3.6 - Perpetual Foreigner - Systemic
Racism Against Asian Americans
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Subjects: Ethnic Studies
Number of Activities: 4
Perpetual foreigner stereotyping is a form of systemic racism used
against Asian Americans. They have historically been stereotyped as
foreigners in the United States no matter their duration of time living
here or whether they were American-born. The perpetual foreigner
stereotype is maintained by institutions such as Hollywood, private and
public sectors, to elected public officials. Throughout U.S. history,
Asian Americans have been scapegoated as the cause of the country’s
various problems and catastrophes including economic despair, wars,
terrorism, and coronavirus pandemic.
- Learn about and discuss what systemic racism means.
Learn about and discuss that perpetual foreigner stereotyping is a
form of systemic racism against Asian Americans.
Learn about and discuss the challenges Asian Americans face being
viewed as perpetual foreigners in Hollywood, the private and public
sectors, and by elected public officials in the United States.
Learn about and discuss the consequences of perpetual foreigner
stereotyping to Asian Americans.
Talk about their own experience with stereotyping and the harms it
- Research on stereotyping on various communities.
Discuss how stereotypes are used to pit races or groups against one
another, and also how certain groups are taken advantage of by those
with power and authority.
- Discuss why and how to combat stereotyping.
Perpetual Foreigner Essay
Stereotyping is used to pit one race or group against another, pushing
some to the bottom of the pecking order and allows certain groups to be
taken advantage of. It also prevents people from uniting and advancing
together. Perpetual foreigner stereotyping is a form of systemic racism
used against Asian Americans, who have historically been stereotyped as
foreigners in the United States no matter their duration living here or
whether they were American-born. Asian Americans were placed into
segregated schools, and were excluded from immigration and citizenship
for over 60 years.
The perpetual foreigner stereotype is maintained by institutions
including Hollywood, private and public sectors, to elected public
officials. As far back as 1865 during the construction of the
Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese workers were seen as inferior labor
and placed into unskilled jobs, earning two-thirds what European workers
did, and segregated into “section houses.”
Within the entertainment industry, the acting career of Anna May Wong
was stymied by the Hays Code. Instead of Wong, the lead female role in
The Good Earth (1937)—about Chinese farmers—went to Luise Rainer
in yellowface. Mickey Rooney also in yellowface portrayed a Japanese
neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). This practice of Asian
roles going to white actors instead of qualified Asian actors would
later evolve into whitewashing, as seen most recently with Tilda Swinton
playing an Asian monk in Doctor Strange (2016), and Scarlett
Johansson as the lead character—originally Japanese—in
Ghost in the Shell (2017).
During World War II, Japanese Americans were seen as foreigners. Under
the pretense of national security, almost the entire population
(120,000) of Japanese Americans in the continental United States were
incarcerated from 1942 to 1946, and lost their homes and businesses.
Two-thirds of them were American-born citizens.
In 1982, Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, became a scapegoat for the
decline of the American auto industry in the 1980s. Chin was murdered by
two unemployed white autoworkers who thought he was Japanese. In 1999,
Joseph Ileto, a Filipino American, was murdered by an avowed white
supremacist for being a person of color. Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian
American, was the first among many murdered shortly after the September
11, 2001 attacks, because he looked like an Arab Muslim.
In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of U.S. government and
other elected public officials referred to the coronavirus as “the
Chinese virus.” This labeling then created an environment whereby
violence and attacks against Asian Americans became more permissible.
Thousands of innocent Asian Americans were scapegoated for being the
cause of the coronavirus, and faced hate speech, hate incidents and hate
crimes in the process.
Throughout all of these points in history, Asian Americans have
organized in different ways to protest and fight back against these
Morgan, Thad. “Casting White People in Asian Roles Goes Back
Centuries.” A&E Television Networks, LLC.
https://www.history.com/news/yellowface-whitewashing-in-film-america. Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.
