Some years back I attended a graduate school lecture with my then-girlfriend (whom I would later marry and have JP with) on Asian-American pyschology. To be clear: I don’t mean the mentality of Asian-Americans, but rather, the study of psychology in Asian-Americans and the development of ethnically specific treatments.
The lecturer, a prominent researcher, related an anecdote that has always stuck with me. He was trying to describe the nature of the Asian mind, and his example was of two students who had attempted to get into his class after the registration period. The first student, who was white, had somehow managed to call him at home; worse yet, this kid hadn’t asked if he could be included in the class, he had demanded it, somehow implying that he was doing the professor a favor by studying with him. The other student, an Asian-American, had politely showed up at the professor’s office hours and begged. The Asian-American student was accepted into the class, and the white kid wasn’t.
What this had to do with cognitive behavioral therapy in Asians is beyond me. But it always struck me that the professor had decided that being an asshole in the mode of the white kid was an ethnically unsuccessful life tactic, while being polite (and successful) was Asian.
There is, of course, doubt as to whether the professor’s point holds water on its face: it seems to me that in many cases the more aggressive, pushier student often outdoes the polite beggar. If that’s true, then, the Asian kid succeeded only because the professor liked this sort of approach. Other professors—Asian ones, too—might have reacted differently. What’s more, when my ex was a teacher’s assistant in grad school, we got late-night, aggressive calls from students of every ethnic description. Similarly, you could imagine that being nice works better than being rude, even across ethnic lines. Regardless, the professor had asserted with a straight face that a pattern of behavior distributed pretty evenly throughout society was specific to a single social group.
I offer this in the context of Yale Law School professor Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Not only does Chua believe that being awful to your children provides the greatest chance of their future success—she insists as well that doing so is inherently Asian. It’s a funny thing to lay claim to as an ethnic characteristic—we’re bigger dicks than you, white boy (and other colors and genders of boy)—but there it is.
I’d like to consider the efficacy of such an ethnic stereotype. Chua seems a fairly high-functioning sort. It’s not easy becoming a Yale Law School professor, I imagine. She must be smart and hard-working (her parents must have really thought she was garbage). As such, it’s not that much of a surprise that her children have wormed their way into the elite as well. Whether her success, and the success of her children, has anything to do with the fact that she’s a raving bitch (and her husband is a total pussy), is unclear. It could just be that she’s smart, the kids are smart, and dad is a pussy.
From time to time, a narrative of the United States falling behind emerges, in education, often, but also in economics, technology, business, military aggression, and any number of other realms. We Americans are always on the verge of extinction, these truly are the worst of times, and sooner rather than later, the U-S-of-A is going to be number two, and then where will we all be?
I don’t really know if any of that is true (except in the sense that all empires decline) but I will conclude with this statistic (from Harper’s Magazine) that explains a bit of the mentality of Chinese women currently. You decide if it could stand in for an ethnic stereotype that Ms. Chua would also claim:
- Date on which the Xinglong Big Family Mall in Shenyang, China, opened a “venting store” for women: 3/8/10
- Minimum amount of spending in the mall required to enter the store and destroy household furniture and electronics: $6
Be nice to your kids.