Category Archives: Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The usage of “FOB” and “ABG” to describe Asians

Context: 

The informant, MG, went to high school in New Hampshire and now attends college at the University of Seattle in Washington. This story was collected when asked about her experiences of being Asian American in college over the phone.

Main piece:

MG: Since going to school in the west coast I found it very difficult to acclimate to a college in the west coast because I’ve never had to utilize code switching before. The type of personalities…and the goals, and lifestyles, were so completely different it was difficult socializing when I had no idea how to relate to anyone….and that’s the thing…even the other asians…like, usually on the east coast, the other asian americans just find each other, you know? They just find each other and form a group. But on the west coast, it was just different. They had these two terms for asians that I didn’t know what they meant: fob and abg.

Interviewer: And what do those mean?

MG: haha you sound dumb asking that now. “Fresh off the boat”, bitch. And abg is “Asian baby girl.”

Interviewer: And how do those make you feel?

MG: Umm…well I’m not an FOB. And I’m not cute or small enough to be an ABG, but I also wouldn’t wanna be one. It’s just weird that people use those on the east coast so much.

Thoughts:

I went to middle school with the informant, but she went to the East coast for high school and I stayed on the West. Staying in California, I knew these words that she was talking about and it was something that was propagated throughout all the groups of Asians that were our age. It’s interesting to me now that she didn’t have any particularly strong feelings about the words when asked. Rather, she just tried to categorize herself into them. It goes to show that as a West coast Asian American, we feel like we have to categorize to try to make friends with other Asians–like letting out a signal to let people know who you are so that you can make friends more easily.

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Memorate of Racism and Corona Coughing

Informant: My editing partner told me about how she started having a coughing fit in class and the teacher actually asked her to leave. Like it wasn’t even the cough associated with Covid, it was a wet cough that she had been suffering from for a while. Everyone in class was freaking out even after she left.

Interviewer: She actually left the class? Do you think there was any racism as a part of it?

Informant: Oh it was racially charged. To say that it wasn’t racially charged would be f***ed. She’s f***ing asian.

Background: My informant and I were discussing the fear that was taking over the university campus and she brought up this story she heard from a friend.

Context:

Thoughts: The reason why I had to ask a clarifying question was because I suspected the student in question was Asian. At the time a lot of Asian students were facing racists slights such as this. It makes me wonder if the informant’s friend still would have been asked to leave the class if she wasn’t Asian.

Dropbear

Context:

PH is a 20 year-old student who lives in San Diego, California. She learned about the folk creature of the dropbear through her friend who is from Australia. She told me about it in an interview.

Text:

PH: my Australian friend tried to convince any non-Australian person she met about the existence of dropbears. This one is quite famous, I already knew about it. The fact that it’s so famous though made it easier to convince people because you can google dropbears and there’s a wikipedia page and lots of pictures so it seems legit. The pictures are all faked. The wikipedia page is actually about dropbears as folklore but at first glance it just looks real. Dropbears are koalas except carnivorous and vicious with very pointy teeth, they drop out of trees and attack people. Honestly almost every time my friend mentioned them to people she convinced them of their existence. It was always fun watching her casually do it to people. When we ran into other Australians she would mention dropbears and they would laugh and keep up the ruse.

Thoughts:

The legend of the dropbear plays into the exported national image of Australia as a land full of wild and strange creatures. People believe the informant’s friend when she tells them about dropbears because they don’t know any better, they assume that it’s true because they know that “there’s a lot of weird animals in Australia.” The informant’s Australian friend clearly takes joy in exploiting this popular representation of Australia and tries to convince people of something that is totally made up. It is something, according to this informant, that Australians seem to be “in on.” They know better but they like to perpetuate belief in the legend.

The idea of the dropbear, a hidden, dangerous creature that descends upon the unsuspecting walker at any moment, reveals anxiety about the unknown creatures in the woods. The jungle is a place of rich and dense biodiversity, and a lot of creatures can be dangerous. This legend reflects the anxiety of facing them. Moreover, foreigners’ gullibility with respect to the dropbear reflects the anxiety about encountering a national other, one characterized by wildness, the jungle, and primitivity. The Australian telling the story then stands in for this other, from a far off and unfamiliar land. The story also gives its tellers some national pride in being Australians.

Sinter Klaas

Context:

The informant is a Dutch immigrant to the United States in his fifties. He emigrated from the Netherlands in his thirties and lives in San Francsico. He experienced this holiday tradition every year on December 5h in the town of Lochem, with a population of 10,000 people who would gather in the market square. He told me about the tradition in a face-to-face interview. I am his son and we would practice some aspects of this tradition when I was younger, before celebrating Christmas.

