Paper Tigers
May 9, 2011 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Wesley Yang writes a really angry article about being Asian-American, with the tagline, "What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?"
posted by d. z. wang (115 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
I checked to see what counts as "really angry".

Let me summarize my feelings toward Asian values: Fuck filial piety. Fuck grade-grubbing. Fuck Ivy League mania. Fuck deference to authority. Fuck humility and hard work. Fuck harmonious relations. Fuck sacrificing for the future. Fuck earnest, striving middle-class servility.

Fair enough.
posted by Trurl at 6:08 PM on May 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


Part of the problem with the "Tiger Mom" stuff is that they're not really teaching their kids to be successful in America. A lot of success in the U.S. has to do knowing the right people, not just having higher test scores. You can get "level up" from the lower middle class to the upper middle class, but once you're in the upper middle class you'll basically stay there pretty easily without needing to be in the top 1% of the class. The kids of a professor at Yale are not going to have trouble in life even if they have the laziest parents ever: so long as they have basic drive they should be fine. But teaching kids about networking and make sure they were fun people who other elites would want to hang out with is actually probably more important.
posted by delmoi at 6:13 PM on May 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


He has a lot of opinions for an Asian guy.
posted by GuyZero at 6:14 PM on May 9, 2011 [19 favorites]


I have to pause from reading the article to point out that "Jefferson Mao" is the best name anyone has ever had or will ever have until a birth certificate is issued for "Roosevelt Stalin."
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:14 PM on May 9, 2011 [73 favorites]


Rather than Asians giving up intellectuality, humility, hard work, cooperation and the future I'd like to see Anglo-Americans start adopting it.
posted by DU at 6:15 PM on May 9, 2011 [31 favorites]


A lot of success in the U.S. has to do knowing the right people, not just having higher test scores.

I don't know, assuming you have the cash (and Asian American family earn higher than the median income) if you study hard you can become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:17 PM on May 9, 2011


> I have to pause from reading the article to point out that "Jefferson Mao" is the best name anyone has ever had or will ever have until a birth certificate is issued for "Roosevelt Stalin."

Ghandi Hitler
posted by mrzarquon at 6:17 PM on May 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


I have to pause from reading the article to point out that "Jefferson Mao" is the best name anyone has ever had or will ever have until a birth certificate is issued for "Roosevelt Stalin."


I tried to change my name on Facebook to Adolf Farrakahn. denied
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:17 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't know, assuming you have the cash (and Asian American family earn higher than the median income) if you study hard you can become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer.

Part of the article covers this somewhat - being a doctor is great, but if you want to really make it you probably have to be an entrepreneur which is a whole different set of skills. And the only test for being an entrepreneur is to start a business. Also, being a low to mid-level engineer is an entirely different world from being a manager, director or VP.

Also, what I find kind of odd is that so few of these points apply to Indian/south Asian people. They're vaguely in the same immigrant bucket as people from Asia-Asia (e.g. China, etc). But I see plenty of Indians and Pakistanis in leadership positions and as entrepreneurs here in the Bay Area. What's the diff I wonder?
posted by GuyZero at 6:23 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


"In lieu of loving the world twice as hard, I care, in the end, about expressing my obdurate singularity at any cost. I love this hard and unyielding part of myself more than any other reward the world has to offer a newly brightened and ingratiating demeanor, and I will bear any costs associated with it."

<3
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:34 PM on May 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


Also, what I find kind of odd is that so few of these points apply to Indian/south Asian people. They're vaguely in the same immigrant bucket as people from Asia-Asia (e.g. China, etc). But I see plenty of Indians and Pakistanis in leadership positions and as entrepreneurs here in the Bay Area. What's the diff I wonder?

As someone that lives in the Bay Area and works in tech and have lived in Asia. I've always thought some of the social differences between say Indians and other Asians is the fact that India was a British colony. They have parts of the British school system. I also find that Indian's seem to have a "more western" sense of humor than other Asians. Ultimately, we are both former British Colonies, maybe that explains the extra social compatibility.
posted by ill3 at 6:36 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really don't know how to respond to a discourse of stereotypes within a thread of refracting stereotypes. Is this what being in a universe created solely of self-replicating Sierpinski Gaskets is like?

Then,

.
posted by simulacra at 6:37 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have to pause from reading the article to point out that "Jefferson Mao" is the best name anyone has ever had or will ever have until a birth certificate is issued for "Roosevelt Stalin."

Batman bin Suparman laughs derisively, melts your PC with his heat vision, and disappears into the night.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:39 PM on May 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I was hoping I'd be able to say I learned something.

But no. No I did not learn that.
posted by Glinn at 6:42 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile. I need some time to think about what I just read. I think it says a lot of things about my personal worldview that I haven't been able to form into words of my own. I have more questions than answers now. Thank you for posting this.
posted by danny the boy at 6:47 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


That was a really well-written piece, thanks for it. Although like Trurl, I'm not really seeing the "really angry".
posted by daelin at 6:58 PM on May 9, 2011


Angry? Really? Because of the one short 'Fuck that' paragraph?

The rest of it is pretty thoughtful and balanced.

I wonder if the OP even RTFA.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:59 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


He has a lot of opinions for an Asian guy.

I literally spit my drink out in shock when I read that, and then proceeded to laugh in a state of disbelief.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think you can say

"Two thirds of the roughly 14 million Asian-Americans are foreign-born. There were less than 39,000 people of Korean descent living in America in 1970, when my elder brother was born. There are around 1 million today"

and then argue that

"If between 15 and 20 percent of every Ivy League class is Asian, and if the Ivy Leagues are incubators for the country’s leaders, it would stand to reason that Asians would make up some corresponding portion of the leadership class...Asian-Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents"

I would venture to guess that most of those corporate officers and college presidents are >50 years old and would be more representative of the Ivy League makeup >30 years ago.
posted by roquetuen at 7:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


A pancake-flat surface of yellow-and-green-toned skin.

what

also, you folks know that there's a real-life person named Jemima Khan, right
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:06 PM on May 9, 2011


Not really angry, but clearly frustrated.

I have learned only relatively recently in life that being correct, having the facts and reason on your side is not the way to win an argument or to persuade people to agree to your position. Plain old fear works pretty good. My old boss was a master of intimidation. He was a large, loud man, and he could command a room. I came along to provide the facts. I never have been able to convince people of a damn thing, but Curt could wring consensus from a room like water from a wet paper towel.

The Asian model idealizes factual correctness. This works only when everyone idealizes factual correctness. Have a better argument? You win. Your arguments are respected.

American success is not about factual correctness. It's about making things happen, and the facts be damned. It's not necessarily an ideal thing, but that's the way it is. Who cares if you have a better argument if you are the loser?

I feel for these guys. They have worked their butts off, only to be confronted by the reality that they aren't going to get the keys to the castle. Bamboo Curtain indeed. That being said, I think being Asian isn't going to ultimately prevent them from storming the castle any more than being white guarantees that one will be permitted entry. But storm it they must, as must we all.
posted by Xoebe at 7:10 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Also, what I find kind of odd is that so few of these points apply to Indian/south Asian people. They're vaguely in the same immigrant bucket as people from Asia-Asia (e.g. China, etc). But I see plenty of Indians and Pakistanis in leadership positions and as entrepreneurs here in the Bay Area. What's the diff I wonder?

I'm a Indian immigrant (to Australia) who grew up in Hong Kong. In the same way that the author is a 'banana', I'm a 'coconut' (brown on the outside, white on the inside). My gut response to your question, ill3, was 'cultural'.

But now that I take a breath, I'm not so sure. Indian families have similar values to South-East Asian families - strong extended family structures, dilligence, emphasis on academics, doctor/lawyer/engineer...etc.

