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.)
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. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/daily-prompt-set-it-to-rights/