Amy Chua has come out with another book whose basic message is the same: you suck and I am better. Critics have been quick to pummel her for it.
In a nutshell, The Triple Package discusses the three cultural traits of eight successful immigrant groups in the United States. These traits -- inherent superiority, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control -- are the jetpack that launch strivers toward upward mobility.
Predictably,The Triple Package is widely panned as racist. It is seen as backwards, buying into many of the discredited pseudo-academic ideas that circulated during the 1920s when eugenics -- the same ideology that favored the genocide of various races because of their inferiority -- also gave rise to policies ranging from forced sterilization to concentration camps. It's a slippery slope for some critics when we start trumpeting racial superiority; soon, we'll want to exterminate those brutes.
I'm not here to jump on that bandwagon. I'm here to address one crucial question that Amy Chua does not consider: the uneven starting point that immigrants face when they decide to come to the United States. This oversight undermines the legitimacy of an argument where success is measured by dollar amounts. After all, what if you just arrive with a whole lot more money?
Most people think that immigration to America involves the same story: start at the bottom, finish at the top. "I came with just five dollars in my pocket and now look how far I've come"; that is the story of bootstrap self-sufficiency that we have been programmed to tell. It's a seductive story witnessed in movies and television. And for some folks, this story is true.
But the immigration policies of the United States over the past century have isolated a wide range of groups -- from rich to poor, from connected to disenfranchised, from skilled to uneducated -- to shove into its melting pot. Not all immigrants arrive under the same circumstances.
For instance, we are now importing a huge number of workers in the technology sector from India, people who form an intellectual elite and who come from the very best of the best schools. And there is greater call to expand this policy. These folks start their journey into upward-mobility not at the bottom in tenement slums but in multimillion dollar McMansions in Silicon Valley.
And for the most part, Chua has turned a blind eye to this glaring fact. She has cherry-picked her examples of success, focusing instead on cultural values, not recognizing that many of these people arrive with distinct advantages.
No doubt, Chua is quite aware of the racist baggage that her old-fashioned argument carries, so she made sure to focus on one black group. Touting the Nigerians, she focuses on how these recent immigrants have done better than other African Americans whom are, in her worldview, inferior. But even Chua admits that Nigerians arrive already with advanced graduate degrees: J.D.'s, M.D.'s, Ph.D.'s. Is it a wonder that they have done well? These people are not a broad selection of Nigerian culture but a specific sub-section and this casts doubt upon Amy Chua's thesis.
Most critics have focused on a single irony: the fact that, conveniently, Amy Chua has isolated her own ethnic group -- the Chinese -- for praise. And this exploits the larger formula that did so well in her previous book on parenting--the one in which she berates lazy white people and basks in the glory of her superiority. I am Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor, hear me roar.
But Amy Chua did not arrive in the United States and claw her way up from a tenement slum. We know this because she has amply documented her own personal circumstances.
Her first book points out that she grew up among Chinese in the Phillipines who, even as outsiders, own everything. World on Fire -- a less successful, early attempt to storm the book market -- "explores the ethnic conflict caused in many societies by disproportionate economic and political influence of 'market dominant minorities' and the resulting resentment in the less affluent majority."
By her own account, these Chinese form a class who are so rich and powerful that they need bodyguards and live, isolated, in compounds. Her own Aunt Leona, twin to her father, was brutally murdered precisely because she was part of the 1 percent.
These are Chua's own words:
"Although they constitute 1 per cent of the population, Chinese Filipinos control about 60 per cent of the private economy, including the country's four airlines and almost all of the banks, hotels, shopping malls, and big conglomerates. My own family runs a plastics conglomerate and owns swathes of prime real estate -- and they are only "third-tier" Chinese tycoons. They also have safe deposit boxes full of gold bars, each one the size of a chocolate bar. I myself have such a gold bar. My Aunt Leona sent it to me as a law school graduation present a few years before she died."
I could be nasty here. But I choose not to fall into the trap of so many of Amy Chua's critics.
I do have this question: If you arrive in the United States as part of the 1 percent that drained off all the resources from a latter-day colony is it any surprise that you were able to leverage your fortune into a career at a top-notch university? If you inherited your status, wealth, privilege, connections and all it got you was a well-paying job does it at all reflect your innate superiority? Or is your so-called success simply the logical conclusion to the fact that you simply started off better?