Text:

Sinter Klaas would come every year, early December, he would arrive on a steam ship from Spain, he looked like santa claus, but he was slimmer, not as fat, had a long white beard. He would come and he had these svaarte pieten, black petes. It was usually women who would play them, they were often athletic and do handstands. Svaarte piet would come through the chimney, you would put your shoe out in front of the chimney, put out a carrot for Sinter klaas’ white horse, you would get a present.

There were lots of inconsistencies in the story. He would also go with his horse on the roof to deliver the presents. Where I grew up there was an actual ship that would come in with people dressed up as Sinter Klaas and svaarte piet. Svaarte piet would throw candy at everyone. One was pepernoten, these baked round things with spices, you would pick them from the floor and eat them, they weren’t packaged or anything. Later you had to do these things yourself, part of it was writing poems, teasing poems, you would lay bare someone else’s hurtful or embarrassing details. The one getting the present had to read the poem aloud and the more embarrassing the better. There would be “surprises,” – not the English meaning – which were elaborate built things. My dad built a model train after the train my sister took to school, there was some present inside. It’s not just opening the present but there’s more elaborate things going on. It needed a lot of involvement on the part of the parents. I guess people had more time in those days (laughs).

The whole svaarte piet thing… at first I really thought they were black and the relation to slavery never occurred to me. When you look back at it its kind of insane, its insane that nobody thought anything of it. There was a canal, he really came by boat. We would sing sinter klaas songs. He would come into the class at school and you would sing a lot of different songs for him.

If you were bad, they would put you in a bag, hit you with a roe (a switch, a small broom) and take you to Spain.

I think it comes from Saint Nicolas, who was a saint in Spain. He cut his mantle in half and gave it to poor people.

This was THE event for kids. Everyone in the town did it though, it was a social thing. There was always a bit of a scary aspect of it, Sinter klaas and svaarte piet. If you were not good, you would be taken to Spain! They were kind of scary, there were people dressing up as them who could have been drinking or whatever. We would sing a lot of naughty songs.

Thoughts:

Sinter Klaas is a cherished Dutch holiday. This festival mobilizes so many different modalities (sight, smell, taste, sound) that it is hard to know where to start in terms of analysis. A big standout and controversy in recent years is the character Svaarte Piet. He is a black-faced, big-lipped caricature of a Spanish moor, and acts as the slave of Sinter Klaas, the white patriarch. The Netherlands was a substantial dealer in slaves during the expansion into the new world. This dehumanization happened partly by way of representations of the African as a jester, a helper, obedient, athletic, savage, primitive, and so on. This common representation seems to have seeped into the cherished tradition of Sinter Klaas and has been used as a justification for white people to don blackface and act out a caricature every winter. Interestingly and shockingly, this tradition continues today. It has recently come under flak from anti-racism groups as a representation and perpetuation of Dutch slavery and colonization. Svaarte Piet is largely, as we see in my informant’s experience, a way to normalize racist perceptions of Africans and instill in children a casual attitude of extreme otherization in the homogenous white community in which he grew up. My informant had thought the people in blackface were really black (he had not much experience with real black people) and thought of this whole ceremony as a normal, fun tradition, he reflects that “it’s insane that nobody thought anything of it.”

The festival had an immensely positive impact on the informant as a child. Much more excessive, dramatic, and embodied than Sinter Klaas’ American iteration Santa Claus – people would pilot a boat down the canal on which a tall figure dressed in royal red with a long curling white beard would throw out good wishes to the crowd – this tradition is very intricate and at times seems like the staging of an elaborate play. People write teasing poems to each other, parents set up ‘surprises’, elaborate constructions designed to shock and amaze the children, and actors traipse around the town throwing sweets to the people. Much less private and domestic than the American Santa Claus tradition, this celebration pours out into the streets, into the canals, and engages all generations in a communal, public celebration which works to articulate a notion of who the Dutch people are and how they are situated in relation to the rest of the world. The blatant otherization of the African is an integral part of the ceremony in this process of articulating the boundaries of the self.

One Legged Pig Joke

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AH).

AH: “So I heard this from my dad, but I don’t know where he heard it. There’s this delivery guy and he’s making his normal rounds, but he has to go out to this really rural part of town to deliver this package. It’s a big ranch house and there’s a huge yard, and there’s pigs out and dogs out, it’s just absolutely gorgeous. So he walks up to the house and there’s a pig pen off to the side and he notices that there’s a pig out there with only one leg.”