However, most subcontinental immigrants (or, the Indian ones at least) are native english speakers. Accordingly, they can integrate more easily that SE Asian immigrants who are not and are less likely to be ghettoised. That, in turn, means that the sterotype about subcontinental immigrants is different. They're not perceived as dour, humourless automatons, because the mainstream population can communicate with them in a common language. It seems likely that that factor alone might account for the difference.

Then again, I don't think that the bamboo ceiling is a thing here.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:10 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


That was pretty rambling and didn't make a lot of sense. However, the "melting pot" of America is a huge sociological experiment not guaranteed to work. I would like to see a population of one million Caucasians in some predominately asian country and see how they fare. Would there be a "white ceiling" dejected white guys write long rambling articles in the Shanghai Times about?
posted by norabarnacl3 at 7:13 PM on May 9, 2011


Just popped in to say Occam Godwin and then pop back out again.

You kids have fun now!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:20 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I didn't find this angry, just thoughtful and well-presented. I particularly liked the number of interviews showing various perspectives. Too many modern articles suffer from what I think of as Wired Syndrome: find two people who agree with you, quote them, and call it a day.

This was good stuff. Thank you for posting it.
posted by Georgina at 7:24 PM on May 9, 2011


I find paragraphs like this a bit trite:
“The loudest duck gets shot” is a Chinese proverb. “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is a Japanese one. Its Western correlative: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
as of course there's also plenty of Chinese proverbs about going your own way and fuck 'em if they don't like it (成大事者,不小拘 etc.) and conversely a supposed 'tall poppy' syndrome in various bits of the West. Must be a way to address cultural differences without such lazy shorthand.
posted by Abiezer at 7:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


Identifying people by monolithic characteristics such as skin colour is weird.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tolstoy Patel.
posted by jfwlucy at 7:28 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I see the correlation between "practicing getting white girls to fuck you" and "corporate boardroom representation".

At CEO interview:

"Tell us about yourself Tim Wu."

"Well I graduated Harvard summa cum laude then spent last summer obsessively studying posture and facial expressions so that white women, whose hair is the color of the midday sun and eyes are the color of the ocean will let me fuck them."

"HIRED"

Honestly this article was some funny shit.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 7:28 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


armoir from antproof case: "Angry? Really? Because of the one short 'Fuck that' paragraph?"

I drafted a very different paragraph defending the claim that it was, indeed, really angry, because to me, yeah, it sounded like he was leaking a bit of some deep, abiding fury. It wasn't just that paragraph, although that's certainly not the kind of claim you publish for shock value. In fact, I actually thought it was angry because it was so carefully considered, because that's not how people write when they mouth off. It's how people write after they've been simmering a long, long time.

But then I read my answer again and realized it was all predicated on the assumption that this guy shares my values and communication style (which involves a lot of understatement and implicature). But he's Korean, went to different schools in a different time, and by his own admission has deliberately altered how he behaves. So, fine. Maybe he's not actually that angry.

I still think the article's worth reading, though.
posted by d. z. wang at 7:29 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


“The general gist of most high-school movies is that the pretty cheerleader gets with the big dumb jock, and the nerd is left to bide his time in loneliness. But at some point in the future,” he says, “the nerd is going to rule the world, and the dumb jock is going to work in a carwash ..."
Maybe it is because I am not a particularly up person, but I always pictured the dumb jock as becoming someone's ill-tempered manager. I envisioned the nerd as being useful and because of this, would be kept in a little room in the basement. C'mon, The Breakfast Club, Brian is just getting eased in to a lifetime of writing essays reports for other people.

I just don't think the Asian-American thing is as huge of a factor in how he is treated so much as the reality he was primed to expect. Like this: "I haven’t had health insurance in ten years. I didn’t earn more than $12,000 for eight consecutive years. I went three years in the prime of my adulthood without touching a woman. I did not produce a masterpiece." Welcome to my twenties. Welcome to a lot of people's twenties in the United States.

The yawning gulf between that old American vision of keeping your nose to the grindstone for some mutual worker-company loyalty and the situation as it is today is about forty or fifty years wide; the chasm swallows up a lot of people without much of a thought to skin color. Ditto to the dating. Nobody can tell that you will remember their birthday across a crowded room. Nobody is going to pick up on your great work ethic when they see you order a beer.

A lot of folks have their comfort and business riding on filling the ears of someone young and naive (many someones) who just wants to know what to do for their little share of the Big Dream with the kinds of crap that makes the believers into useful, convenient, and obedient folks who will frictionlessly slide out of the way whenever one of the "Real People" wants to make a move. He got sucked in like a lot of people did, could be his parents were a bit to blame. Maybe they didn't get the memo, "It's Not Like That Anymore," but then, a lot of people's parents didn't get it, either.

That's what we get for not having our parents slaughtered by a young Thulsa Doom.
posted by adipocere at 7:37 PM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


ill3? Really? Praising British Culture for upper class Indian achievements? That's some straight up messed Stockholm syndrome there. As one of my friends says, there are plenty of parallels between the cultural values preserved in both the Indians diaspora and the Jewish Diaspora...

On the article, it's interesting that he's talking about a sense of societal failings felt by group of people who are pushed forward by their parents immigrant "middle class values" towards what are good "middle (err well middle-upper) class jobs" Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant etc. The sense of resentment comes, not that they attain those middle class jobs, but because meritocratic hard work prepares no one for entrance into upper class society, and who ever claimed that ever had meritocratic entrance exams.

In anycase that was a wonderful article that hits clashing cultures, social mores, passive racism, immigration heritage and individuality.
posted by stratastar at 7:41 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


ill3? Really? Praising British Culture for upper class Indian achievements? That's some straight up messed Stockholm syndrome there.

I don't think that was what ill3's was doing. I interpreted ill3's statement as 'shared/similar cultural history makes it easier for Indians to integrate and suceed in Canada'.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:48 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fair enough, its an interesting thought experiment though: what similarities in class structures and culture make for success across societies.
posted by stratastar at 7:53 PM on May 9, 2011


S(e)oul on (R)ice.

(If my fondness for allusion has lured me over the line into the offensive, I beg my readers' pardons.)
posted by jamjam at 7:55 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ultimately, we are both former British Colonies

How does Hong Kong fit into your picture, being a former British colony (until much more recently), after all?

And, honestly, I can relate to a lot of this as a middle-class white guy who grew up in a suburban town, where most of the neighbors were leaps and bounds outside of my family's economic/social strata. I think he's conflating race with general middle-class American existence. I'm sure there's an Asian-American cultural component to it, but I was able to relate to the rest of that article just fine.

American culture is fucked, and anybody trying in earnest to make an honest living to advance socially is setting themselves up for a life of disappointment.
posted by schmod at 8:03 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ultimately, we are both former British Colonies

How does Hong Kong fit into your picture, being a former British colony (until much more recently), after all?


I might be able to answer that one, if you clarify you question.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:06 PM on May 9, 2011


Also, what I find kind of odd is that so few of these points apply to Indian/south Asian people.

Can you clarify? I'm South Asian and this article really resonated with me in so many ways.
posted by naju at 8:12 PM on May 9, 2011


I think South Asians share an enormous amount of the same cultural values as other Asians - the aforementioned filial piety, Ivy League mania, deference to authority, humility and hard work, sacrificing for the future, etc. And I haven't noticed any trend towards leadership, authority, socialization or alpha-ness in a South Asian upbringing. In fact, I think the article was as much about Indians/Pakistanis as Koreans (he mentioned an Indian as an example at some point)
posted by naju at 8:20 PM on May 9, 2011


the best name anyone has ever had or will ever have until a birth certificate is issued for "Roosevelt Stalin."

