Tiger Mom’s claims are not so racist after all

Tiger+Mother+Amy+Chua+stirs+up+controversy+once+more+with+her+new+book%2C+claiming+to+reveal+the+three+traits+guaranteeing+success.

Tiger Mother Amy Chua stirs up controversy once more with her new book, claiming to reveal the three traits guaranteeing success.

Kristin Chang

Amy Chua’s new book, ‘The Triple Package,’ draws unwanted attention to cultural differences, definition of success.

Tiger Mother Amy Chua stirs up controversy once more with her new book, claiming to reveal the three traits guaranteeing success.
Tiger Mother Amy Chua stirs up controversy once more with her new book, claiming to reveal the three traits guaranteeing success.

 

[dropcap1]A[/dropcap1]my Chua is not racist.

Yes, she is elitist. Yes, she may have claimed in her 2011 book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” that “Asian” parents are superior to “Western” parents, but Amy Chua is still not racist. And as criticism over her latest book rejects her research without even so much as a second glance, I’m starting to wonder if America’s self-righteousness is standing in the way of legitimate debate.

The public has been waiting, with pitchforks ready, for the return of the Tiger Mom. As of Feb. 4, she is back and writing with more directness than ever. And she’s also more hated than ever, though her new book “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America,” has a considerably less catchy title.

Though Chua’s book contains many valid theories, America’s sensitivity to the concept of “cultural differences” creates a backlash of insults and hatred instead of community conversation.

America’s sensitivity to the concept of “cultural differences” creates a backlash of insults.

Possibly one of the most hated mothers of all time, Chua dominated bookshelves with her aforementioned memoir, in which she called her children “fat” and “lazy” and hit close to home with her totalitarian parenting. Chua’s titular terminology is now used frequently, at least here in Cupertino, where the term “Tiger Mom” is used with exasperation and sometimes affection.

In response, Chua was accused of being more than a strict mom. Her unorthodox methods, combined with her politically incorrect language and racial profiling (she labels all strict mothers “Asian”), made her the perfect whipping post for outraged parents and bloggers. The fact that the Wall Street Journal published an article about Chua titled “Why Chinese mothers are superior” has certainly fueled the fire.

New controversy

Co-authored with her husband Jed Rubenfeld, Chua’s latest book, “The Triple Package” explains why certain minorities are “poised” for success. Chua now wants to tell us why Asians, among Cubans, Nigerians and Jewish Americans, are ready to rise through the ranks of society and reach the echelons of that oh-so-elusive notion of success (read: wealth).

Chua now wants to tell us why Asians are ready to rise through the ranks of society and reach the echelons of that oh-so-elusive notion of success.

The public has devoured this book, leaping to criticize the radical elitism of her previous memoir, but sadly, this book is more logical and less gasp-worthy than its predecessor. They’re waiting for the one phrase that’ll make the headline, something along the lines of “Tiger Mom says Asians are the best!”

According to Chua, the three features every successful ethnic group possesses is a superiority complex (the idea that you are born for success), insecurity (the idea that you may never be successful) and impulse control (the idea that patience is a virtue, while seeking immediate gratification is not).

Chua supports these arguments with examples of ethnic groups, some Hispanic, some Asian and some African, and by the end of the book it is difficult to ignore the fact that her rigidly supremacist views do hold a grain of truth. Sure, she doesn’t recognize that success is much more than a salary, and sure, her “triple package” is grossly oversimplified, but her book’s undertones aren’t that different from Malcom Gladwell’s “Outliers” or Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics”: they both claim to understand success and have conveniently simplified its attributes into cleverly named chapters.

Chua emphasizes the concept of “cultural traits” over skin color, introducing us to a whole new breed of “culturalism,” racism’s research-supported 21st century cousin. Instead of immediately closing our minds to the theories of Tiger Mom, we should be questioning our own cultural values alongside her, dissecting stereotypes and self-defining success. It’s time to ask ourselves what matters, and whether our parents’ ideals align with our own goals.

Asking the right questions

Chua’s triple-trait ideology allows us to ponder our own successes and failures, and most importantly, the way we succeed and fail. Are we truly extraordinary if we have been predisposed to success? Does having well-educated parents automatically make us superior to other hard-working students? These all represent community discussions worth having.

Of course success will never be entirely controlled by three traits inherent in cultural groups. Of course Chua’s mildly supremacist nature is aggravating. And of course Chinese people are not superior. If we can move past our own irritation, maybe we can start to analyze Chua’s theories from a more unbiased and analytical standpoint. Rants and parodies are all in good fun, but we can only credit or discredit her work through intellectual discussion. Which is more than “She’s racist! Don’t read it! She’s racist!”

The backlash following Chua’s book’s publication may just reveal how uncomfortable we feel about discussing race, socioeconomic status and the differences between cultural groups. The differences are still there. Some people are richer than others, some people do better in school than others: it’s an undeniable truth.

Our society is deeply unequal and deeply flawed, and Chua is trying to ask why.

Our society is deeply unequal and deeply flawed, and Chua is trying to ask why.

America may be proud of its diversity, but we cannot claim that if we continue to discourage controversial discussions whenever we feel “uncomfortable.” Amy Chua is the ultimate provocateur, urging us to acknowledge and question America’s not-so-equal social structure, and for that we should thank her.