Loud. Arrogant. Rebellious. Asian.

Or: Why I proudly strive to break racial stereotype.
[warning, this post contains graphic language]

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, then you know I’m a get-after-it kind of guy. Some examples of that:

I also happen to be a Chinese-American immigrant: born on foreign soil and raised and naturalized in the US.

The attributes I described in the first paragraph run directly counter to our society’s conception of Asians – meek, quiet, humble people who are sexually non-threatening (this applies mainly to men), don’t cause any trouble, and do what they’re told.

Well I’m not interested in abiding by that bullshit.


Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I was shy and quiet, primarily interested in books and got bullied / beat up after class. And I did bust my butt to get good grades and good SAT scores so I could attend a top university like Stanford.

But at some point I realized the lie that my Chinese mother (unknowingly) told me:

Working hard and doing well in school will get you a good job and make girls want to be with you.”

Perhaps that worked in China, but it doesn’t work here.

Turns out, being successful at work OR in romance requires you to make noise, take risks and be aggressive. These lessons and many others are ones I’m still learning and striving toward. It might be simpler to just keep my head down and my mouth shut, as I see many of the men of my father’s generation do, but I know that that strategy won’t help me retire early or ask out that cute girl I just met.

And I won’t accept that.

I just finished a fantastic article by Wesley Yang in New York Magazine called Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?(There’s a great discussion on HN about it too)

It captures so much of how I’ve felt growing up, attending college, and my first few years in the working world. Yang and I share many of the same struggles and while he ultimately has chosen a different path than me, I found the article insightful, highly readable and personally touching.

I highly recommend you read it, whether you’re Asian or not, and have included a couple choice quotes to whet your appetite.

But to close the main part of this blog post I just want to say to my Asian brothers and sisters who feel encumbered by the expectations others have thrust upon you, whether that be your family, your peers or your employers – it’s not too late.

It’s not too late to break out of this role others have created for us. It’s not too late to demand a raise. To schmooze and network with the higher ups. To ask for the number or go in for the kiss.

If you’re content with what you have and who you are, then I am by no means telling you to change that.

But if you are dissatisfied, if you want more but feel encumbered by the expectations of others on how you ought to act– screw that.

Fuck expectations.


Shatter them and commit to going after what you really want. Because you deserve it.

Because we deserve it.

Selected quotes from Wesley Yang’s Paper Tigers

Note: I don’t agree with everything Yang says, but I do think he brings up a lot of great points. The article is quite long so I’ve quoted a couple particular sections of the article that I think are interesting / worth thinking about – not necessarily an endorsement.

Feeling misinformed about how high school really works

“The general gist of most high-school movies is that the pretty cheerleader gets with the big dumb jock, and the nerd is left to bide his time in loneliness. But at some point in the future,” he says, “the nerd is going to rule the world, and the dumb jock is going to work in a carwash.

“At Stuy, it’s completely different: If you looked at the pinnacle, the girls and the guys are not only good-looking and socially affable, they also get the best grades and star in the school plays and win election to student government. It all converges at the top. It’s like training for high society. It was jarring for us Chinese kids. You got the sense that you had to study hard, but it wasn’t enough.”

Undoing old habits to succeed at work

He made a point to start smiling more. “It was something that I had to actively practice,” he says. “Like, when you have a transaction at a business, you hand over the money—and then you smile.” He says that he’s made some progress but that there’s still plenty of work that remains. “I’m trying to undo eighteen years of a Chinese upbringing. Four years at Williams helps, but only so much.” He is conscious of how his father, an IT manager, is treated at work. “He’s the best programmer at his office,” he says, “but because he doesn’t speak English well, he is always passed over.”

The founder of HotOrNot.com gets a lesson in the “Bamboo Ceiling”

While he was still an electrical-­engineering student at Berkeley in the nineties, James Hong visited the IBM campus for a series of interviews. An older Asian researcher looked over Hong’s résumé and asked him some standard questions. Then he got up without saying a word and closed the door to his office.

“Listen,” he told Hong, “I’m going to be honest with you. My generation came to this country because we wanted better for you kids. We did the best we could, leaving our homes and going to graduate school not speaking much English. If you take this job, you are just going to hit the same ceiling we did. They just see me as an Asian Ph.D., never management potential. You are going to get a job offer, but don’t take it. Your generation has to go farther than we did, otherwise we did everything for nothing.”

