Asian is the New Black

Via Maggie's Farm, Ward Connerly discusses the elephant in the room in college admissions -- the growing fear of Asian student domination.  As a parent with kids in a top prep school on an Ivy league trajectory, I must say I see this fear and loathing of Asian students among parents every day. "They're taking all the top spots in the schools!  My kid can't compete, they are drones that work all the time!"  You have probably heard many of the same things.  I hear folks who would never be caught dead uttering anything derogatory about African Americans say the most unbelievable stuff about Asians.

Throughout history, waves of hard working immigrants have always touched off fear and racism among folks who were already here.  The one difference is that past fears were generally a working class phenomenon -- whether it be against Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century or African Americans post Civil War or against Mexicans today.   What is new today is that, for the first time I know of, a group of recent immigrants is perceived as a competitive threat by the middle and upper class.

All this leads me to a few thoughts:

  1. It is no less stereotyping to say that Asians work too hard than to say blacks are lazy or the Irish are alcoholics
  2. We should be thrilled that our country is so open, and class barriers so low, that a group of new immigrants can immediately challenge for the positions of wealth and power.  I wrote about income mobility the other day, but could there ever be a better advertisement?  Name one other great civilization in history where new immigrants could be seen as immediately and directly competitive with the wealthy and powerful.
  3. We should be ecstatic that so many bright people want to come to America and work hard creating wealth for all of us.  After all, there is no way in a free society to create wealth without delivering value.  Do we begrudge Steve Jobs his fortune when we all have iPods now?


  1. joshv:

    A few years back I attended the graduation ceremony at New Trier High School, in Winnetka, IL. This is one of the top public schools in the nation. My sister-in-law was graduating, she's about 14 years younger than my wife. My wife is also a graduate. Her class was predominantly white, with a sprinkling of upwardly mobile minorities. The graduation class of 2005 was much different - 40-50% Asian.

    The odd thing is, I've been around a bit in Winnetka, and have no idea where the Asians live. They were nowhere to be seen in the wife's old neighborhood (solidly WASP). My guess is that Asian parents were doing whatever they could to get a toehold of residence in Winnetka - small apartment - sending the kids to live with grandma, home/apartment sharing - and then get out when the kids graduate. Winnetka an extremely expensive place to live - but if you can manage residence for four years, your kid will get a world class education for "free".

    Say what you will about Asians, they value education in the extreme. I don't think they are any more capable or intelligent than anyone else - but they want it more (or at least their parents do).

  2. morganovich:

    remember when "work hard and get ahead" was considered "the american dream" and not some evil foreign influence to be lamented?

    i fear that nations, like families, may have a tendency toward shirtsleves to shirtsleves in 3 generations...

  3. iceberg:

    "Name one other great civilization in history where new immigrants could be seen as immediately and directly competitive with the wealthy and powerful."

    This could also pass as a roadmap for "Countries where Jews once lived"

  4. DrTorch:

    I guess I would say that it's not unreasonable to suggest that a campus wouldn't want virtually every student to be obsessed with "study study study." There are more modes to education than poring over textbooks. If unviersity administrators belive this, and adjust their admissions policies accordingly, that's their prerogative.

    It's reasonable to believe that a student w/ a 3.4 GPA, who was an Eagle Scout, or learned leadership as captain of his football team, or restored the engine to a '66 Camaro, may bring more to a campus than the student w/ a 4.0.

    I do believe fairness demands that such policies should still be based on performance/merit. To have policies that can be tweaked in near real-time to suit an admissions officer's personal preferences, is blatant discrimination (or open to it anyway).

  5. Ken:

    Yeah. As an anglo parent of Asian kids, I hear some scary stuff about this.

    I can't believe you got through this without citing The Onion on the subject, though.

