Popular representations of Asians – and especially Asian men – often stereotype them as nerds. Drawing on qualitative field studies of Chinese Canadians’ beliefs about ‘authentic’ identity and of an urban ‘nerd-culture scene,’ this article examines the perceived nerdiness of Asians. Membership Categorization Analysis is used as a framework to analyze two Chinese Canadian men’s self-categorizing discourses. One embraces his nerdiness but is ambivalent about his racial/ethnic identity; the other is comfortable being categorized as Asian but distances himself from what he describes as the ‘typical’ nerdy Asian male. Although orientations to their presumptive categorization as Chinese or Asian differ, both design their self-presentations to manage inferences made about them. We argue that Canadian multiculturalism complicates these processes by discursively transforming racial difference into ‘cultural diversity’. This produces systematic errors in categorization, leading to inaccurate inferences of cultural competences or stereotypes social attributes from perceptions of physical difference. Under these conditions, the linking of nerds and Asians not only constrains individual life projects but can function as the ‘benign discourse’ that hides a racial subtext, reproducing historic, anti-Asian stereotypes in a seemingly neutral guise.

, , , , ,
Social Identities
School of Journalism and Communication

Huynh, K. (Kenneth), & Woo, B. (2014). ‘Asian fail’: Chinese Canadian men talk about race, masculinity, and the nerd stereotype. Social Identities, 20(4-5), 363–378. doi:10.1080/13504630.2014.1003205