CB: “Only one leg?”

AH: “Only one leg. And he thought ‘well that’s odd’. So he goes to the door to deliver the package and he asks the guy ‘hey what’s with the pig that has only one leg?’ 

And the guy looks at him and goes ‘See that pig right there! Let me tell you about that pig! THAT pig ran into my house and saved my WHOLE family when it was burning down. And we’ve rebuilt everything now, but he saved my entire family’s life’

And the guy says, ‘that’s cool, but why does he only have one leg?’

And then the man looks at him and he says, ‘Let me tell you about that pig right there. That pig saved my daughter from being eaten by a rattlesnake.’

And he says, ‘That’s awesome, but why does he only have one leg?’

And he says, ‘Let me tell you about THAT pig right THERE. It was the middle of the night and a wolf was coming down the mountains to eat my animals, and THAT pig right there chased that wolf all the way up the mountain saving my entire livestock.’

And he was like, ‘That’s GREAT. But WHY does he only have one leg?’

And the old man looks at him dead in the eye, and he says, ‘Well it’d be a shame to eat him all at once wouldn’t it?’ ”

CB: [Laughs] “Um… That’s great. What do you think the meaning of the joke is?”

AH: “Uh… uh don’t get rid of a good thing”

CB: “What do you think that it’s important to share that joke?”

AH: “Well it’s important because it teaches you how to properly eat a pig without killing it.” [Laughs]

Background:
My informant told me this joke, even though we had both heard one particular member of our family repeat it many times. The joke plays on a dark sense of humor that he is known for, and has become very heavily associated with that relative.

Context:
My informant called me with stories prepared after hearing that I had been interviewing other members of our family for folklore. We had a fun and casual conversation, exchanging versions of stories that we had heard growing up.

Thoughts:

My informant, and her father who told her the joke, grew up in Salinas, CA. Salinas has grown to be a decent sized city, however it is still surrounded by a huge agricultural community. This joke reflects tensions that are common in modern agricultural communities; a separation between the ‘city folk’ and the ‘country folk’. This joke mocks the farmer for their stereotypical behavior, and satirizes his choice to eat his livestock. By having the farmer eat such a clearly intelligent and amazing pig, the joke portrays him as ‘uncivilized’ and out of touch with modernly accepted behaviors. These ideas represent stereotypes for farming communities, and highlight the tension within the community.

For another variation of this joke see Doug Mayo’s post “Friday Funny: The Pig with a Wooden Leg” in University of Florida’s IFAS Extension. https://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/phag/2016/01/15/friday-funny-the-pig-with-a-wooden-leg/

Why Do Eskimos Wash Their Clothes in Tide?

Main piece:

(The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.)

Interviewer: Can you tell me a joke?

Informant: Sure. Here’s one my mother always told me. Do you know why the Eskimos warsh their clothes in Tide?

Interviewer: Why?

Informant: It’s too cold out-tide. (laughs)

Interviewer: (chuckles) Wow. That’s uhh… that’s a good one. Do you think she got that from somewhere or do you think she came up with it?

Informant: N- She always told that joke – no she probably heard it someplace and just repeated it cause she thought it was funny.

Background: My informant was born and raised in southern Illinois to very strict Catholic parents. She has strong Irish and Italian heritage. Her mother disliked profanity in all senses, so though this joke does carry the now offensive demonym ‘Eskimo,’ it is not very risque in any sense, or directed at Inuit people for that matter.

Context: The informant is my grandmother, and has always had a proclivity for telling stories, jokes, and wives tales. This piece was selected out of many from a recording of a long night of telling stories in a comfortable environment.

Thoughts: I think the most interesting things to examine about this joke are that A) even though it’s from over half a century ago it still makes apt use of a corporate name for the central pun and B) to a devout and strict Catholic woman back in the day, words that we now understand are offensive were regarded as fit for joking. Though this woman – my great grandmother – may have never sworn I don’t doubt she had no problem with other racist or offensive names for people or groups. This is a common and interesting problem with religion as a measure of “goodness.”

JAP Stereotype

Background: The informant is a woman in her late fifties who grew up in downstate New York in Queens and on Long Island before moving to upstate New York for college. In her mid 20s, she moved out to Southern California and she had lived there ever since. She comes from a large family of Catholic Irish-Americans.

Context: TR went to high school in the late 70s/early 80s on the north shore of Long Island, where a substantial percentage of the public high school’s student body was either wealthy, Jewish, or both. TR does not consider JAP to be an antiemetic phrase and mentions that it describes women that aren’t Jewish too. Later, when she went to college in upstate New York, she says there were a lot of JAPs at her school there too.

