Cultural essentialism means I do what I do because my culture tells me to.
Recently, I had to tell a program leader that I was unhappy with the way a certain program was running. I sounded like this:
Heyyyy. I know that you work really, really hard with this program. But, I was thinking… maybe I’d like to try something different, like, take a break from this program and you know, explore other options? I think you do a great job. And this isn’t permanent. It’s just… a break?
What I wanted to say about was this:
I know you’re trying, but this program still kind of sucks. I don’t enjoy coming to participate, and I’d be happier not coming, so, I’m not going to.
I used every break up cliche known to womankind trying not to hurt this dude’s feelings. Was I living up to Confucian ideals? putting peace ahead of self expression and trying not to rock the boat, being respectful of my elders to the point of refusing to criticize them? Maybe I really was just being a girl, and worried about hurting his feelings.
The easy answer here is of course cultural essentialism isn’t true. There are plenty of Asian Americans who would tell the program leader how they felt. And probably a lot of women, too. But culture has to influence us to some point, right? If we inherit culture from our parents and the communities that we grew up in, its natural that we absorb those values. That doesn’t mean we’re ruled by them.