The researcher was talking about what some refer to as the “Bamboo Ceiling”—an invisible barrier that maintains a pyramidal racial structure throughout corporate America, with lots of Asians at junior levels, quite a few in middle management, and virtually none in the higher reaches of leadership.

The disproportionately small number of Asians in leadership roles

If between 15 and 20 percent of every Ivy League class is Asian, and if the Ivy Leagues are incubators for the country’s leaders, it would stand to reason that Asians would make up some corresponding portion of the leadership class.

And yet the numbers tell a different story. According to a recent study, Asian-­Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents.


Teaching Asians to adopt new habits and behaviors to get ahead

In a presentation to 1,500 Asian-American employees of Microsoft, LEAP president and CEO J. D. Hokoyama laid out his grand synthesis of the Asian predicament in the workplace. “Sometimes people have perceptions about us and our communities which may or may not be true,” Hokoyama told the audience. “But they put those perceptions onto us, and then they do something that can be very devastating: They make decisions about us not based on the truth but based on those perceptions.” Hokoyama argued that it was not sufficient to rail at these unjust perceptions. In the end, Asian people themselves would have to assume responsibility for unmaking them. This was both a practical matter, he argued, and, in its own way, fair.


Catching up on lessons in being a man that many Asians miss

What if you missed out on the lessons in masculinity taught in the gyms and locker rooms of America’s high schools? What if life has failed to make you a socially dominant alpha male who runs the American boardroom and prevails in the American bedroom? What if no one ever taught you how to greet white people and make them comfortable? What if, despite these deficiencies, you no longer possess an immigrant’s dutiful forbearance for a secondary position in the American narrative and want to be a player in the scrimmage of American appetite right now, in the present?

How do you undo eighteen years of a Chinese upbringing?


The “Asian Playboy” explains why he coaches Asian men to pickup women

Tran continues to lay out a story of Asian-American male distress that must be relevant to the lives of at least some of those who have packed Master Krauss’s living room. The story he tells is one of Asian-American disadvantage in the sexual marketplace, a disadvantage that he has devoted his life to overturning. Yes, it is about picking up women. Yes, it is about picking up white women. Yes, it is about attracting those women whose hair is the color of the midday sun and eyes are the color of the ocean, and it is about having sex with them. He is not going to apologize for the images of blonde women plastered all over his website. This is what he prefers, what he stands for, and what he is selling: the courage to pursue anyone you want, and the skills to make the person you desire desire you back. White guys do what they want; he is going to do the same.


Note: This article was edited in a few minor areas on December 2011. The original can be found here.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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Leave a Reply

  1. Hey Jason. I just wanted to say that this is the article I’ve been wanting to write within myself but never could find the words for. This blog has inspired me beyond anything else. We have the power to overcome those perceptions. If we’re dissatisfied, we have the power to say like you said, “Fuck expectations.

    Shatter them and commit to going after what you really want. Because you deserve it.

    Because we deserve it.” We definitely do deserve it. What your mother told you was a lie that I realized too. It made it unbelievably frustrated. So I decided to create my own blog. I was motivated by the rejection therapy. I was motivated by many other factors. But most of all, this was the topic that always was on my subconscious that was like a fire inside of me that wouldn’t go away. I’ve always been conditioned to think in certain ways based on my culture. But being born and raised here, it’s in my blood to think differently. I’ve always wanted to be more assertive and aggressive even. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I’ll be re-reading it whenever I need the inspiration. Continuing kicking serious butt.

    Best, Matt

  2. @30vanquish Wow – thanks Matt. I really appreciate your comment. This post was both easy to write (because it came straight from the heart) and hard to write (because it’s so personal). I’m glad it connected with you.

    Thank you for sharing your stories and your reasons for wanting to do more and break expectations. The only expectations we should strive to live up to are our own. You’ve already pushed far ahead with your blog and rejection therapy so I’m proud to have you on get-after-it team.



  3. I like what you said because it’s true. I never said that one way was better than another way. I was just saying that for some people, there’s a clash.
    Jason was trying to use this post to inspire those who live in the stereotype and want to change it. The people who are happy living that way is great. I feel happy for them.

  4. I never meant to say that one way is better than another way. If there are people who like to be humble and quiet, I respect that. The people who do want to change into something that isn’t so stereotypical can do so. For some people, happiness isn’t the marriage, the job, the friends.
    For some, it’s going after what you want 100%, no matter what and breaking the stereotype along the way (even if reduced by cities like NYC, Vancouver, SF, etc.)

