It’s a predictable pattern: Tragedy strikes, and the volume of racism gets loud on the Internet. After Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash-landed in San Francisco last weekend, leaving two dead and many others injured, some folks thought it was appropriate to resurrect the dated trope that Asians are bad drivers. The pilot flying the plane when it crashed was identified as Lee Gang-guk, according to Korean authorities.
The stereotype that Asians aren’t great behind the wheel isn’t new, of course. I mean, it’s been featured in Family Guy. It has its own special place in the revered Urban Dictionary. It’s entrenched enough that it’s been the focus of multiple studies, which compared crash rates of immigrant drivers with those of native drivers. (One Canadian study from 2011 found that immigrant drivers — the biggest groups of whom were from China and India — actually had fewer accidents than “long-term” drivers.)
What’s confounding, though, is that the whole “Asians are bad drivers” stereotype clashes with another beloved Internet meme: that Asians are good at all the “hard” things, especially things that include math, technology or coordination.
Some folks might ask, Wait! Isn’t a positive stereotype, like the tech-wizard ninja one, actually kind of good? Some folks might also never have been asked to calculate the tip at a restaurant because of their assumed Asian math prowess. (Ahem. I’m just sayin’.)
How can a group be stereotyped in such diametrically opposite ways? If folks are going to say racist things after a fatal tragedy, is it too much to ask that at least the stereotypes be consistent? Because, you know, we can’t possibly be bad drivers and good at All The Things.
But I’d prefer neither.
–Kat Chow, “Dueling Stereotypes: Bad Asian Drivers, Good At Everything,” Code Switch: NPR 7/11/13