Posts Tagged ‘asians’

Whenever the law school has an event explaining to us how to “get ahead” in the corporate or legal fields, the speaker always makes steam come out of my ears. For Asian-Americans, the problem at law firms is increasingly obvious, as Asian-American associates bill more hours and earn more money for the firm, only to be passed up when bonus and promotion time comes around. (For more see here.) To combat this, the speaker will often say that Asian-Americans need to develop their “people skills” or need to step away from cultural norms of deference to authority by speaking up more, etc. This strikes me as fundamentally wrong-headed and moronic; why should a disadvantaged group conform to views of privileged white leadership, instead of pointing out the dangers of implicit bias and fundamentally changing the way we view leadership?

The cult of “leadership” has largely grown up around features already viewed as “leaderly” in the dominant society — features that tend to be prevalent among patrician white men. Yet, when these features are exhibited by other groups, they are still perceived as un-leaderly. Consider the first identified “glass ceiling” group, women. When women exhibit stereotypically “female” characteristics and gender roles, they are viewed as unsuitable for leadership. Yet, when women exhibit stereotypically “male” leadership characteristics, they are rated poorly for their incongruity with the traditional gender role! (See Eagly and Karau for more: http://web.pdx.edu/~mev/pdf/PS471_Readings_2012/Eagley_Karau.pdf). Women are caught in a Catch-22: Behave in a “female gender role” and get passed over, or behave in a “male gender role” and get slammed for being a “bitch” or “difficult to work with.”

Perhaps we need to fundamentally reconsider what good leadership looks like. Stereotypically white male leadership skills often lead people astray; for example, leaders who merely talk first and talk often are more convincing, even when they have the wrong answer. Maybe we should stop listening to these guys, particularly if they’re incompetent! This is one of those problems with the Presidency — you only get to be President if you want to be President, and frankly, wanting to be President requires a lot of ego and dangerous amounts of self-confidence. Rather than getting competent leaders, we get persuasive ones, even if they persuade us to do things fundamentally against our self-interest.

Instead of conforming to the view of leadership as defined by a white male hierarchy, we should be moving people towards a different view of what a good leader entails. Good leaders can be focused on competency rather than politicking, listen to others’ ideas before speaking, build consensus, hear out minority opinions, and be willing to change their minds. A leadership cadre of blowhards, regardless of their race or gender, does not particularly appeal to me.


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“The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and cannot be transcended.” — James Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel”

In a recent New York magazine article, “Paper Tigers,” Wesley Yang attempts to “respond” to the Tiger Mother brouhaha with a discussion of his experience, as well as a pseudo-study of other Asian-Americans. He cites James Baldwin as a source of inspiration — a rather fitting choice because of Baldwin’s particular hatred for “protest” literature. And yet, Yang’s article seems like another piece in the genre. To be fair, he asks a provocative question: “What happens to all the tiger children?” I suppose it feels unnecessary to go through a whole new round of Model Minority smashing, but Yang feels the need to anyways.

Right, so here are my beefs with the article:

1.) It’s almost wholly male-centric. Much of the article dwells on a pick-up artist who teaches Asians how to pick up women. It focuses on Asians as “betas” and whites as “alphas” even though the analogy is wrong in its premise (not even wolves are considered alpha any more) and silly in its application. Asian males have procreated for quite some time without problem (see, e.g., East Asian population), and the idea that the procreative instinct has been trained out of Asian males is similarly silly. (Asian-Americans have a higher fertility rate than whites.) Yang’s young dweeby Asian males have more in common with other young dweeby males than with, say, professional middle-aged Asian females. Is this a race problem or a gender-role problem?

2.) It ignores class. Why haven’t Asian-Americans risen to leadership positions? One answer is simple — their families don’t have enough money yet. Much of America continues to run on a class system. From education by location, to legacy admissions, to trust funds, the rich have many advantages that the poor and middle-class do not. When we look at the kinds of social traits that fuel a rise to leadership positions, we see that they have to be learned over time. Furthermore, the kinds of problems that Yang identifies for his Model Minority Males are not the same kinds of problems that, say, a poor Hmong family in Wisconsin might have. As one of Yang’s correspondents in the article bemoans that his family “[doesn’t] own the apartment in Flushing that [they] live in.”