God Shammgod.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:21 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is what happens when members of a collectivist culture immigrate into an individualistic culture. The consequences can suck, as the author describes so clearly.
posted by polymodus at 8:28 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know, assuming you have the cash (and Asian American family earn higher than the median income) if you study hard you can become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer.
Sure, but most doctors/lawyers/engineers aren't all that rich. A friend of mine just passed the bar in Florida and barely above the poverty level (and huge student debts as well). Really brilliant doctors can probably make a lot of money, but lots of doctors don't make that much. The median salary is $186,044 and for specialists it's $339,738 (which is a lot, for sure)
Also, what I find kind of odd is that so few of these points apply to Indian/south Asian people. They're vaguely in the same immigrant bucket as people from Asia-Asia (e.g. China, etc). But I see plenty of Indians and Pakistanis in leadership positions and as entrepreneurs here in the Bay Area. What's the diff I wonder?
This annoys me too. There is a huge difference culturally and ethnically between East Asians and South Asians. If we are going to group people by "race" shouldn't we at least use definitions that make sense? If the claim is that we are going by continents shouldn't they all be lumped in with white people and called "Eurasians"? (since frankly the idea that Europe is a separate continent is just ridiculous). East Asians have a cultural basis in Confucianism and lots of them used Chinese writing, etc.

Hmm, Actually I don't know that much about Indian culture. I know a lot about Chinese/Confucian history and culture, and obviously a lot about 'western' culture and it's antecedents (i.e. ancient Greece). But what I do know it seems different from both in some ways.
The Asian model idealizes factual correctness. This works only when everyone idealizes factual correctness. Have a better argument? You win. Your arguments are respected.
Actually I would say that the "Asian model" relies more on hierarchy, respect and maintaining social balance. It would be better to just do what the boss says and make sure no one loses face then do the 'correct' thing. Also, lots of respect for the group/institution over personal ambition.
posted by delmoi at 8:29 PM on May 9, 2011


I wonder if the "Indian Startup" thing could be due to the fact that Computer Science is a highly valued job in Indian society while I haven't heard the same thing about East Indian culture. I definitely hear a lot about CS as something that Indian parents view as being on par with being a doctor/lawyer.

The prevalence of CS degrees means more Indians in Silicon Valley and the culture in Silicon Valley makes people want to do a startup. I have a Chinese friend who works there and she's always talking about wanting to do a startup
posted by delmoi at 8:38 PM on May 9, 2011


South Asians (generally) know how to smile and make eye contact. And the "passive Asian face" that is described in the first paragraph of the article is a big part of that Asian otherness. People from the subcontinent are Aryans (in the original sense of the word) and are basically white-looking but with darker skin. Big mouths, expressive eyes. So even if the cultural stuff is "Asian", the physical side isn't.

Not condoning, just describing...
posted by Meatbomb at 8:49 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


1. There is nothing in this article that has not been chewed over by 10,000 meetings by 50,000 freshmen at Asian-American cultural groups in basement halls at US universities over the past 10-15 years. Seriously. Nothing. Except, well --

2. Good grief. I'm an East Asian-American woman raised in America, and there are already enough of my peers who absolutely, categorically refuse to date Asian or Asian-American men because of a general perception that that Asian and Asian-American men objectify women/will not treat them like a human being or full partner in life.

Whether that perception is right or wrong, reading about a pick-up artist who teaches Asian/Asian-American men to creep on and objectify blonde-haired, blue-eyed women as the pinnacle of desireableness? SO NOT HELPING WITH THAT PERCEPTION.

3. The underlying idea of this is that the things that the skills emphasized by Asian-American culture as a monolith does not prepare you to succeed at the highest echelons of American society. The thing that the author never examines, though, is the question of whether Asian-American culture is fundamentally concerned with succeeding in the boardroom or the millionaire's country club. Yeah, there is a definite obsession with prestige and money and status, but my perception has always been that the driving force behind the obsession among the Asian-American parents that I knew was due to the shitty, shitty circumstances that these people lived through as children.

I mean, my parents grew up in families where eight people shared a few cups of rice and a chicken drumstick for dinner every single night for years. A family friend put a change of clothes in a plastic bag, tying it to his back, and swimming through shark-infested waters in the South China Sea in order to get out of Vietnam. I knew a woman who had been sold into indentured servitude at age twelve and thereafter slept on the floor of the office building that she cleaned because a janitorial service had purchased her.

I'm not saying that the yearning for prestige always comes from situations like these, or that it justifies the emotional, physical, and verbal abuse that happens in way too many Asian-American families. But deprivation like that is really, really common, and if you're going to write that may words yelling about HOW ANGRY ALL ASIAN-AMERICANS SHOULD BE ABOUT THE WAY THAT THEIR PARENTS FAILED THEM BECAUSE OF THEIR OBSESSION, then failing to address why so many of their parents may have been personally obsessed? Or actually discuss whether the impact that class might have had in shaping immigrant experiences? Or whether there are Asian-American subgroups who don't buy into the monolithic MUST SUCCEED MUST SUCCEED mindset? Or what the pressure to succeed does to the kids to who can't get into Stuy?

Instead, he just sort of yells a lot. And it kind of makes him, at least in my eyes, look like that eighteen year old dick at the round table in the basement of Silliman that wouldn't shut up about his parents don't love him enough to let him major in something besides Engineering.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:58 PM on May 9, 2011 [29 favorites]


2. Good grief. I'm an East Asian-American woman raised in America, and there are already enough of my peers who absolutely, categorically refuse to date Asian or Asian-American men because of a general perception that that Asian and Asian-American men objectify women/will not treat them like a human being or full partner in life.

Whether that perception is right or wrong, reading about a pick-up artist who teaches Asian/Asian-American men to creep on and objectify blonde-haired, blue-eyed women as the pinnacle of desireableness? SO NOT HELPING WITH THAT PERCEPTION.


Yes, agreed.

However, I have to say that, apart from people related to me, I don't know a single Indian girl - not socially, not in my industry. There's a pretty small subcontinental community in Australia. If caucasian girls wouldn't even look at me, things would start to get pretty lonely around here. So, I can understand, if not condone, the pick-up thing.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:08 PM on May 9, 2011


I don't know how to respond to the comments here without going really far into my own story, but maybe you can take me at my word when I say I recognize a lot of what the author is saying. I've written and deleted half a dozen paragraphs going into it, but ultimately I don't think this is something I'm willing to share deeply on a non-personal level. And by personal, I mean, we can talk about this if we're in the same room, but I don't think we can talk about this as a bunch of semi-anonymous personas where words don't have consequences.

But yeah, I have been the guy caught between two very different cultural directives, and it has colored many aspects of my life. I have been the student, at the same high school mentioned in the article, trying to find my own way against the stream. Feeling like I could only be one thing, because even if I wanted something else, the rest of the world would only ever see me in those terms anyway. The awesome part? Everyone at school was the same. White kids were trying just has hard to get into as many AP classes as they could, into as many extra curriculars, and into Harvard.

Except the story is a bit different for us after we graduate. Kind of the whole point of the article. One guy gets stuck being middle management for the rest of his life, while the other makes partner. Same talent, same work, different perceptions.

I rejected that path whole cloth, much as the author did. Or I thought I did. I have an extreme amount of ambition, like a misery-causing amount, just not directed at corporate climbing, anymore. But now I am terrified it is just a sublimation of some real deep cultural conflicts.

And yeah, there is some truth in that many of the Asians I know who are stars, are chefs.
posted by danny the boy at 9:08 PM on May 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


joyceanmachine: "2. Good grief. I'm an East Asian-American woman raised in America, and there are already enough of my peers who absolutely, categorically refuse to date Asian or Asian-American men because of a general perception that that Asian and Asian-American men objectify women/will not treat them like a human being or full partner in life."

Really. And how does that reconcile with the perception and objectification of Asian women as exotic and docile by the white Western man?
posted by danny the boy at 9:11 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


joyceanmachine: " The thing that the author never examines, though, is the question of whether Asian-American culture is fundamentally concerned with succeeding in the boardroom or the millionaire's country club."

