Monday, January 10, 2011

The Case For More Anti-Asian Bias In College Admissions

A Blessing In Disguise?

As an Asian man I belong to a demographic that is routinely misrepresented in society by gross generalizations and stereotypes. Most of the Asian men I've known come nowhere close to being the type of pathetic individuals that society apparently needs them to be. It's because of this experience that I have adopted a rule of thumb that reminds me that when discussing groups of people, the only generalization that one can accurately make is that it is more misleading than accurate to make generalizations. Apart from the vulgar generalizations such as pointing out that all people eat and defecate (does this need pointing out?) all other generalizations regarding particular groups' motivations and attitudes offer us limited capacity to truly appreciate the humanity of others.

On the subject of over-generalization and defecation, I couldn't help but be moved by a recent Wall Street Journal article written by Amy Chua, a second-generation Chinese-American mother of two - possibly psychologically damaged - teenage girls. According to Chua an extremely tough approach to parenting involving verbal abuse, totalitarian control over her childrens' desires, as well as starvation blackmail, are what is required to produce math whizzes and musical prodigies in one's children. She labels this the "Chinese Mother" approach.

In an apparent effort to avoid the charge of propagating racial and cultural stereotypes, she goes on to insist that this approach is not exclusive to Chinese mothers since she apparently knows mothers from other ethnic and cultural groups who engage in this type of child rearing. Yet, despite the disclaimer, Chua represents her method as an approach practiced by the general Chinese parenting body. To me this is both cowardly and dishonest.

Clearly Chua believes that she is presenting an approach to parenting that might be construed by her target audience (the white mainstream) as controversial. As she readily admits, some of her practices could be considered abusive and unacceptable to the white mainstream audience that she is apparently trying to convince. One might even say that her article is deliberately provocative and has the triumphal tone of someone convinced of their own rightness. Yet despite the self-assured posturing of the article's tone, not once does Chua take personal responsibility for her actions. Having thrown the rocks of controversy, she beats a hasty retreat behind the Great Wall of Chinese Cultural Mystique. She does these things that are arguably abusive yet slyly absolves herself of personal responsibility by "disappearing" behind the veil of cultural relativity.

This to me is intellectual cowardice. If Chua wants to paint herself as some kind of maverick parent promoting a superior alternative parenting method then fine, but don't make unfounded claims that these strategies are typical to Chinese culture - they might very well be, but the article doesn't do a good job of convincing me of it. Certainly, Chua attempts to support her claims by mentioning studies that show that Chinese parents don't think that learning should be fun, and that Asian parents drill their kids more than white parents. Yet, how does this support her claims that verbal abuse, threats, and threats to deny food are a common practice amongst Chinese parents? It doesn't.

As a Professor of Law at Yale and a Harvard graduate, Chua could arguably be said to represent the very best that Asian-American academia has to offer for the intellectual advancement of Asian-American thinking. Yet, the blatantly weak inductive reasoning exhibited in the article points to some very serious issues with the reasoning capacities of even our most academically accomplished individuals. To be fair, the article is only an excerpt from Chua's new book and so may not necessarily reflect the overall gist of the book, yet most writers publish excerpts that are most representative of the themes that they are exploring in the larger publication. It doesn't look good!

If the thinking exhibited in this article reflects the very best that Asian-American minds have to offer, then Chua has destroyed the motivational foundation for her parenting style. What's the point of striving for prodigy and Ivy-League when the result seems to be intellectual mediocrity?


  1. I finally got around to reading her article and while I found alot of elements that I agreed with, me not being American or raised in the states, I thought her delivery was seriously off.

    I have seen many African (or more specifically Nigerian) parents adopt that same type of parenting with the result being children who become very adept at living double lives: one to appease your controlling parents and one for yourself. Neither child nor parent is truthful to one another and that is why when the latter is older, they cannot understand why the child is more inclined to ship them off to some home or leave them in the village because moving in would be like having a stranger; one with whom you have very bad history.

    I understand pushing a lazy child. I understand reminding your child that while they might live in a country like the US, and opportunities abound, they will not fall in your laps and if you are a minority, you will have to work twice as hard to overcome some of the challenges that have been placed before you.
    I can understand, limiting their exposure to the media.
    I do not understand how forcing your child to play the violin in a hotel room for four hours does any this. I do not understand the name-calling as a "motivational tool"

    She should have said simply, "This is the system I employ in my home and I stand behind it because of this, this and that."
    I think one of the reasons alot of Asians are up in arms that she has chosen, as you termed it to hide behind her culture as a defense for her choice of parenting style is possibly because she touches upon an aspect of the culture that most of you would rather not relive.

    Also, what we might be looking at is a woman who having gone through the same abuse has become like most abuse victims, identified with the system and adopted it as the norm.

  2. Hi MS. Catwalq

    I also don't find fault in Chua for pushing her kids - that is something that most parents throughout most of history have done.

    But there are some specifics of Chua's parenting that she claims are justified by her cultural background, yet doesn't offer any real evidence for these claims.

    I'm actually more offended by Chua's sloppy thinking and poor reasoning than by any poor choices she may have made as a parent - after all she comes across as more misguided than sadistic, and since parenting is itself a process, it's no surprise that she made choices that some may find horrific. Just admit that they were your own choices and the result of your own agency.

  3. book-whore i believe is the correct nom de clature

  4. The scary thing is, I think a lot of people are going to look at this and use it as a manual on how to turn out obedient model sons/daughters. I'm surprise she didn't include a guide for proper use of beating/corporal punishment.

  5. Anon,

    Ah, the things we do for money!


    That's an interesting point. Even worse, this might serve as a model for how Asian kids should be treated by society in general. Ugh!

  6. I think we need to read the book before passing judgement. Word is that the general thrust of the book is very different to the WSJ article, which was thrown together out of context by one of the paper's editors.

    The book is apparently about her journey in parenting, which starts off as the totalitarian tiger mother of the WSJ article and has her moving to a more balanced and caring sort of parent. The WSJ article makes it seem like she is a wholehearted supporter of coercive parenting, when in reality she's not actually pushing that barrow at all.

    Without having read the book myself, I get the impression that the WSJ is the real villain of the piece, and all the animosity directed at Chua may be a off-target.

  7. Hi Eurasian Sensation

    I actually agree with you. My main criticism is more of a general dissatisfaction with what I feel is Chua's "loose" use of language to make her points. This to me reflects a sloppy way of thinking that doesn't fly in a society that is structured to misrepresent Asians.

    Central to this misrepresentation is a process of de-individuation that is basically a fundamental skepticism and denial that Asians possess strong individual qualities and characteristics.

    To me, that makes it all the more necessary for Asian writers and commentators to use language in a way that doesn't generalize. I happen to think that this way of thinking is fairly common, but we need to avoid it.

    I don't think that it's a coincidence that those Asian-American writers most highly regarded by the mainstream seem to employ this type of approach, and are embraced precisely because they enable the mainstream to continue thinking of Asians in generalized terms.

    Ironically, Chua would probably not have created such a stir amongst America's media if she hadn't actually criticized what she calls "Western Parenting", and had just stuck to highlighting what could be spun as simply negative aspects of Asian cultures.

    So ultimately, I don't fault Chua for being hard on her kids but I do fault her for her presumption that she represents me, or you, or anyone else and not solely herself, and I don't think that the WSJ has actually misrepresented that aspect of her thinking because she has continued in that vein in subsequent interviews.