Main Text:

(In the following interview the informant is identified as TR and the interviewer is identified as JS.)

TR: Especially coming from Long Island, the JAP—the Jewish American Princess…

JS: Did you use the phrase JAP?

TR: Oh god, yeah, cuz I was from Long Island!

JS: And did you know anyone who you considered a JAP?

TR: Oh, yeah!

JS: Do you want to explain exactly what a JAP is?

TR: Well, usually a Jewish American Princess knew it and was proud of it and self-identified, so it was never like, it never seemed like a really negative thing. Actually, I had a friend, she was a senior when I was a freshman—or, she was a junior when I was a freshman and yeah, she, uh, she self-identified as a JAP [laughs].

JS: Wanna explain anything else besides the abbreviation?

TR: Well, usually they’re Jewish…but they don’t have to be. Yknow, they dress very kind of, like, Long Island, downstate New York.

JS: What does “Long Island” mean?

TR: In the eighties…big hair, dark hair, lots of curls, fancy clothes, tons of makeup, very expensive clothes, lots of jewelry. And defitniely a thick New York accent, like “OH MY GAWD.” [laughs]

JS: So their families are wealthy?

TR: Definitely. Yes.

JS: Is there a specific…field Jewish American Princesses go into, studying-wise?

TR: Well, yeah they would get husbands. [laughs] Typically they would get..yknow attorneys, doctors, the hotel industry, ILR…I don’t think I knew any engineering JAPS.

JS: What do their parents do?

TR: Doctors, attorneys, wives…oh, oh, accountants!

JS: Anything else you wanna share about the culture?

TR: No, you know, it was a look and it was consumption—consumption.

Thoughts: The phrase JAP is something I know, but not really something me or people I grew up around ever used. Perhaps it’s still frequently used in downstate New York, but I suspect part of the affiliation had to do with the style and “consumption” (as TR calls it) of the 80s. It’s funny that she says it’s not exclusive to young Jewish women, despite what the acronym stands for, and that people would proudly self-identify as JAPS, despite it seeming like a stereotype. I suppose it’s not the worst stereotype to be identified with.

Further Citations:

For a humorous take on the Jewish American Princess, see Rachel Bloom’s “JAP Battle” from the television show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019).

“JAP Battle (EXPLICIT) – “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”.” Youtube, uploaded by racheldoesstuff, 29 Feb 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TQmo5TvZQY.

Derogatory Joke About Romani People

Main Piece:

Subject: This is more of just like a classic- I think- Old man folklore. My Grandfather was basically like, “Yeah you know, you can’t trust gypsies.” He’s from Alabama. But he said, “You can’t trust gypsies. One time when I was little, we had a gypsy neighbor go around and ask for sugar and what not. So every time he came to my house my mom would give him some sugar. And what he would do is he would take the cup of sugar, he would walk out to the yard and stick his thumb in it so there would be a dent in it. Then he would come back to the house and say, ‘Oh you didn’t fill it all the way.’” And he was like, “Yeah that’s what gypsies will do, you know. They’ll put their thumb in the sugar and take twice.” And I was like, “Huh?”

Interviewer: Huh. Um… Where do you think he picked that up from?

Subject: It was like a joke basically. Definitely from his family members. Like just whatever they talk about or whatever.

Interviewer: Okay and like… How does that.. How does hearing this make you feel? How do you react to hearing this?

Subject: I mean… I took this one time and… actually the original twenty pages of my Senior Thesis that I wrote was a short story about this, that I didn’t end up leaving in the thesis. But that story influenced what I wrote and like… and it was like… as a character…

Interviewer: So you used it in a short story?

Subject: Like this folklore was kind of incorporated into it. I took the story and gave it to another character. So I guess you could say it was intriguing. I obviously understood the implications but I was like, “Okay… Who comes up with this? Why do you tell this?” It’s a joke I get it but… I don’t know. Clever I suppose but I don’t know.

Context: The subject is a 20-year-old African American male in his sophomore year at Columbia University studying creative writing. The subject and I were best friends in high school, and we are both currently quarantined in our homes in Charleston. I asked the subject if he would like to meet up for a six feet apart walk one evening, and asked him if he had heard any folklore he could share with me, and he told me this offensive joke his grandfather used to say.