Sure he does. Just because you personally (or me personally for that matter) are not interested in those things, doesn't mean that Asians shouldn't be proportionally represented at those levels of achievement. If all things were equal, there would be way more Asians at the C-level. Yet there are not. Are you saying we just not interested in it, as a cultural group?
posted by danny the boy at 9:16 PM on May 9, 2011


Does anyone even read entire articles or does everyone just pop off some bon mot after checking out a paragraph or two? Because that would make it easier for me too.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 9:17 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


2. Good grief. I'm an East Asian-American woman raised in America, and there are already enough of my peers who absolutely, categorically refuse to date Asian or Asian-American men because of a general perception that that Asian and Asian-American men objectify women/will not treat them like a human being or full partner in life.

Whether that perception is right or wrong, reading about a pick-up artist who teaches Asian/Asian-American men to creep on and objectify blonde-haired, blue-eyed women as the pinnacle of desireableness? SO NOT HELPING WITH THAT PERCEPTION.


How do you think that makes Asian-American men feel when even people from their own cultural background and ethnicity do not see them as desirable partners, and do you think that may drive them towards sleezy pickup artistry?
posted by gyc at 9:18 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


"A lot of success in the U.S. has to do knowing the right people, not just having higher test scores."

Yes, but this is absolutely true for east Asia as well. Actually, it's even more important.

A huge part of the Korean and Japanese college experience (not sure about China) is who you meet. Your social network stretching back to elementary school will determine in no small part where you work and how much you make.

Indeed, the dream of sending their kids to Ivy League schools has backfired for many Korean families. If the kid decides to come back here for work they're basically screwed -- they have no professional network to start climbing the corporate ladder. (They're probably much happier to stay within the US corporate culture anyways, where things like two-day weekends and 40-50 hour weeks and contracts that actually serve as contracts, not a list of suggestions your boss can change at will, are standard.)

In my experience, for as family oriented as Koreans are, parents generally prefer for their kids to stay in America after their Harvard or Stanford years. A lot of the parents these days hope their America-educated kids will actually manage to bring them over to the States some day.
posted by bardic at 9:19 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm just horrified that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was actually a self-critique but it was discussed in the media as if it was a manifesto. I guess nobody actually read the thing?
posted by mek at 9:21 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


And seriously, 31 of you so far?

I have to pause from reading the article to point out that "Jefferson Mao" is the best name anyone has ever had or will ever have until a birth certificate is issued for "Roosevelt Stalin."
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:14 PM on May 9 [31 favorites +] [!]


Yeah, I have no idea what he's talking about in this article. Where DOES this stuff come from?
posted by Ron Thanagar at 9:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess nobody actually read the thing?

Pretty sure they just skimmed the first three pages and composed a few bon mots.

In high school I used to wonder why all the reviews about Evanescence said they sounded like Linkin Park, but then I figured it out.
posted by zvs at 9:26 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, back when, I wanted to date the white women, having grown up in white society, basically identifying myself as white imprisoned in a foreign face. And I rebelled a lot, did a lot of crazy stuff not to be (mis)identified as the quiet asian guy who follows all the rules. And I remember the feeling if that when I was in America, I was Korean, and when I was in Korea, I was an American. Belonged nowhere. When I finally graduated college, I hit that bamboo ceiling a couple times. But I gotta say, it's getting better. I feel more and more that I can be accepted as what I am, and not need to conform to a certain mold of the "alpha male" to be respected. There's no perfect world, of course, but there's hope. There are lots of ways to react to a bad hand that's dealt you. I think a lot of people don't understand that changing the rules is one of them.
posted by paladin at 9:31 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I actually thought the gender stuff was really interesting, if not really teased out as well as it could be. So what he's saying is that Asian cultures socialize boys to do things that aren't considered masculine in America. They're taught to work hard, not to take credit, not to speak up, to do the crappy but necessary work that doesn't really get recognized in the workplace, etc. He's claiming, I think, that this hurts Asian-American men in their careers, as well as in the dating thing.

He kind of uses Amy Chua as an example, but of course she's a woman who is raising daughters. And I think it would be interesting to know how he thinks this all works for Asian-American women. On the one hand, if he's right, then there would be a lot less of a gap between the way that Asian-American women were socialized and mainstream expectations of American women. Lots of American women are raised to work hard, not to take credit, to defer to authority, to do the scut work, etc. On the other hand, that would just mean that the bamboo ceiling for Asian-American women would look a lot like the glass ceiling, because all that deferring and not-taking-credit and doing scut work for no recognition is also part of what keeps women of all races out of the top ranks of corporate (and other) leadership.
I guess nobody actually read the thing?
The entire debate was about the WSJ excerpt, which was apparently pretty selectively edited.
posted by craichead at 9:37 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


What if you missed out on the lessons in masculinity taught in the gyms and locker rooms of America’s high schools? What if life has failed to make you a socially dominant alpha male who runs the American boardroom and prevails in the American bedroom?

I found this interesting. So while we lament the absence of Asians from the most powerful and wealthy positions, let's just be clear that we're talking about Asian men, because it goes without saying and we won't simulataneously question the representation of women in these positions.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:39 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have formed no conclusion about this, but I wonder if anything changes if you take the tagline:

"What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?"

and just do this:

"What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?"

Or lifted from the article:

"Chua’s Chinese education had gotten her through an elite schooling, but it left her unprepared for the real world. "

Again,

"Chua’s Chinese education had gotten her through an elite schooling, but it left her unprepared for the real world. "

I'm not saying there isn't a racial/cultural component at work here, or even that it isn't the most important component. I'd just like to point out that many traditional overachievers who put heavy value on education end up disappointed.
posted by Jaie at 9:39 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Isn't it a little bizarre, though, to claim that a professor at literally the most elite law school in America is some sort of professional failure? I mean, she might have felt like she was ill-equipped for the real world, but she seems to have done ok for herself.
posted by craichead at 9:42 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the claim is valid when considered as an alternative to her corporate law career, which she says "felt... like playacting, ridiculous in my suit". (This is not to detract from her success in academia.) It's a story of professional success after originally experiencing failure.
posted by Maxson at 9:49 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a story of professional success after originally experiencing failure.
It's a story of (astronomical) professional success after originally *being unhappy*. I don't think there's any evidence she failed. And I don't think there are too many things a lawyer can do, short of becoming a Supreme Court justice or something, that would be as prestigious as having a named professorship at Yale Law.
posted by craichead at 9:55 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


It is hard to comment on this article - there is anger in it - but it's greatest weakness is how it devolves into pick-up-artist Game theory.
I thought about a number of my experiences with Asians over the years, but in retrospect the biggest issue is that my memories aren't all that fun or pleasant... their relationship with white people is so often fetishistic (which makes it awkward... asking if I will act in a porn film "I'd like to see you with a big black woman", or have their photo taken with them explaining "it is to prove I have white friends", or telling me their dreams about white women) - all true events, leading me to conclude that I am not sure what to think.

The other experience is to find their way of working so by-the-book/work-to-rule it makes you want to kill yourself. Yes, an "Asian" manager is less problematic and complex than a Italian manager, but the Italian manager may go on a highly entertaining one hour rant about ancient Rome, whereas the Asian manager will (generally) either bore you to tears or never talk to you.

So I'd argue, perhaps these "over achievers" need to move their political allegiance more to the left. And when I say left, I mean hippies... I mean living more socially for yourself, more economically for the commune, not the other way around. Your achievements should be for everybody. Your social needs are for *you* to have fun, not to prove some "success".
posted by niccolo at 10:04 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's the depressed feeling you get after studying for weeks for A REALLY IMPORTANT test, putting everything you have into it, taking it, and then the floor falling out from under you after realizing... That's it?