  6. Esox Lucius:

    I have a sister who is a maniac about her support for her children on the athletic fields. Runs up and down the sidelines, yells and cheers. Makes special food for their diets, sends the kids to sporting camps for the summer. I wonder what her kids would be like if she was indifferent about the sports but a maniac about their school work. I wonder why we as Americans value our children's time on the field more than in the classroom and I wonder why nobody else sees what seems to be an obvious misplacement of energy and effort.

    It is safe to say, outside of a few lessons about teamwork that were leaned, solidified and then over-learned, it is pretty safe to say that there is nothing in life that most kids will get out of their time on the baseball, soccer, football field that will help them more than their grades in school would have.

    My sisters kids aren't going to the olympics, or on to the major leagues. Maybe they get decent scholarships to fairly good schools (Whoopee!). The whole thing depresses me a bit but then I think, well it's your choice...

  7. Gil:

    I guess it depends on what you mean by "free society" and "create wealth", but:

    "After all, there is no way in a free society to create wealth without delivering value."

    Seems to be overlooking crime and politics. But, I repeat myself.

  8. Dr. T:

    The spreading of fear and reinforcement of stereotypes about Asian students almost exactly matches what happened to Jewish students two generations ago. DrTorch above promulgates the stereotype that Asian students are "obsessed with study study study." He also assumes that a 4.0 high school student couldn't also be an Eagle Scout or a football team captain, or an old engine restorer.

    My medical school class was 60% Jewish and 10% Asian-American. I was a white male atheist who hung out with the Asian-Americans because we got along well. Contrary to stereotypes, Asian-American students weren't 'grinds' who did nothing but study. Some of them had part-time jobs, most of them liked parties, some played practical jokes, some were engaged, and others actively played the field. Almost none spent every day and night studying.

    Asian-American are more aware of the importance of education than most other students. Education is a way of moving up. Many Asian-American students have working class parents who scrimped for years to save money for college. The Asian-American students refuse to do poorly and waste their parents' sacrifices. That's why they study so hard.

  9. Raven:

    The success of Asians in academics is largely because Asian culture puts value on success in school. In the US, people who succeed in school are denigrated unless they can make up for by also being successful in sports or some other non-academic field.

  10. Rathtyen:

    I hope this is not misinterpreted as racial (its a comment on education styles and attitudes, and of course it is generalising): its meant to be a funny story, not offensive, but it fits very well with the article:

    My four sons attend the same high school (in Sydney, Australia), which has four main ethnic groupings: Chinese and Lebanese (the largest two groups, about equal size), the much smaller Maori/Islander Group, and the smallest group, all the rest. My boys, as Anglicized-Eurasians, fall into the last and smallest group, “the rest” along with the few of the Anglo-Celtic kids and miscellaneous others.

    At a parent-teacher night for my eldest, several teachers commented that he was a coaster, using minimal effort to do well enough to stay in the middle of his classes, but never pushing himself. They noted if he actually did his homework and studied, he’d do much, much better.

    I challenged him on this, with the usual lecture about the need to do well to enhance career options. His answer was a beauty:

    “Its like this. Almost half of every class is made up of Lebanese kids, and they never do anything. They all hate school, refuse to learn, and no matter what I do, or don’t do, I’ll always beat them. Most of the other half are Chinese. All they ever do is study. They never go out, don’t do sport, don’t have lives; they just study after school and on weekends. No matter what I do, I’ve never be able to beat them.

    “The middle of the class is where I’m always going to be”.

    Its actually fairly true. Asian immigrant parents, especially Chinese and Indian, value education, and come from places where educational achievement is very competitive, with too many people applying for each university position or job. You have to be at the top to succeed, even when it comes to getting fairly basic jobs. That type of competitiveness is a good thing for the rest of us in the long run, as it helps combat the complacency of our education systems.

    But there is a flip side. I notice in work how often Asians fill the analytical roles, but not the decision making roles. Its not racism, but a product of education. Too often the Asian approach (particularly Chinese) is good for hard science subjects, particularly mathematical based ones and medicine, but not the touchy-feely side, which often includes decision making. By cramming facts, but not engaging in enough independent and abstract thought, the Eastern education approach often produces really smart dunces: able to acquire heaps of facts, but not really sure what to do with them.