James, Meg, David Ng. “In Hollywood, Asian American actors see few
lead roles, and pay discrepancies when they land one.” Los Angeles
https://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-hawaii-five-0-asian-actors-20170708-story.html. Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.
Sodhi, Rana, Harjit Sodhi. “Remembering Balbir Singh Sodhi, Sikh Man
Killed in Post-9/11 Hate Crime.” StoryCorps, Inc.
https://storycorps.org/stories/remembering-balbir-singh-sodhi-sikh-man-killed-in-post-911-hate-crime/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.
Yam, Kimmy. “Trump is 'legitimizing' hate incidents against Asian
Americans: U.N. experts.” NBC Universal.
Trump is 'legitimizing' hate incidents against Asian Americans:
U.N. experts (nbcnews.com). Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.
Hays Coder: among other restrictions, prohibited physical
relations between races onscreen 1
Perpetuate: continuing to spread or maintain a certain idea or
Stereotype: a fixed general image or set of characteristics
representing a particular type of person or thing, which may not
actually be true; often negative 3
Yellowface: the usage of makeup and/or prosthetics by white
actors to portray Asian characters 4
Whitewashing: the casting or rewriting of Asian roles for white
1 Definition adapted from TVTropes.org
2 Definition adapted from The Collins Dictionary
3 Definition adapted from The Collins Dictionary
4 Definition adapted from The Cambridge Dictionary
5 Definition adapted from The Merriam-Webster Dictionary
What are some common images of Asian Americans on TV and in movies
today? How did the speakers in the clip feel about seeing these images
as they were growing up?
What stereotypes of Asian and Asian Americans appeared in Hollywood
How might seeing positive or negative images of a group affect you,
especially if you are part of the group being portrayed?
Assessment, Application, Action, and Reflection
Hold discussions in Socratic seminars
Activity 1: Your own experience with
Show students video clip from this lesson. [Run time: 01:34]
viewing the video clip have an entire class discussion on the following
- Have you ever experienced stereotyping?
What difficulties have emerged when others view you differently than
you view yourself?
What difficulties have emerged when you view others differently than
they view themselves?
- Have you heard of the term self-stereotyping?
How do you think stereotypes might impact the way you see yourself?
Have you ever experienced other people constantly saying things such
as, “you are lousy at math,” and you end up believing it?
This constant message/point of view that you may not be good at
something, or that you are a certain way, might lead you to believe
in something that may not be true. How do you overcome that?
Activity 2: Perpetual Foreigner - Systemic
Racism Perpetuated by Multiple Sectors of Society
Hollywood’s role in systemic racism
Explain and discuss the following terminology with the class:
- Yellowface, Brownface, Blackface
- Perpetual foreigner
Have students conduct research on the following:
In 2015, #OscarsSoWhite addressed Hollywood’s racial inequity
problems. However, how were Asian Americans stereotyped?
Find other examples of yellowface and whitewashing in
film/media. One example: Emma Stone, a white actress,
portraying a part-Hawaiian-Chinese character in 2015’s
After conducting their research and viewing the video clip, have a
whole class discussion (i.e., large group, think-pair-share,
Socratic Seminar) with students on the following questions:
While doing your research, what are some problems that Asian
Americans encounter when yellowface and whitewashing occurs?
Why is the use of yellowface, brownface and blackface a
- Why is whitewashing a problem?
Do you think it is alright for Hollywood to keep on
- What can we do about it?
How does perpetual foreigner stereotyping used by sectors of
society lead to systemic racism?
Ask students to read this lesson’s essay; then have Socratic
How is the perpetual foreigner stereotype in Hollywood films also
used in the public sector, and by elected public officials? Give
How is the perpetual foreigner stereotype also used in the private
sector, and in private companies? Give examples.
How do these different sectors reinforce each one another that the
situation/problem becomes systemic racism?
Activity 3: The Consequence of Stereotyping
What are the consequences of perpetual foreigner stereotyping on
What happened to the Japanese Americans during World War II?