But only with Yale Law, a first book (her book World On Fire, while ostensibly about foreign policy, is REALLY about ethnic Chinese immigrants causing facing racial tensions in the countries where they've immigrated to because of their economic success), and then a memoir marketed as troll-bait to an entire country. MEEEEE-SEARCH!!!
posted by stratastar at 10:06 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The article indicates that Chua felt she couldn't advance in corporate law due to her strict upbringing. Whether her feelings were accurate or not is unclear... what we are told is that, in her eyes, she was failing as a corporate lawyer. That certainly isn't a failure in terms of dollars and cents, so take it as you will.
posted by Maxson at 10:09 PM on May 9, 2011


I thought about a number of my experiences with Asians over the years, but in retrospect the biggest issue is that my memories aren't all that fun or pleasant... their relationship with white people is so often fetishistic (which makes it awkward... asking if I will act in a porn film "I'd like to see you with a big black woman", or have their photo taken with them explaining "it is to prove I have white friends", or telling me their dreams about white women) - all true events, leading me to conclude that I am not sure what to think.

What. The. Fuck.

Really? I'm starting to think I have absolutely zero understanding of racism and race relations in the US. I've been in some racist situations here (Oz) before, with all flavours of Asians, but I have seriously never encountered or heard of anything like that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:11 PM on May 9, 2011


Re: East Asians ( Chinese, let's say) and South Asians ( Indians, let's say) Asia is a big huge place with lots of diversity and many, many people, so it shouldn't be so shocking that there are differences in cultural perception. Also, if we want to roll with stereotypes, we Indians have Bollywood and it's hard to associate 'robot' with that madness.
posted by sweetkid at 10:14 PM on May 9, 2011


Really? I'm starting to think I have absolutely zero understanding of racism and race relations in the US.

No, that comment is in no way representative of race relations in the US.
posted by sweetkid at 10:16 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


My guess is niccolo doesn't have much of a sense of humor.
posted by bq at 10:20 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Women don't prefer assholes over nice guys; they prefer strong men over weak men." (Paraphrased)

Any women disagree with this?

Guess who wrote it?

A pick-up artist, the one you've heard of, Neil Strauss, in The Game. I don't engage in PUA trickery (though I've read that one book) but there's a lot of reasonable practice in it about developing assertiveness and taking risks. Much of the book seems to focus on being able to talk to anyone of any gender/age/race at length. The marketing of PUA is about sex because that's what sells, but PUA isn't about relentlessly stalking blondes or scripting manipulative conversations, from what I've read.
posted by mnemonic at 10:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really? I'm starting to think I have absolutely zero understanding of racism and race relations in the US. I've been in some racist situations here (Oz) before, with all flavours of Asians, but I have seriously never encountered or heard of anything like that.
Hey man that guy is from Canada. I can safely say that in all my dealings with various people from various backgrounds, not one has asked me to act in a porno.
posted by delmoi at 11:06 PM on May 9, 2011


It's a story of (astronomical) professional success after originally *being unhappy*. I don't think there's any evidence she failed. And I don't think there are too many things a lawyer can do, short of becoming a Supreme Court justice or something, that would be as prestigious as having a named professorship at Yale Law.
I saw her on the Colbert Report. The interesting thing about her is that she doesn't seem at all stiff and reserved, she actually seemed really warm and friendly and humorous and self-deprecating. I was actually kind of surprised, given the book. And she clearly has a talent for self promotion. I think a lot of her success could be the result of a kind of inborn talent for socializing that she may not notice.
posted by delmoi at 11:15 PM on May 9, 2011


I wasn't too surprised to see this article meander its way into PUA territory, and to be honest, I would have been rather annoyed if it ultimately did not.

Why?

Because it's a logical approach to dealing with the "soft skills" deficit perceived by the author, and those the author sketches. And of those men feeling socially unprepared, I suspect many more than one might think will at least dip a toe into this world, if only to have the satisfaction of declaring, I Know About Those Things and Would Never Ever Do Them.

For those appalled by the study of courtship and attraction, I recommend playing with the idea that men and women, on the level of internal process, unconscious filter, and instinctive trigger, are actually far more different than a typically superficial conversation or correspondence would suggest.

Consider this, which still seems to me one of the very best things I've read on MeFi.

If that indeed approximates the default male thought-process (and for most men, I believe it does-- though not all men would admit this, particularly to women)...

and the default female thought-process is rather different from this...

doesn't it make sense that men and women both would benefit from learning how the other gender instinctively perceives, processes, and prioritizes the elements of their shared world?
posted by darth_tedious at 11:20 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


No, that comment is in no way representative of race relations in the US.

Thank fuck.

Hey man that guy is from Canada. I can safely say that in all my dealings with various people from various backgrounds, not one has asked me to act in a porno.

Whoops. Sorry about that, USians.

Don't worry, delmoi. I still think you're pretty.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:20 PM on May 9, 2011


Dear Angry Korean Guy:

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.

Sincerely,

Tyler Durden
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:35 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


@delmoi
A lot of success in the U.S. has to do knowing the right people
"nepotism"

@Xoebe
American success is not about factual correctness.
"stupidity"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:56 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


But deprivation like that is really, really common, and if you're going to write that may words yelling about HOW ANGRY ALL ASIAN-AMERICANS SHOULD BE ABOUT THE WAY THAT THEIR PARENTS FAILED THEM BECAUSE OF THEIR OBSESSION, then failing to address why so many of their parents may have been personally obsessed?

Isn't this just a testimony to their parents success? They've managed to escape, at enormous effort and risk, from the oppressive poverty of a tyranical communist regime, and for their efforts they've succeeded in breeding a typically spoiled, whiny, self-obsessed and authentically all-American kid.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:21 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


inborn talent for socializing

Really?
posted by Wolof at 12:39 AM on May 10, 2011


Google ads with another beautiful choice....
posted by gonna get a dog at 12:57 AM on May 10, 2011


I work in a storefront academy in Los Angeles, one of the "cram school" described in the article. Though I never has heard of that term, it fits.

Here's what I know: at this cram school the student population is about a hundred students, everyone Korean, about 50/50 first generation/second generation. I believe it is organized through the Presbyterian church, though I'm not made privy to that information. With this storefront academy (which has been running for ten years) there's no advertising, no sign, and a long waiting list. Without being hyperbolic, it's a factory and needs no niceties or decoration. It performs a function, and that's that.

I teach English on Saturday mornings; my students are 8th and 9th grades. My class is SAT prep. In the school the students are studying for any and all standardized tests all the time, after class, all weekend: the SATs, ACTs, PSATs, ISEEs for the young ones. There's a track you follow, and a hierarchy to getting into the right private high schools, then the right schools in UC system, or, if you do stand out (and this means truly acing the SATs) Ivy League. I say acing, because as explained to me by the director, Asian students are competing against each other on a "grades and test score" meritocracy basis and routinely get the shaft when put up against socially connected whites. They don't have those connections, so their only option is being the best of the best.

I should mention now that I did not come from a background anything like what inhabits the storefront academy. I was raised in a "why don't you go outside?" household. I grew up in the Midwest, went to second-tier state schools, had a garage band in fact. In short, pretty much the exact opposite of the cram school students.

The class I teach goes year round. I went in so ignorant. My second week I asked my students how long their rotation or "semester" was, how long they would be tutored. Until they got into the right college, that's how long. And they'd been at it since childhood, with about 4 more years to go. Every Saturday in a windowless room for their entire scholastic careers.

Here what I was taught you do at the cram school, at the behest of the parents: squeeze the students. Assign homework, be stern. The students call you "Joechip Teacher," anything else is disrespectful. Make them memorize. Go!

And memorize they can. These kids know their vocab. One day I give a fuzzy definition of the word "esoteric." One student, after hesitation, offers another definition. After class, I look the word up. The student had recited the entire Webster's definition, word for word.

But there's a problem. The article quotes Amy Chua as saying, "I also wasn’t naturally skeptical and questioning; I just wanted to write down everything the professor said and memorize it." That's what my students know, know well, and sometimes know only.