    There is a happy mid-point. Asian parents, let your kids get out a bit more and experience some life outside. Every one else, lets go for a little less experiencing life, and focus a bit more on academic achievement.

  11. mexican american:

    Call it a stereotype if you will, but immigrants and first generation kids of immigrants are very cognizant of the hard quality of life left behind in the country they left. Plus they are more sensitive to social shame of their own culture and less likely to socialize with their non-immigrant peers. Add it up and it equals "study, study, study." This includes Eastern European, as well as African and Hispanic immigrants who have parents that place a premium on education.

    From what I've observed, but the time you get to the fourth generation, Asians, Indians, and Jews study no harder than their white counter-parts.

  12. DaveK:

    Some 40 years ago, I had a little personal experience with the asian student effect... I was taking a required physics course as part of the engineering curriculum. The course was tough, and the exams tougher. The profs seemed to take a perverse joy in designing tests that almost nobody could ace... it was even worse than that: Out of 100 possible points, the average score was around 15. Since the profs graded on a curve, a passing score turned out to be around 10. And yet there were a handful of students who managed to get in the high 90s.

    How could this be? What was the difference between the elite few and the masses? At first glance, the difference was that the students were Asians... mostly from Taiwan. That engendered a lot of ill feelings, let me tell you! On some deeper study, however, it turned out that the nearly all the kids (including every single one of the students from Taiwan) who did so well in this tough course were actually sandbagging it. They'd had all this stuff before, and were just working on a relatively easy A.

    What really burned our butts was that the profs knew of the sandbagging, but simply didn't care.

  13. Miss Breeziness:

    "Do we begrudge Steve Jobs his fortune when we all have iPods now?"

    You know, lots of people actually do...

  14. DrTorch:

    Dr. T,
    Your assessment of my comments was incorrect and insulting.

    I did promulgate the stereotype, I am responding to what was written in the original post.

    Furthermore, it is completely fallacious to state that I assume "that a 4.0 high school student couldn’t also be an Eagle Scout or a football team captain, or an old engine restorer." It's just that there is no dilemma for an admissions officer to decide on such a candidate. The conflict in the plot of this story is deciding among candidates who have good qualifications based on varying metrics. GPA and SAT scores are one metric, the easiest quantified. It's easy to cry "foul" when admissions lets in a student w/ worse grades or test scores, when in fact that student may have other qualifications where he/she excels.

    I think these are all pretty clear from the original article and my post. Nowhere did I write the things you ascribe to me.

  15. DrTorch:

    Meant to write, did NOT promulgate the stereotype.

  16. HS:

    Read Dune. When you come from a tough environment, you become tougher. When you are from a society that stresses development of the mind, even in its main religion, you become learned.

    I hated grades and I hated school but I enjoyed learning. In my opinion, the ability to think, reason, learn, memorize, etc leads to the ability to be creative. I refused to study for a test but I would study concepts until I understood them. I would think of “new” concepts while I did other things like fish on the weekends with both my parents for food. That is what I stressed in my life and what I will stress with my son... the grades will come and they did. When the mind is not developed well, it becomes inefficient and studying (like for a test) is stressed. I think the school system stresses these inefficiencies and it’s wrong.

    I also was captain of the wrestling team, was in academic bowl, and worked 20-50 hours a week since the 6th grade but still found time to learn other things like building computers, fixing cars with my brothers, and draw. I was a boy scout (not an eagle scout). My parents worked 60 hours a week never having attended a parent-teacher conference.

    I guess you can say I am white by some people's definition here since I did other things besides study. Wisely, the number one thing my dad stressed was to stay away from girls until after college -- which was the downfall of both my brothers.

  17. Reformed Republican:

    The type of family that is willing able to move to America is probably going to be from the top, not the bottom, as far as motivation and ability goes. The poor slackers will not have the means or desire to do so. It is a matter of selection bias.

