Tiger Mom Is Back To Explain Why You’re Inferior

The last time we checked in with “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua, she had just published a book, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, which argued that strict Chinese-style “tiger mother” parenting is superior to permissive, indulgent Western parenting. The Yale professor explained how her two daughters were never allowed playdates or sleepovers and were punished for not practicing music and studying constantly. She was successful, sort of: one daughter, Sophia, performed in Carnegie Hall at age 14 and is now a junior at Harvard.

Anyway, Amy Chua made a big kerfluffle in the media and sold lots of books. Now she and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, who is also a media professor, are back with a new book. In The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain The Rise And Fall Of Cultural Groups In America, they argue that there are eight ethnic/cultural/religious groups who are the most successful in American society.

They are, in no particular order, Chinese, Jewish, Mormon, Indian, Iranian, Lebanese-American, Cuban exiles and Nigerian. 

First things first: I have not read The Triple Package yet, so I am only going off the review in the New York Post. While the book obviously will expound on the authors’ theory in much more detail, the review did a good job (and this might be the only time I say something nice about the Post) of illustrating the main points.

To put it succinctly, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld argue those eight groups have become superior in American society because they possess the “triple package” of qualities that lead to success. Those qualities are a superiority complex/belief that you are better than others; insecurity; and impulse control. In other words, superior groups believe they can be better than others so they’re propelled to try, but they’re not so cocky that they don’t give it an honest effort, and they’re able to delay gratification enough to push through the hard work. All of these groups (with the possible exception of Mormons, I guess) started as immigrants.

Their point about the personality traits makes sense on paper. But I find it difficult to agree with their initial premise that these groups are “doing better” — to use their phraseology — than others. The last time I checked I thought white people were still pretty much in control of everything. Politics? The media? The courts? Real estate? Banking? My understanding is that all of these industries are still dominated and controlled by mostly white men.

There is something to be said for the immigrant work ethic, to be sure. The average, say, Indian who emigrates to America surely has to work twice as hard to overcome language barriers, cultural barriers, and racism. In New York City, where I live, you come across people very day who have come to this country and worked extremely hard for a better standard of living than they may have back home. That doesn’t mean, though, that all of these people actually become “successful” (whatever Chua and Rubenfeld actually define that word to mean) in a way that dismantles the status quo. That structure is still upheld by racism, classism, and bigotry. So, while there may indeed be an increasing number of Lebanese-Americans or whatever becoming successful in American culture, the landscape still looks pretty damn “pale, male and stale” to me.

I surely won’t be the only person to say this, but I’m also troubled by Chua and Rubenfeld’s suggestion that believing you are superior to others as part of your ethnic/cultural/religious group is a net positive. That attitude may inspire a work ethic in some who believe they have to prove themselves, but it may also foster bigotry against others once you do.

I kind of hate Amy Chua for writing these bombastic books, although I can appreciate on some level how she makes us think. Although I will say that the entire time I was writing this post, I felt self-conscious that it wasn’t going to be “smart.” I suppose  Chua would say that I just didn’t try hard enough.

[New York Post]

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