But lately I have been pressed to introduce abstract concepts. Great, I thought, about time to not just teach to the test. These students have never been asked to think outside of the bubble. But then reading the "Paper Tiger" article, I recognize how the new curriculum is eerily like the "pickup" class: trying to teach big-picture critical thinking through a rigid formula. Also, the reason for the critical skills lesson plans isn't a recognition that the program is too narrowly focused on rote work, but rather a necessity: the SAT has an essay section now with broad, philosophical prompts. And it must be mastered.

I wish at these schools there was an emphasis on teaching social skills, on how to question with authority, on how to charm. Then, I think, I'd be doing my job of truly helping these students succeed. Give one of the wonderful "wake up sheeple" variations, and set them free! But I can't, of course, and it's arrogant and paternalistic for me to think so, and even if I could I don't think I should.

Because I do respect so much that these students work harder than any of my peers ever had. And maybe it's silly of me to not recognize that this kind of school is just the system stripped down to its bare necessities. And you can't teach connections. Sometimes I don't know who's right. I just know it's a fantastically weird game someone made up and the parents have their kids playing it harder than my comparatively lazy white ass has ever played anything.

But then again, I spent my Saturdays working and socializing and learning what rules needed to be followed and which I could break. Which of course is a game in itself. As usual, in the end it just matters what skills end up being deemed most valuable.
posted by joechip at 1:28 AM on May 10, 2011 [18 favorites]


Hm. Above average isn't good enough! Dominating elite schools isn't good enough! Top-earning racial group isn't good enough! We should be ruling this country we've only just arrived in!

Nice.
posted by Segundus at 2:46 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not Asian-American but: because I did fairly well in school (by no means a bell-ringer) my parents and my community wished big things for me.

I went along with that until I got away for college. I already knew that there was no big payoff for the things that mattered to me. No problem. Ironically enough, what I -did- learn at college was that some of the traditional (pre-Western) values of Asia (simplicity, search for the cosmic) fit me much better than the capitalist, xtian values that tried to engulf me all through my childhood.

I never heard of anyone dying of being happy. I'm pretty sure all -sane- parents -really- want that for you. The rest is just the social pressures they feel talking. (From what I read, it was the same way in the West a century ago.)

You can waste a lot of your best years looking for the pot of gold - and unless you have the motivation, the 'right' principles, and know the right people, you're fooling yourself. The world is already a treasure - you don't have to create one yourself.
posted by Twang at 2:57 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rather than Asians giving up intellectuality, humility, hard work, cooperation and the future I'd like to see Anglo-Americans start adopting it.
posted by DU at 6:15 PM on May 9 [15 favorites +] [!]


Would it be racist if I went around saying this?
posted by hal_c_on at 3:34 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wu Washington.
posted by bwg at 3:34 AM on May 10, 2011


People sure hate it when someone else beats them at their own game.

The system is set up such that standardized tests are the hurdle to success in schooling which is the hurdle to success in work. Asian parents seem to have figured this out and are winning - the racism that is affirmative action is turning itself around when they have to counter the outpacing of "minorities" from the majority. pretty big fuck you to the man if you ask me and I think it's hilarious.

Only racists say things like, well standardized tests are not the way to succeed in America/life, it's who you know. Of course the majority of who runs shit aren't minorities so good fucking luck Wong.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 3:54 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Darwin Inhofe
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:10 AM on May 10, 2011


Yeah, good fucking luck Wong!
posted by hal_c_on at 4:12 AM on May 10, 2011


joechip, I score your kids' papers. You want to really help them get better scores? Tell them to quit writing in those goddam tiny letters that are too small to read. This is America, we have lots of paper.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:30 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why'd the New Yorker make those guys take off their shirts for the photographs?
posted by klarck at 4:38 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hm. Above average isn't good enough! Dominating elite schools isn't good enough! Top-earning racial group isn't good enough! We should be ruling this country we've only just arrived in!

Nice.


What what what? Am I missing the hamburger here, or is this just another crappy racist comment? I don't know what to think when there are comments like this and niccolo's, besides "thanks, MeFi, for reminding me that there are bigots everywhere".

I thought this was a great article, so thanks for posting. It's interesting to think about in the context of the general push towards standardized testing in U.S. education. We seem to think that standardized tests measure something, but I'm not really sure what, and there's a lot of the big picture that standardized tests leave out. That said, you need some sort of measurement/evaluation in education, so what do you use?
posted by lillygog at 5:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thought the piece was really interesting. I see similar phenomenon not in the local Asian community--which is mostly Burmese refugees who aren't making much of an effort to integrate--but in the local white community.

Simply put, the sorts of things that you learn growing up around the dinner table in a more-or-less stable middle- to upper-middle class professional family really can't be taught, and they're absolutely essential for achieving what our society tends to construe as success.

An old girlfriend comes to mind. She's about as white as it gets, and when I met her she was in her first year of residency in emergency medicine. And a total fish out of water. She had absolutely no idea going into it that becoming a physician affects your entire social, cultural, and intellectual world. The social cues for comporting one's self in professional communities were completely lost on her. I think this is because while most of her classmates grew up in professional households, her dad was a disabled TV repairman and her mom taught first grade in a third-tier city in the upper Midwest. She spent her high school and college summers working as a cashier at a supermarket and had never actually known any professionals of any sort before she got to med school.

So when we went to a party hosted by one of her faculty, I was pretty comfortable despite the fact that I didn't know anyone--I've been hanging out with physicians my whole life--but she completely misread the situation and got tanked inside of about ninety minutes.* Had to put her to bed around 9:30. And that wasn't it either. She just seemed to have no idea about the appropriateness of conversational topics or even the kinds of things physicians do when they aren't in the office. She knew there was stuff she was missing and it bothered her a lot. Didn't help that the fact that she'd gone to med school caused her family to treat her differently, or the fact that by the time we broke up, she was starting to understand why. We broke up mostly for other reasons, but I still worry about her.

And the ex is just the person in that kind of situation I happen to know best. I meet people in this town every week who think that the way they can get out of their retail job is by taking evening classes at a local for-profit college, getting an associates degree in "organizational management" or some shit, and bang, they're on the road to white-collar success. Or the people that think their four-year degree from a community college is going to set them up for law school, because the third-tier school down the road is just as good as Harvard or Duke. I mean, it's law school, right?

The depressing thing is that where they grew up is so far from either of those things that it's like a New Yorker thinking that Corpus Christi and Amarillo are close together just because they're both in Texas. Sure, New York is way farther from either, but it's still a 650 mile trip. We're talking about people from families where no one has ever been to college being told that college is the way to get a real job, and hey, any college will do, right?

Well it doesn't. So far I haven't had the heart to tell the twenty-six year old waitress with two kids, an ex-husband, and a GED that paralegal classes aren't going to enable her to survive an interview, or the forty-year old guy who went to a no-name law school three states over when he was well past thirty that my firm probably isn't going to hire him. Even worse, convincing the intermittently and marginally employed alcoholic drug abuser that he is actually welcome in a church made up mostly of graduate students and professionals is a pretty tough sell, as our love for him notwithstanding, he knows quite well that he can't talk the way we do, and at this point there isn't anything anyone can do about that.

I think the two things are related. The Asian cultures described by the author of the linked article seem to operate under the assumption that if you check off certain boxes on your resume, you'll be successful. That isn't really true even in Asian cultures, but it's especially not true in American culture. Thing is, the boxes most Asians choose to check off tend to do them a lot better than ones like-minded Americans choose to check off--nailing fundamental academic skills is going to be better for you in the long run than maximizing your enjoyment of high school extracurriculars--but it's still just checking boxes, not becoming the kind of person that does well in society. Success is based on virtue, and though even Plato wasn't sure virtue could be taught, he'd probably frown on rote memorization as the main tool for doing it.

So yes: culture matters. And while this is a problem, I'm not sure what kind of problem. Sure, the "Bamboo Ceiling" is bad, but if it has to do with the fact that certain culturally-instilled ways of acting just come off creepy, well, we're not the ones trying to break into Asian/Pacific society. But I'm more worried about the fact that there are tons of members of the broader American culture that don't really get it either. This isn't just a money thing either, or a factor of going to the right schools. Class isn't just about money anymore. But it matters, and it's hard to overcome.