  18. nom de guerre:

    no one can outwork an asian, as anyone who witnessed how well the vietnamese boat people did when they got to houston in the late '70's can tell you. maybe it's the culture, maybe it's the parental pressure, maybe it's the genes. kids who landed not knowing a word of english were graduating as high-school valedictorians 4 years later, right about the time mom and dad quit working double shifts for u-tote-m and bought their *own* stores. still, it's not necessarily the perfect approach to life. as robert ludlum (IIRC) pointed out in a novel, "there are 2 pressure points in the asian mind: confusion and embarrassment." mix that in with the whole corrosive and initiative-killing eastern concept of 'face', and asians can be beaten in real life just like anyone else can.

    but they WILL kick your butt on the SAT's.

  19. spiro:

    Growing up in a part of the country with a large Asian and Hispanic population, my experience goes along with what Mexican American said above.
    It's mostly a first/second generation immigrant phenomenon. There is generally a strong family structure, and the parents do a great job of instilling work ethic, goals, and the idea of the "Land of Opportunity" in their children's heads. In both cultures, the parents typically work labor jobs, sometimes multiple jobs, and use the money to help their kids move up socially. In the Asian community, they do this by pushing traditional academic education, in the Hispanic community, it tends to be more of a push toward technical education and entrepreneurship.

    The problem with modern suburban WASPs is that they are the children of Baby Boomers, given everything they ever wanted, never disciplined, and great "friends" with their self-absorbed botoxed parents. That is why so many rich white kids are into nihilism, Emo culture, and post-modern gobbledigook. They were never given reason to be motivated in school or work growing up, so they find no motivation in life itself as adults.

  20. Craig:

    My three boys attend the highest achieving charter school in Metro-Phoenix (Basis Scottsdale). For those of you who don't know the area, there are relatively few (at least compared to L.A. or San Francisco) Asian families in Phoenix/Scottsdale. However, if your first impression of the area were to visit a classroom at Basis, you would think that the Asian-American population was 40%.

    My two oldest boys both played basketball (and I am proud to say made the honor roll). Of the 12 kids on the team, five were Indian-American, two were from the Middle East, and two were Chinese-American. They weren’t a great team, but they all had fun.

    Several of my boy's friends from their old school are Jewish. Based on the prevailing stereotype from my day, I expected their parents would jump at the chance to enroll the boys in Basis. To my surprise, both sets of parents said essentially the same thing: "We want our boys to get a more well-rounded school experience, including the social and extracurricular activities at the public middle school. We don’t want them to be grinds.”

  21. sethstorm:

    Perhaps Richard Ebens and Michael Nitz were prophetic in their targeting of their victim, if not for the rest of it.

    “They’re taking all the top spots in the schools! My kid can’t compete, they are drones that work all the time!”

    Then make a criteria that excludes them and includes the US citizens not of that particular type that is also compliant with nondiscriminatory regulations.

    Plain and simple.

    I for one see them as a threat and do not care what pejoratives come my way for doing so.

  22. sethstorm:

    We should be thrilled that...

    Well, it's not thrilling to be on the not-so-good end of it.

    We should be ecstatic that...

    Our citizens are bright enough, thank you very much. Third Worlders need not apply.

    Its actually fairly true. Asian immigrant parents, especially Chinese and Indian, value education, and come from places where educational achievement is very competitive, with too many people applying for each university position or job. You have to be at the top to succeed, even when it comes to getting fairly basic jobs. That type of competitiveness is a good thing for the rest of us in the long run, as it helps combat the complacency of our education systems.

    It only generates a problem of class division.

    Exclusionism via hypercompetitiveness only educates the few and not the masses.