What happened to Asian Americans when the U.S. automobile industry
lagged behind fuel efficient Japanese cars in the 1980s?
What happened to Asian Americans during the 2020 coronavirus
What happens to Asian Americans’ chances of advancement in the
What are the consequences of stereotyping in other sectors of
Conduct research on the consequences of stereotyping on two
communities. A community can be an ethnic community, racial community,
gender community, LGBTQ community, disabled community, religious
community, undocumented community, low-income community, or homeless
Discuss how stereotypes are used to pit races or groups against
one another, and also how certain groups are taken advantage of by
those with power and authority.
When did the stereotyping of the community that you selected
begin? Who created it? What purpose did it serve? Who benefits
Activity 4: How to Combat Stereotyping
What is so bad or wrong about stereotyping? Why does it need to stop?
- What do you think a person can do to help reduce stereotyping?
- What do you think society can do to stop stereotyping?
- How would you deal with it?
Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles – Lesson Resources:
Kwoh, Stewart. “A Family Educates to Prevent Hate Crimes: The Case of
Joseph Ileto.” Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA.
https://asianamericanedu.org/educate-to-prevent-hate-the-case-of-joseph-ileto.pdf. Accessed August 19, 2020.
Moving the Image: Independent Asian Pacific American Media Arts. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Visual
Communications, Southern California Asian American Studies Central,
Smith, Stacy L., Marc Choueiti, Katherine Pieper, Kevin Yao, Ariana
Case and Angel Choi. “Inequality in 1,200 Popular Films: Examining
Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBTQ & Disability from 2007
USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism,
Zia, Helen. “Vincent Chin - Lily Chin: The Courage to Speak Out.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA.
https://asianamericanedu.org/vincent-chin-story-lily-chin-the-courage-to-speak-out.pdf. Accessed August 19, 2020.
CA HSS Analysis Skills (9–12): Historical Research Evidence and Point of
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1, 2, 3, 7, 8; W.1, 4, 5, 8;
SL.1, 2, 4. L.1.
CA CCSS for ELA/Literacy: RH.9–10.1, 2, 4, 9;
RI.9-10.6, 7; W.9-10.2, 2.a,b,4, 5; SL.9-10.1a,,d, 2, 4; L.9-10.1;
RH.11-12.1, 2,4, 9; RI.11-12.6, 7; W.11-12.2, 2.a,b, 4, 5; SL.11-12.1,
1.a,c,d, 2, 4; L.11-12.1.9-12.IV.C.4.1; 9-12 V.C.2; 9-12 V.E.2.2,.3,
3.4, 5. U.S. History Grades 5-12 9.1B.6; 5-12 10.2D.2
California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, Appendix A
Identity, History and Movement, Systems of Power, Social Movements and
Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies
Asian Americans Course Content
Unit 7: Asian American Social Movements (ES)
Ethnic Studies Values and Principles Alignment for this Lesson
1, 4, 5, 6, 7
Ethnic Studies Values and Principles:
Cultivate empathy, community actualization, cultural perpetuity,
self-worth, self-determination, and the holistic well-being of all
participants, especially Native People/s and Black Indigenous People
of Color (BIPOC);
Celebrate and honor Native People/s of the land and communities of
Black Indigenous People of Color by providing a space to share their
stories of success, community collaboration, and solidarity, along
with their intellectual and cultural wealth;
Center and place high value on the pre-colonial, ancestral knowledge,
narratives, and communal experiences of Native people/s and people of
color and groups that are typically marginalized in society;
Critique empire-building in history and its relationship to white
supremacy, racism and other forms of power and oppression;
Challenge racist, bigoted, discriminatory, imperialist/colonial
beliefs and practices on multiple levels;
Connect ourselves to past and contemporary social movements that
struggle for social justice and an equitable and democratic society;
and conceptualize, imagine, and build new possibilities for a
post-racist, post-systemic racism society that promotes collective
narratives of transformative resistance, critical hope, and radical