Interpretation: I am pretty familiar with the use of the derogatory term of “gypsy” against Romani people, as well as the stereotype that they are thieves and swindlers. It was not long ago that I learned the origin of that the expression of getting “gypped”, meaning getting cheated or swindled, is derived from the word gypsy. I was actually hesitant about treating this derogatory joke as folklore, but I think it is significant to acknowledge these stereotypes are still around and still being passed down and taught to younger generations. I think of how antiziganism (Romani discrimination) compares to how antisemitism is viewed. For one, both people groups suffered devastating population death percentages during the Holocaust. But antizagnism is far more widely accepted in society. Just in 2017, a TV show called “Gypsy” was released by Netflix about a white woman’s path of becoming a cheater, manipulator, seductress, etc. She took on all of the horrid stereotypes and assumptions of the word. The term gypsy has only just started to be challenged as a derogatory slur. I think the prejudice, oppression, and discrimination against Romani people has generally been pushed to the side in American public education. People still dress up as “gypsies” for Halloween, the term “gypped” is still extremely common. There does not seem to be much reckoning with the discrimination against this particular group.

Furthermore, I found it interesting how detached the subject seemed to be from his grandfather’s telling of the joke. The way he imitated him was a sort of rambling that pretty clearly revealed his personal attitude towards the joke, this being that he was not a fan. He seemed generally both accustomed and fed up by this rhetoric from his grandfather.

See more at: https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/gypsy-slur-netlflix

Coronavirus Pandemic – North Korean Biowarfare Conspiracy

Main Piece:

Subject: Okay… so basically how the Coronavirus started was this- and this is how it was told to me. Basically, if you look on the news, “Why are there no cases in North Korea? Kim Jong Un closed that off, he’s cutting that thing down to zero.” To which I replied, “Well no one can really go to North Korea but… okay.” But he said, “No. North Korea had a relationship with China. It started in China right? What happened was, the North Korean prisoners were let free into China. And you know how when you leave the army or prison you get a vaccine, you get shots, you don’t really question it. Come on if someone said I’ll give you this shot for freedom, or else you’re gonna stay here, then you’re gonna take the shot! You don’t care, you want freedom. So… those North Koreans took the shot or whatever thinking it was a vaccine. Then they went to China. What if that…. was the Coronavirus and they started giving it to people in China…”

Interviewer: Oh… So like biowarfare?

Subject: Exactly! “So China knows what the cure is because they’re friends with North Korea. So some of these Chinese people have the vaccine already… but it’s just spreading to everyone else.”

Interviewer: Wow… Wait who did you hear this from?

Subject: *laughter* My grandfather. But he was telling me, “Here’s another reason why it could be. What do you think about that? What do you think about that?” And I was like, “I don’t know about that.” He was like, “You think it’s possible?” I was like, “No.”

Interviewer: Hmm… Um… Okay. So… how’s that currently affecting your mental state? *laughter*

Subject: Um. When my mom was here- because it’s not just that story specifically. It’s “the 5G towers.” It’s “to protect yourself, breathe in steam.” It’s “get some ginger on your boiling pot and put your face over it…” It’s all these videos that are popping up, and all these whatsapp messages everywhere that are like these nurses who are like, “I worked at a radiation lab and they locked us out of our work places.” Basically like these CSI, Men-In-Black type things. It’s just annoying… the amount of bullshit conspiracy theories that are coming out.

Interviewer: The rare times I go on Facebook, that is all I see. It’s disturbing.

Subject: It’s so annoying. My mom keeps showing me them like not endorsing it but just showing me it. And it’s literally like… other medical people. Apparently. In their PPE. It’s like cat-fishing but with using their authority. It’s such a mistrust it’s annoying. Like I could care less if it was harmless… but the idea that 5G or random other stuff is happening is so annoying. And dangerous.

Context: The subject is a 20-year-old African American male in his sophomore year at Columbia University studying creative writing. The subject and I were best friends in high school, and we are both currently quarantined in our homes in Charleston. I asked the subject if he would like to meet up for a six-feet-apart walk one evening, and asked him if he had heard any folklore regarding the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Interpretation: I have heard many variations of this conspiracy theory regarding the Coronavirus outbreak. Like the subject, I am quite disturbed by the amount of misinformation, conspiracy, and racism that has spread along with the virus. I think times of such uncertainty and fear invite conspiracies. I found it interesting how the theory came from the subject’s grandfather, because while these types of theory are often tied more to the older generation, I have also seen so much of it coming from young people. I have seen so much misinformation and lies coming from people in the twenty to forty age-range, that the hysteria seems widespread across all demographics. Particularly, the racism thrown at China over the Pandemic has been abysmal. The biowarfare accusations have been pretty prominent on the Internet. I think people are just desperate to find a scapegoat when they lose control over a situation.