  23. nom de guerre:

    nnnnyeehhhh...... i have to disagree to the above 2 posts. what it boils down to is they're complaining about being outworked. the asians attend the same classes; use the same schoolbooks; write with the same pens as everybody else. they don't snivel that the tests are too hard and need to be redone to suit their precious little racial needs; hell, they don't complain about pretty much ANYthing. they just get to work, and work, and work.

    and - at least in schools - they succeed spectacularly because they work the hardest. the kids they beat know all about this week's american idol; they can tell you all about the ross & rachel saga; and they totally kick ass at the new version of 'halo'. all that takes a LOT of time - time the asians put to use studying. but american parents have all somehow bought into the notion that letting their kids OD on tv and video games makes them "well rounded". i've personally seen one of those plump, surly, vacant-eyed 'well-rounded' teens burst into tears at the burger king when i added 3 pennies to the $5 bill she rang up on a $4.78 order because i wanted the quarter back *and she couldn't figure out what to do*. she *couldn't do the 3rd grade arithmetic problem in her head*, and she crumbled like the soft little cupcake she was. if 'well-rounded' now means soft, weak, ill-mannered, and ignorant, then heck yeah: avoiding hypercompetitiveness is working out just fine for her, ain't it? wonder how she'll do in 10 years when her marriage is in trouble. or if her kid - god forbid - gets gravely ill and needs mommy to be strong. but she can text, like, TOtally fast! and she's got, like, the most *bitchin* tattoo! and even though she was willing to take burger king's money for being there, there was, like, no *waaay* she would lower herself by offering the customer a pleasant smile or anything approaching good service, because all the gangstas on MTV have taught her that's just not cool. smiling is for nerds. math is for dorks.

    school and standardized testing is pretty much the fairest thing in an unfair world: you either know the answer or you don't. the above 2 commenters above just don't want to admit it. "hypercompetitiveness" used to be how american kids operated. "hypercompetitiveness" won us 2 world wars, and the cold war. "hypercompetitiveness" is how americans invented the modern world: electric light, radio, movies, airplanes, cheap autos, etc etc. the fact the guy above is using it as a pejorative is a bad bad sign indeed. americans still have a big head start over the rest of the world, but they're working hard to catch up, as human nature demands. they want 3 cars and 5 TV's and a mcmansion - or what the rest of the world calls "a really really nice house" - *too*. the world changes - so deal with it and work harder; or do what you have to do. whining is not a viable option.

  24. sethstorm:

    Hypercompetitiveness has no place in education - you get those stereotypical people who have a complete lack of education due to getting the wrong number on a test. It furthers your stereotypes of people who possess "lower intelligence". What it also supplies in those countries is a steady supply of compliant slave labor. With hypercompetitiveness, one number is your sole determination between slavery and freedom.

    That is why I have empathy for those who are cheated in school and work by your kind. That is, marginal cases whom are cast aside - even in guaranteed state universities - for automatons.

    Creativity is what you will never have by memorizing to the test. You might be the best Xerox machine in terms of existing academic concepts, but your brain will be too burned out for original thought. The only time you might show anything close is when you cheat to get a perfect score.

    I only hope for your sake that those children on the wrong end of the test don't make Ebens and Nitz look saintly. Their lack of knowledge resulting from hypercompetitiveness may result in them exacting revenge that you may not be able to stop.

  25. nom de guerre:

    once again, sethstorm, your complaint boils down to "those other guys work too hard for us to keep up."

    you try hard to disguise this with 'concerns for their well-being'; and to disparage it by assigning them a pseudopsychological ailment resulting from all that hard work ("they're automatons"). who says they work too hard? their parents - the people who love them the most and want the best for them - don't. who says lots of study makes them "automatons"? you? what makes you an expert on this?

    one guy who WAS an expert, noted hypercompetitive navy admiral hyman rickover - the guy who worked insanely too hard, and single-handedly created, automatonlike, the entire US navy nuclear submarine program, the *whole thing* - thought differently. he said this: "the only way to get ahead and succeed is to put in 10 times more effort than another person would deem to be adequate." observation of the human nature/the world and their inherent iron laws seems to bear this out. observation of fat, lazy, stupid kids, coddled and protected all their lives from the evils of hard work and competition, working (by which i mean slouching, standing around looking cool & tough & bored and ignoring the paying customers) at burger king, unable to even make change seems to bear it out, too.

