This morning, while solving quadratic equations, doing my New York Times Crossword puzzle and playing chess on the tenth level with the personal computer, which I built, I made the terrible mistake of turning on the boob tube. There was a bald-headed CNN announcer, with a number of distinguished panelists, discussing the astounding academic success of yet another Asian group that was, once again, threatening to annihilate the entire American population with its massive brain power.
The story focused on a young boy from Hong Kong who played the piano, spoke flawless English and scored a crazy SAT score that was nearly perfect. The story's hook was that in fact Hong Kong hordes actually spend less time in school but do much better on standardized tests than their American counterparts. Moreover, not only do they excel in math, these yellow hordes now also excel in English. The young boy was not atypical. He was one particle of a cresting wave that was edging out Americans who were too stupid to maintain their place of dominance within the global economy.
As an Asian American who entirely fits this stereotype, I guess I should be flattered. But I've heard this story enough times for it to stink like old fish. It's the same old yellow peril story that is designed to shock us; it's been retold since the 1880s when yellow peril discourse was what made us close our doors to any immigration possibilities for those of Asian extraction. We've heard variations of this story most recently in the eighties with the Japanese and the Koreans invoked as imminent dangers. We hear it perennially with the domestic Asian American population who are both admired and reviled -- perpetual foreigners in this, their own country.
Normally, I ignore stories like this because their obvious racism can be incensing. However, today I suddenly realized that there was another way to think about the popularity of this story. While the yellow peril is part of a general xenophobia, this is not necessarily why it's so popular. Rather, its recurring popularity is a result of the general American populace being too stupid to see the general fault in its premise.
So, as a much smarter Asian citizen whose knowledge eclipses the slug-like operations of your feeble little minds, let me enumerate how idiotic and addle-brained the puerile delight in this story is:
1) The young boy is not typical. He probably goes to a very elite international school where he picked up that American accent. Additionally, his parents probably spend a quarter of their income on private tutorial services designed specifically for his success in taking standardized tests. As a result, he probably spends MUCH MORE time in school, because school is privatized.
2) Furthermore, the lament upon America's low tests scores doesn't recognize the fact that overall we don't need to have high test scores across the board for us to create a class that will continue our technological innovations. In fact, if you work at Wal-Mart, you don't need to know much about math. It is only the most elite sector -- a fraction of the population -- who have to be intellectually proficient.
3) In the United States, this elite vanguard are doing just as well as the most elite sectors of Hong Kong. Indeed, they are doing much better, at greater numbers simply because the United States, unlike many other nations, has a vast population from which to draw a small percentage of scientists. Our 1% of top achievers, translated across a huge population, is many times more than Hong Kong's 10%. Hong Kong just doesn't have the numbers.
4) Finally, the United States will not lose its edge to the hordes this boy represents because, as a matter of policy, it has recruited this very population to man the scientific research base that powers American technological innovation. Even during the interview , the boy confessed that it was his ambition to work in the United States. However, even were he to fulfill this desire, he would not be taking away an "American" job. Rather, he would be taking positions that have been filled by a transnational intellectual class that has been working in the United States since the mid-sixties.
This last point is what is crucially missing. The United States is a nice place to live. It draws talent from across the world. This means, then, that an absolute ignoramus can still do quite well in an economy propped up by foreign intellectual labor. This truth, which has always been obvious to me, is probably not obvious to the typical American whose intellect is degraded by their sub-par intellectual footing. But now, armed with the knowledge that I'm a superiorly gifted human being, I realize I should not rub it in your faces, fellow Americans, in your absolute ignorance. Like all atrociously dumb people, you simply make the same pseudo-discoveries over and over again, just like you also belly-laugh and slap your thighs, guffawing at the same canned jokes from the same corny television sitcoms. So keep on with your yellow peril story, which no doubt will creep up again in another four months, perhaps in this incarnation, focusing upon a Javanese girl who has cloned a unicorn and played a concert on her xylophone at Carnegie Hall. Meanwhile, I will return to my daily dose of crossword puzzles and shut off the boob tube.