3.) It’s as much a caricature of its position as the “Tiger Mother.” Yang’s play on Trainspotting (“Fuck filial piety. Fuck grade-grubbing. Fuck Ivy League mania. Fuck deference to authority. Fuck humility and hard work,” etc.) is both childish and entirely natural. One reaction to an Asian American upbringing is outright rebellion. It goes a bit off the rails to amalgamate his experience and the experiences of a set of anecdotes as the current “trend” for Asian-American immigrants. Just like Tiger Mother syndrome, Yang’s picture of this generation does what Baldwin decries in his essay. He ignores life and the human beings at the core of his story, in favor of the category. Is the “Asian upbringing” the problem? Or is it a society that sees Asians as just Asians, and writers who ignore depth in favor of broad characterizations? There’s nothing inherently uncool, meek or risk-averse about Asians. The entrepreneurial spirit is certainly alive in China; otherwise, everyone wouldn’t be so afraid of them.

My beefs aside, though, I still found the article worth the read for the very reason that it keeps the conversation going. It’s a reminder that the Asian-American experience is not just the one that we see in media portrayals, but an expansive and diverse set of discrete lives. Yang’s writing cuts to the bone, and his talents as a writer show themselves with flair. (If you haven’t read this article about a shady “professional” expert witness against alleged terrorists, you should.) But, behind the style, Yang is one person speaking for himself — a voice confused by what society expects of him and what he expects of himself. Turning a piece about his own demons into a broad characterization of Asian-Americans was as reactionary as Chua’s press tour. I think, though, criticisms of his work are ignoring his own humanity at its center. His story may be an Asian-American story, but it is also at its heart, a human one — of loving, hating, changing and accepting who you are.

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A new Pew study finds that the gender gap in Asian-American interracial marriages is growing. (It is also growing in black relationships in the other direction. There’s plenty of commentary on that subject, but you can start here.) Asian-American females marry men of another race at almost double the rate (~40%) as Asian-American men. This trend has actually increased in past years, despite increased immigration, which lowers overall intermarriage rates (since many immigrants are already married, and 0-generation immigrants are much more likely to remain within an immigrant community).

Interracial marriage rates by ethnicity and gender (Pew Research Center, 2010)

These statistics do have particular relevance for me, an Asian-American man in a relationship with a white woman. (Potato, this is your shout-out!) Sometimes when we’re out, we like to play a game, in which we count the number of Asian-male/white-female couples, and compare it to the number of Asian-female/white-male couples we see. The ratio is usually even more lopsided than the Pew study indicates. (We also play a game where we wonder why attractiveness in Asian-female/white-male couples disproportionately favors the Asian female, but that game is only tangential to the question at hand.)

Why is this? I have a few theories, based on nothing except my own hunches, and it’s worth noting that “Asian-American” covers a wide variety of ethnic groups including Indian, Pakistani, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian, Iranian, Iraqi, Arab, etc. Thus, any generalizations will be just that — generalized. My theories after the break! (more…)

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Insert Asian math joke here

Average scale scores for Grade 4 Math, by race/ethnicity (NAEP)

Average scale scores for Grade 4 Math, by race/ethnicity (NAEP)

In case you missed the news, American math test scores stayed essentially flat over the last couple years. Most major news outlets reported prominently that white, Hispanic and Black scores remained the same, maintaining the achievement gaps for racial minorities. Well, not all minorities. (Side note: Why didn’t the NYT or WP or AP decide that Asian scores were important? Are they so naturally anomalous that they are no longer worth reporting?)

One minority group continued to improve their math scores: Asians. In the National Assessment of Educational Progress data, one can see the continual rise of Asian/Pacific Islander scores in every year since the tracking of that particular minority group.

One explanation might simply be income level. The scores for students in poverty (eligible for free or reduced lunch) are predictably lower than students not in poverty, and Asian/Pacific Islander has the highest average income of all the tracked races/ethnicities.

Another explanation comes from a new neurological/psychological explanation, proposed by Jamie Campbell among others (and pitched in Gladwell’s Outliers) in which Asian cultural and linguistic backgrounds lead to superior memorization and subsequent superiority in mental math calculations on exams.

Nevertheless, this fails to explain how the scores continue to rise year after year. Campbell’s conclusion asserts that native-born Chinese with more linguistic and mathematical education in the mother country would do better than American-born populations. Yet, Asian immigration has declined, although one presumes a lag effect in the test scores. To boot, the South Asian population (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.) has increased the number of “Asian-Americans,” and presumably the test scores, but this is not reflected in Campbell’s cultural explanation.

Any ideas, peanut gallery? Why are Asians better at math?

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