  5. Interesting post, this one and the original Paper Tiger one. As a first-gen. Asian American myself, I can see why there are some of us who see the stereotype, see the cultural expectations and just say “fuck all”.

    I don’t get why there’s all this anger about being lied to by parents or Asian cultural norms, though. This is exactly a difference in culture; getting ahead in Asia, a generation ago, *does* mean being humble, shy, assimilating with everyone else. Hell, there were articles on how orderly the Japanese were post-tsunami disaster as a positive attribute.

    So yea, some of us are going to be loud, obnoxious, make demands, and hell some of us might make it work. The rest are probably perfectly happy w/ excelling in school and getting a well-paid job – kinda like how most diligent people would end up, regardless or race or culture.

  6. Jason,

    This post makes me want to Asian just so that I can obliterate all those stereotypes. Then again, I’m Mormon so I’m sure that I have enough stereotypes to obliterate. Either way, great post.


  7. @allenc It isn’t anger. And I am fine with the people who are content with excelling in school/jobs. That’s perfectly fine. It isn’t being lied to by parents either. They’re just passing down their culture. And culture is great, it’s what makes people identify with what they are.But there is still the idea that all Asians are humble and reserved. From the article, it “Turns out, being successful at work OR in romance requires you to make noise, take risks and be aggressive.” In this generation, especially since we’re living here, the situation demands more risks/aggression. Therefore, we’ve been living in a place where our culture that is taught to us doesn’t match the traits ideal for the society we live in. It’s fine for most because it’s tolerable to those who want to do well in school/jobs/etc.But how about those who want to break the stereotypes? There’s that “metaphorical barrier” that needs to be broken by obliterating all of the stereotypes.

  8. @jordanjwoods Hahah – thanks Jordan. Are you wearing a collar shirt and tie and knocking at my door? No? Then you’re already breaking some stereotypes. =P

  9. @cemerick Thanks for the comment dude – sounds like you really can appreciate that desire to “make it” even if you’re not Asian.

  10. @30vanquish @allenc I think we both agree, and that neither of us like looking at this and hyperbolizing it to the extreme. As you say, for those of us who want to break stereotypes, this is good advice; however, what is *not* good advice is generalizing this into “being successful at work or romance requires making noise, taking risks, etc.” Isn’t that just advocating the extreme opposite view and asserting that aggression is the only path to success?

  11. As Asian, I fit into that “quiet/shy/non-threathening” stereotype. I didn’t know how destructive this behavior is, until now.

  12. I encourage you to be as sexually threatening as you can.

    what do you think of livefyre? :)

  13. @jasonshen @stolen.data.net you want to win but you’re already playing as the loser whose only pretending to be a winner. everyone can see right through that… you’re not fooling anyway. only too late in life you’ll realize the only game you’re playing is with yourself. life isn’t so black & white and winning & losing to people, that’s not what actually makes people happy. people are happy when they’re surrounding by people who love them and have people they can be themselves with, not when their fucking as many white woman as possible and basing their confidence on the amount of money they have, that’s a pathetic lifetime. you’ll be the loser as long as you think you’re fighting a battle. be yourself.

  14. Great post, Jason. I think several parts of this apply to nerdy/introverted people of all races. I was like that growing up, and have only recently realized that I needed to break out of that mold to achieve my goals in life.

  15. @-mark- I fully agree except that introversion isn’t a bad thing in my opinion. It’s just a matter of being assertive when you need to be, even if you’re introverted.

  16. @30vanquish Well, I’m happily engaged and I’m an engineer for Google, so meek & quiet didn’t go so shabbily for me.

    Actually though, I don’t mean necessarily to just shut up and stay in the background all the time; I totally understand the need for self-promotion at times, to speak up, to let people know what you’ve done. But this is looking to take that to the next level – Loud. Arrogant. – as per the title. Hell, I can see needing to do that once in a while, but this is advocating just living it as a way of life…simply because assholes get chicks and jerks get ahead?

  17. Its crazy how much your blog resonates with all the things I am trying to do with my life.  I’m also an Asian male who just graduated from  stanford, was a junior national champion, and is trying to break the traditional asian stereotype.  In fact, the whole spirit of finding your identity, challenging stereotypes, mastering social skills, and lifestyle hacking are things that I have been trying my best to do for the past few years, though you’re definitely many steps ahead of me.  Awesome stuff man.

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