*Pacing yourself takes practice, which she hadn't had, but knowing how drunk it is appropriate to be is something else entirely.
posted by valkyryn at 6:01 AM on May 10, 2011 [34 favorites]


Success is based on virtue

jaw just hit the floor.
posted by telstar at 6:22 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Success is based on virtue

jaw just hit the floor.


Virtue may be a necessary condition for success, but it isn't a sufficient one, and moral virtue in particular may not be either one. There are virtues other than those. Like charisma.

If you're thinking that this is basically a crapshoot, well, yeah. That's why this is a problem. Not sure it's a problem with a solution though.
posted by valkyryn at 6:33 AM on May 10, 2011


If you’re East Asian, you need to attend a top-tier university to land a good high-paying gig. Even if you land that good high-paying gig, the white guy with the pedigree from a mediocre state university will somehow move ahead of you in the ranks simply because he’s white.

Not the reason! While I did not encounter the bamboo ceiling, I did encounter the "accent" ceiling. The difference is that the first time I was passed over for a well deserved (I thought) promotion, I decided to take a honest look at the reasons instead of complaining. What I found was that I seriously lacked in the social skills necessary for the job, even while (or maybe because) I could run circles around my co-workers in job performance. I benefited then because what happened made me decide if I was willing to learn diplomacy and social skills and give up bluntness, arrogance and anarchical leanings.

I was not willing to change (I like myself) but my children did benefit because I started to encourage sports participation, extra curricular activities, slumber parties, arcade visiting with friends etc.
posted by francesca too at 6:56 AM on May 10, 2011


Hm. Above average isn't good enough! Dominating elite schools isn't good enough! Top-earning racial group isn't good enough! We should be ruling this country we've only just arrived in!
That's a pretty lame-ass comment. "We" may have just arrived in this country, but I have been here as long as you have. I grew up here, and may have been born around the same time as you in a similar city. I have citizenship, just like you, and as far as my lived experience goes, this country is all I know. I'm not here to invade or take over anything. I'm not here to rule over anyone, any more than you are. On what basis does this comment even make sense unless you've already drawn clear bright lines between groups, and decided that there are one set of rules for one group and a different set for another. This whole debate shouldn't be about competing racial groups, and who is winning and losing, and it's sad that that's all some people get out of it.

On a different note, I thought this article beautifully showed how the whole issue is so completely complex and kaleidoscopic. Look at things one way, it's all about race. From another, it's class and gender, or personality flaws and unrealistic expectations, or 'reverse racism', or something else still. This also means it's easy to make any criticism of the status quo, no matter how effective it is from one angle, look like it's completely missed the point.
posted by mariokrat at 7:01 AM on May 10, 2011 [13 favorites]


Jemima Khan is her married name - she's from the uber-WASP Goldsmith family.
posted by mippy at 7:52 AM on May 10, 2011


Have some rambling, disjointed thoughts.

Of course Asian people have been in the United States for a really long time; people know vaguely that Chinese people helped build the railroads, which happened a long time ago, but for some reason they still think Asian people have 'just arrived'. This is of course due to various immigration policies, and incidents in which the entire Chinese populations of some cities were driven out.

What's really interesting is the shift in stereotypes; the stereotypes from the 1800's are the 'Yellow Peril' view of Asians, as lazy, sensual, and decadent. The stereotypes of Asians today are quite different. This tells me that either 'Asian culture' has changed enormously in that space of time, or that the stereotypes are a reaction to something else; for every Asian who goes to an Ivy League school, there are many, many more who don't (there simply aren't a lot of people who go to Harvard). So why are Ivy League Asians the stereotype?

--

Soft skills are important. I'm an engineering PhD, and I like to think I'm pretty sociable for an engineering PhD (I'll look at your shoes when I'm talking to you, like the old chestnut goes), but a few years ago, I was invited to a party thrown by people who were in a (pretty good) MBA program, and let me tell you, I hadn't felt that uncool since high school. And I realized that our life paths had diverged a really long time ago: while I was learning thermodynamics and physical chemistry, they were ... being social. I'd personally hate to make a career out of 'I have awesome social skills', but I guess by the time you get into a top tier MBA program, you're the cream of the crop. And these are the people we make our leaders.

(Would a society led by engineers be any better? I used to think so, but what with the recent political climate, I've come to realize how, uh, crazy some of my engineer friends are when it comes to politics. 'And then there will be no government at all and I can finally move to the magical state of Googlesylvania!' I exaggerate, but only a little.)

This isn't even an Asian thing, by the way -- one of my friends likes to tell the story about a conference where one floor was pharmaceutical reps, and one floor was pharmaceutical scientists, and you could who was going where even before they hit the elevator button, and how very different each floor was.

Of course, social skills are important even in the sciences; I know plenty of smart people who take it as license to be rude, condescending and belligerent to everybody. Eventually nobody wants to collaborate with them and they end up publishing crackpot letters to the editor about, like how vitamin C makes you massively fertile or something. Because they've driven away anybody who cares enough to say "Uh, dude, seriously. No. Stop."

--

Using the term 'alpha male' in a serious way really makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it's because I know some guy who is massively into PUA and is always trying to 'alpha male' it up. Mostly with constant put-downs to other guys. He fails to realize that power is something given, not something taken. If you want people to follow you, you have to take care of your people. No amount of standing with your chest out and your arms akimbo or whatever will convince people to follow you if you're a giant jerkface. I don't know, maybe I don't spend enough time in nightclubs.

--

Saying that all other Asian people are uncreative, &c., always kinds of reminds me of teenagers talking about how those people who live in the suburbs and wear khakis must be boring cookie cutter people. We're all humans, we all contain depths. You may not care to know somebody well enough to find out about them, but that doesn't mean that they're not there.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:14 AM on May 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


Simply put, the sorts of things that you learn growing up around the dinner table in a more-or-less stable middle- to upper-middle class professional family really can't be taught, and they're absolutely essential for achieving what our society tends to construe as success.

Well, I fit pretty much your stereotype to the T, and although I don't fit in perfectly at all the swanky professional receptions and don't have all the social skills and all the exquisite attunements to the nuances of stable middle- to upper-middle class professional society that you do, I'm doing fairly well for myself. Probably, I suspect, not nearly as well as you are, maybe not even half as well, but well enough to feel blessed. So, yes: culture matters, as does nurture. But you're painting things with an extremely broad brush and failing to detect the ways in which your own biases might influence your attitudes to those who don't share your upbringing and tax bracket. It's good that you've kept to yourself "the heart" that you think you have but aren't using on the poor creatures in the brackets below yours who can't "talk the way" you and your fellow parishioners do (while you gossip about their lack of social graces behind their backs, and now for 9 paragraphs in a mefi thread).
posted by blucevalo at 8:20 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought this article beautifully showed how the whole issue is so completely complex and kaleidoscopic. Look at things one way, it's all about race. From another, it's class and gender, or personality flaws and unrealistic expectations, or 'reverse racism', or something else still.

I also really liked it for this reason.

As a white nose-to-the-grindstone person who has wondered how those slackers get ahead, it spoke to me, too. However, I've recently begun to notice how those above me at work act like life is breezy and the rules don't apply to them, then go home and do work until 2 am. It's funny what a social requirement it is to be laid back, fairly alpha, and outgoing.
posted by salvia at 8:31 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


joechip, I score your kids' papers. You want to really help them get better scores? Tell them to quit writing in those goddam tiny letters that are too small to read. This is America, we have lots of paper.

