Hardworking, geeky, adept at math — these are some of the stereotypes that American culture attaches to East Asians, such as ethnic Chinese, Japanese, Koreans. But East Asians aren’t often portrayed as wells of creativity, a trait highly valued in U.S. culture. The opposite is more often true, with adjectives like “robotic” applied to East Asians’ achievements: When Chinese American figure skater Nathan Chen won a gold medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics, for instance, a Washington Post article credited his win to an “almost robotic zeal” rather than any creative flair.
New research by MIT Sloan associate professor Jackson Lu reveals how this creativity stereotype contributes to a phenomenon known as the “bamboo ceiling”: Despite the educational and economic success of East Asians in the United States, they remain underrepresented in leadership roles.
I’m drawn having read this article to consider what kind of creativity is being asked for. Here is a passage in George Castaneda’s book, America through Foreign Eyes (2022) about a crucial economic advantage of the U.S, as seen by a Chinese visitor. (Pg 140):
“The United States was the first and only modern economy and society to nail the two processes together, technological innovation and business, inventions and profits, engineering and economics, management through people like Frederick Taylor and creative imagination. As a Chinese traveler in 1918 “no matter what the branch of science, once it is transmitted to the United States, Americans use their talents to imitate it, put it in the practical use, and develop it.”