Rocom – Rapper

(Geethali) Norah Jones (Shankar)

Jyoti Mishra from White Town
(From the “I could never be your woman” fame)

Francis Newton Souza – Expressionistic Artist

Sonjay Dutt – Pro Wrestler

Does your culture face similar somewhat-positive stereotypes? How do you respond?


Daily Post Prompt: Think of a time you let something slide, only for it to eat away at you later. Tell us how you’d fix it today.

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  1. I think this is my favorite blog of yours yet. Some beautiful women come from that side of the globe. ;) (Clearly my priorities are in order.) I actually didn’t know Norah Jones was of that nationality; she’s been in my top ten list for years.

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    1. Thank you! I’m rather fond of it myself. I don’t know if you’re a hiphop/rap fan, but I know you’re a fellow geek, so you might enjoy the stylings of Rocom. He’s a local artist, and friend– and other than painting tiny ewoks and glow in the dark interpretations of superheroes… he also raps about geek things. Which is, you know. Amazing.

      And yep, India is filled with gorgeous people. :)

      Norah Jones is actually half. She’s the daughter of Indian’s best known Sitar player– Ravi Shankar. :)

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  2. I know of several stereotyping stereotypical people, even though it’s not fair to stereotype them as stereotyping stereotypes…?
    That is complex. *headspin* :D
    Many people think of Ireland as a heavy drinking nation, and we love to party every night, we’re all red heads, green or blue or grey eyed, we all have bad tempers, we all have “the gift of the gab”(which is saying a lot but without giving anything away), we all wear Irish dancing skirts (biggest lie ever – they’re expensive!), home knit jumpers and tweed caps, we’re all dancers and musicians rolled into one, and that we ALL eat potatoes. Every day. Even for breakfast.
    Not true.

    Out of that list: I don’t drink, I’m brunette, I love to stay in and have a good read, my temper is as changeable as everyone else, I’m usually blunt, but CAN effectively say a lot without saying anything at all (it’s fun ;)), I can’t do Irish dancing, therefore I’ve never worn an Irish dancing skirt, I can only play one or two simple tunes of traditional Irish music, nothing more, I might go weeks before I’d see a potato, never mind eat it,
    The big one. You will never ever hear “Top of the morning to ya!” or “Begorrah!” from a *sane* Irish person.
    I do have green eyes, but I’m the only one in my family who does, and while I do love potatoes, I wouldn’t eat them every day. ;)

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    1. “The big one. You will never ever hear “Top of the morning to ya!” or “Begorrah!” from a *sane* Irish person. Ever.” hahaha! Oh, this list is awesome. I’m gonna have to say that I sound more stereotypically-Irish than you… if only because I would subsist entirely off potatoes if possible and I do have a bit of a temper. I’m jealous of your green eyes!

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  3. Great post.

    I honestly had no idea about this stereotype.

    Also, I would just like to say, even if your genes do predispose you to being good at math, which doesn’t mean because of your race, you should still be proud of your ability and skill.

    Do you have any siblings that aren’t math buffs? Maybe you can dispel the stereotype by looking at some family members? Or is your whole family math geniuses? ;)

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    1. Really? :) It’s the one I see the most. Mostly, though, it’s meant well. haha, I actually always think of that. But pointing to my little brother and saying, “Predisposed? He can barely count!” never seems like the nice thing to do, ha! Thanks for reading. :D

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  4. Its so tryue. Everything you said. Black people get it too. Ours is definitely either…oh you can dance…I bet you can sing good…you like hot food…you must be good at running, basketball and so on and so on. Ours tends to border on the arts stereotype.

    In regards to Indian Stereotypes; I understand – for some reason (admittedly on my part) I assume that someone is probably more attuned to a certain skill. I have an inferior complex about everything so everyone i meet is better at something than I am…except dancing. However Indians have more than proven their culture is rich in obtaining all arts. Here in the UK – Indians have been intrinsic to British history present and future – our richest man is steel magnate from india :) we have british indian cinema/ actors and directors (Chadha, Syaal) which is huge here. Artists (Anish Kapoor), musicians (Jay Sean) as well as doctors and athletes (Amir Khan) – there really is no excuse anymore. Its just bad habits.

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    1. It’s true! It’s all just bad habits. At this point in life, we’ve proved over and over that the black community is more than arts/physical and the Indians are more than maths/sciences. The UK has been living with a substantial Indian presence for longer than the USA, so maybe it’s all just a matter of time. Most things are! :) Thanks for reading and commenting!!

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  5. This was beautiful. I’ve always wanted to visit India and stay for awhile. It seems like a magical place, of sorts. I think the people of India are deeply spiritual and philosophical – deep thinkers. (Is that a stereotype?) I feel like my soul would be happy there.

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  6. What a great post :-) I’m of Celtic origin, we’re stereotyped as beligerent barbarians with hot tempers who like folk music and dance. I do have quite a hot temper but very rarely lose it. Everything else is a nonsense.