    lastly, your last line interests me. "their lack of knowledge resulting from hypercompetitiveness ...". the stuff they teach at school is not finite, and it doesn't have a shelf life. history, or basic arithmetic, or spelling skills don't suddenly stop getting taught after the 3 smartest kids in the class demonstrate proficiency with them, do they? if it kid ends up "on the wrong end of the test", its *that kids* fault (and his parents). it AIN'T the fault of the kid who worked his butt off to master it, or even just to pass the test. life **is** competition, last time i checked. the good job, or the big promotion, or the dazzling hottie aren't going to end up with a sloppy fat schlub who can't be bothered to exert him/herself beyond the bare minimum. (I.E., "showing up".)(sometimes.)(of course, they will need to have a lot of days off, you understand: they're not *automatons*! they need to recharge their batteries!!)

    no time better to learn that than in school, while there's still time to change.

  26. Lee:

    sethstor, you are such a fount of nonsense.

  27. sethstorm:

    Yes, I do say they are automatons. Lots of study will do that when their target is a test that varies little. Trivializing the difference between freedom and slavery only confirms where you stand. My argument does not boil down to "those other guys work too hard for us to keep up"; My argument is that I will not give any credit to an extreme application of "teaching to a single, relatively unchanged test". By my guess, you've been far-insulated from the people who got the "wrong number", and want to put them in their place as if this was Tiananmen Square, 1989. You might also have some grudge with not being of the First World, and wanting to use a number to put people down.

    While a standardized test gives division lines on a numerical basis, they are not to be used to determine one's path in life.

  28. nom de gyerre:

    quite an interesting post, there, sethstorm.

    you took what i DID write - a defense of hard-working kids; and an excoriation of lazy little pukes who whine 'it's too hard to keep up with them other guys!!' and turned it into an informal pop-psychoanalysis session. with a few uncomplimentary suppositions about me thrown in.

    super! can i play too? by MY guess, your hatred of standardized resting indicates to me that you're either A) a teacher, unhappy that the hardworking asians have made it hard for you to give the whole class A-plusses and smiley faces; or B) a student unable to keep up with your harder-working classmates. no matter which, you DO try your best to end the argument you're losing by calling the other guy bad names, which is telling. there's an old saying in the field of the law: "when you have no case, abuse the plaintiff." small children and intellectual midgets do this as well: "oh yeah? well you're just *stupid!* and *racist!*"

    lastly, your silly notion that "standardized tests are not to be used to determine one's path in life" was just *sensitive* and new-age, it made me sit down and have a good cry. riddle me this: since everyone wants the glamor jobs in life - supermodel; porn star; pro athlete, captain of a starship... - and since there are only a very few openings for these jobs, how do we determine who makes the cut?

    why, they have to *pass a TEST*, don't they? look good on camera; run a 4.3 40; demonstrate an intimate knowledge of engineering and leadership and tactics....they don't let just anybody get those jobs. just the people who PASS THE TEST. your foolish "standardized tests are not to be used to determine one's path" notion is just plain ridiculous. is that what they taught you when you became a teacher? is this why each successive year, high-school grads seem to be dumber and dumber than the year before? can there be any wonder why the number of kids being home-schooled rises each & every year?

    one last time: hard work is NOT a bad thing. whining that other people 'work too hard' is NOT the way to win a competition with them. especially with children, you get what you accept. if you accept dumb kids with excessive self-esteem, all based on phony praise, ("great job tying your shoe there, nevaeh!"), what you get are today's soft, surly, cupcake-spined teenagers. what you get are kids that - in the real world - are just 'easy meat'.

    do you think you're doing those kids any favors?