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  7. Nice post – very relevant.
    I’m from Sweden…I’m not blonde with an abundance of curves and I’m not into free sex or showing off my body in glossy magazines. (Too old now, but didn’t do anything of that kind when I was young and beautiful either…) . I’m not stiff, rude, quiet and silent – maybe a bit sad and moody sometimes – but who isn’t?

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  8. Great post! I detest stereotypes, generalizations, and labels. I have a Taoist way of looking at things: as soon as you name something, it is no longer what it was, because you have contained it and put your expectations on it. Stereotypes limit us, and I desire to experience all. And in my opionion, a lot of beautiful art and ideas have come from India. Btw: thanks for stopping by my blog and deciding to follow ; )

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    1. I understand! I generally separate labels from stereotypes, and preconceptions from judgements. Labels help us keep things organized and proud– stereotypes make us wary of those labels. Preconceptions are just biological or early childhood trained impulses to help us process information — judgements are not waiting to see if our preconceptions are true. Thank you for your thoughts, and time. :)

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  9. Lovely post. I enjoyed the artistry in your writing, the metaphor and contrast. Like others who’ve commented, I’m Irish. I remember a group e-mail where I was called a “mild red-head” and the reply was that was an impossible combination.

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    1. Thank you!! :) And an “Impossible contradiction” sounds like a lovely thing, actually, even though they were wrong about it’s implementation since being a mild red-head is entirely possible. :)

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    1. ha! :) Not the same kind of Indian, then… maybe it’s just the word that predisposes the math gene? ;) Kudos to your son for taking the time to enjoy math! Thanks for commenting!

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  10. I let everything slide so I couldn’t relate to this topic. My boys are great at maths, they aren’t Indian and their mother, also not Indian is pretty hopeless at it. Actually, I’m afraid of maths.
    I know what you mean about stereotyping. It’s never acceptable. And your story explaining what India is and who Indians are, is beautifully expressed. I loved it.

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    1. I also let everything slide. I started about 18 topics before I settled on this one just so I could post a list of fashion designing, jazz singing, wrestling, rapping Indians. :) Thank you for reading, and the compliment on the story! :)

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  11. The worst is when hands rise and are joint together above heads.. the horror unfolds. Apu imitations, shaking heads as if they were about to have an epileptic attack and this bizarre smirk as if the little performance they just gave were to be accepted as the biggest compliment a poor little Indian could get. Or the Pocahontas comments. The lazy Surinamese remarks.. “but you people”,. little children in the street of Holland that shout during a certain holiday “hey black pete!” or the men that think you are obliged to sleep with them because well.that’s what Caribbean women are good for.

    Worse is the stereotyping from within the community – all the things you are supposed to live up to. to be a “good Indian girl” or the double standards where Caucasian people can be stereotyped but the other way around is unacceptable.

    I admit (and I’m not proud of it) but I used to slap some of these people. Or I have been in some good old swear fests. Now I’m too tired of it. What I’ve learned is that if a person
    who says things that put you into a certain corner – is not a friend or someone you want to be acquainted with. I’m not getting angry that often anymore but I just say. “You’re parents must be very nice people, they raised you very well. Or I just give them a hug, tell them I feel sorry for them and walk away. Either way I don’t think it’s good to let something slide that is… well.. a bit abusive. Simply because nobody has the right to treat you that way.

    I wasn’t born to correct someone’s lack of decency but I wasn’t born to be insulted either.

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    1. Oh my gosh, I couldn’t stop laughing when I read that first part– I don’t even know how many times I’ve seen that crazy town dance. It’s true that some of the harshest judgement a culture faces is from the culture itself. I think it’s good to tell people when they’ve been hurtful… in a calm, non-slappy way, :).. if only because, like I just heard on the TV show Bones the other day, “If they aren’t old enough to learn, they’re certainly old enough to learn.”

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  12. What a beautiful, sweeping description of India. You’ve given me an idea for education. “Profiles from around the world.” I’ll periodically introduce my students to artists, musicians, actors, athletes, etc. from different countries. Hmmm. This could be a lot of fun. Thanks for being my muse today.
    I didn’t know Norah Jones was Indian either. I love her voice!
    You rock!
    Warmth and Peace

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  13. Fantastic post.

    I kinda love that you know who White Town is. (Side note- my favorite White Town cover to date, is “Your Wookiee,” set to the music of “Your Woman.”)

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  14. I wish we did have some positive stereotypes. I’m a typical American “mutt,” descended from Germans, Polish, and Italians. I’m a “white girl.” All I see over the internet is other countries blasting Americans for being ignorant, aggressive, lazy, you name it. A lot of what is said about us is born of judgments on our leaders, which (I don’t think) is an accurate assessment of a whole country. Sure we elect most of these people, but it’s a sort of “lesser of two evils” deal in most elections, in my opinion. We do have a lot of violence here, but most people here are just as appalled by it as every one else is, and we are certainly not the only country with serial killers and mass murderers. And yet… people from other countries also flock here from their native lands for opportunities they feel are afforded here but not in their own country. So I guess the “land of the free” stereotype is the only positive stereotype we have going for us right now.

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