I teach at the college level, so obviously I do my fair share of grading. I'm annoyed by students who do this, but I've never noticed any connection with race.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:54 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I knew Jefferson Mao in college, had a few classes with him. He was a cool guy, very interesting to talk to. He gave a lot of thought to everything, and would often say really suprising things in response to pretty mundane questions. Initially, you'd go 'huh?' and then later you'd realize he had a pretty sophisticated point. Clearly a really smart guy in much more than the sense of 'good at tests and rote memorization.' But also, you know, pretty reserved and hard to read. I wish I had known him better.
posted by notswedish at 9:05 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


This article was fantastic. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Errant at 11:56 AM on May 10, 2011


/Hamburger: Oh Man, You guys think the Asians have it hard? Ever heard of Black America?!
posted by stratastar at 3:37 PM on May 10, 2011


I'm annoyed by students who do this, but I've never noticed any connection with race.

I have. That tiny, regular writing is distinctively (but not exclusively) Asian. It appears to be a byproduct of learning to write English on small-grid graph paper. But I can't really say more since that could get me in trouble for leaking information from test papers.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:50 PM on May 10, 2011


I tend to roll my eyes at most articles on the Asian-American experience, or 21st-century Asian peril phenomenon or what have you, but this is a worthwhile article. It's good to see someone get past the usual "Wah, I'm Asian, blonde women think I have a small penis" or "Wah, I'm Asian, why does everyone assume I can play the violin" whining and get at the heart of why, in spite of being well-integrated and successful in the North American community, there is still something that grates when you're culturally North American, but one with an Asian face. Yes, it's basically a first world problem, but one still worth addressing (said the North American with an Asian face).
posted by Rora at 4:30 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is such a complicated essay that seems to bring up a lot of buried feelings in people, and the reaction has been polarized. Even though there are parts of the article I agree with and sympathize with, I found this to be a really excellent critique:

#Asianpeopleproblems: A Critique of “Paper Tigers”
posted by naju at 4:51 PM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


This reminds me oddly of this Douglas Hofstadter essay. It's a little writing exercise in which he switches racist terms for sexist ones.

As craichead pointed out: "Lots of American women are raised to work hard, not to take credit, to defer to authority, to do the scut work, etc. [...] part of what keeps women of all races out of the top ranks of corporate (and other) leadership."

In my world, I've heard the question of why women are under-represented in these leadership roles discussed so often that this almost feels like an experiment in examining the commonly proposed explanations in a different context. "It's how they're raised, to please others," has never quite seemed like a good enough explanation to me when applied to women (I am one) and yet seems convincing in this context, so maybe those who say that have a point.

It's weird, anyway, how easy it is to identify with this despite being neither Asian nor male.
posted by OnceUponATime at 10:02 PM on May 10, 2011


I'm Asian-American myself, but from a family that was lower middle class -- so my parents did some of the stereotypically "academic" Asian pressuring, but we were barely functional so they ended up leaving me more to my devices than not. I found out about the magnet HS I applied to, and told them about it (small fee being required). They were ecstatic about me going to an "elite" school, but other than a few weeks in SAT classes to boost my math score, they limited their involvement to getting / yelling about my report cards. We didn't go to community activities or church, so we were out of the cultural loop.

I've had a pretty checkered life -- I spent a few years in the military before going back to school*, and I've only recently started to spend more time with other Asian people. And I always feel slightly too loud and awkward (I swear conversationally, and my pretty and stick-thin Asian girl classmates... don't.) and extremely freaked out when discussing grades because that's where everyone gets really intense. Another friend is a guy who was dumped by his girlfriend... he ended up grousing to me that she had dumped him for another Asian guy (that he met) and what was the point of that "since all Asian guys are the same -- we have the same haircut, the same major, the same videogames, and the same t-shirts." I was quite taken aback by what he said -- frankly, I would have viewed it as insulting.

And I think his remark gave me pause, because if people end up internalizing the "all look same" view to that degree, then maybe it stifles our potential secret lives that could bloom with creativity and craziness.

As for me, I know that I'm currently taking the safe road professionally, but after a life of topsy-turvy events, I could use a few years to accumulate a nest-egg while pursuing personal side projects. I read about artists that go to the big city with $5 and a smile and somehow survive and thrive, and my mind just draws a complete blank. How do they make it on serendipity?

/back to finals.

*This, surprisingly, ended up giving me the gouge on American upper and middle class social graces, whether city or country.
posted by ntartifex at 10:25 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Asian model idealizes factual correctness. This works only when everyone idealizes factual correctness. Have a better argument? You win. Your arguments are respected.
That's certainly not how things work in Korea.

A lot of success in the U.S. has to do knowing the right people, not just having higher test scores.
That is a exactly how things work in Korea. (although meeting the right people is predicated on getting the high test scores (and the high test scores are themselves frequently influenced by parental wealth.))

I've spent quite a bit of time in Korea, including managing Korean staff, and have read a lot about Korean cultural values. On the other hand and unlike most commenters in this thread, I know next to nothing about Asian-Americans and it's interesting to me to see which areas of Confucian culture in East Asia are correctly deduced from knowledge of Asian-Americans and which are (like the above) misunderstood.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:55 PM on May 11, 2011


Asian American here. Mmm, perhaps I skimmed this thread, but I noticed that there weren't any white people who "really know" Asian Americans telling Asian Americans what Asian Americans are really like. Sweet!
posted by every_one_needs_a_hug_sometimes at 3:28 PM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know Asian Americans. Asian Americans are my friends. And you, sir, you are no Asian American.
posted by GuyZero at 3:39 PM on May 12, 2011


Chad Orzel is a white guy married to a Korean-American; he teaches college physics and wrote a book entitled "How to teach physics to your dog". He has a young daughter. Here's his reaction to this article, which is worth reading, especially for this comment:
Pro tip: a lot of self-help stuff becomes vastly more entertaining if you search and replace "alpha male" with "white fraternity douchebag." There's no significant loss of accuracy, either.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:01 AM on May 14, 2011


Finally got around to RTFA. It had some interesting points (the stuff about the social component of the bamboo ceiling), but it lost me somewhere between "hey, this guy's a pick-up artist!" and "I haven't said anything about me in a while, here, let me grouse about how I was a fuckup in my 20s."

I attended one of the disproportionately Asian schools mentioned in the article. What I can attest to is that a lot of my classmates—East Asian and not—struggled with cultural competency for a while.* For some people it was first-generation issue; you can miss out on a lot of social interaction and pop culture when you learned English as a second language, and American as a second culture. For others, it was a class issue; you have some catching up to do when your peers grew up attending Stoppard plays and reading the New York Review of Books on the toilet. Finally, for most people, it was a social awkwardness issue; imagine several hundred previously alienated nerds stumbling through their first friendships, and puberty, and teen angst, all at the same time.

Which isn't to say that East Asian-American cram school culture isn't a unique phenomenon, with equally unique repercussions. Just that the "socially dominant alpha colleague who prevails in the boardroom and the bedroom" is a bogeyman that haunted just about all of my peers, East Asian or not. Even though, as far as I can tell, that person did not, and does not, exist.

*Classmates. Not me. Being Joe Cool, I have clearly never crafted a five-month Stalinist plan to "learn about music," or purchased a guide to contemporary literature that I hid behind my bed, so people would not see it on my bookshelf.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:20 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy shit. I'm late to this conversation, but I'm East-Asian-American (female, New Jersey-born), and I want to say that I identified with this article like 110%. The sense of recognition is just overwhelming. I'm grateful to Wesley Yang for putting into words this problem that has no name.

And I want to explain what I mean, for the record here at Metafilter, because I sense that Metafilter has a bit of a gap when it comes to Asian-American issues. It doesn't regard Asian-American otherness with the same kind of respect or impassioned, close attention as it does, say, the otherness of female experience, or even the peculiar feelings of alienation that attend other racial or national or regional identities. Quite understandable, of course, if there isn't a critical mass of Asian people on mefi. So let me add a voice here to those who have already spoken so well.

A lot of what Yang writes strikes me as so familiar. Yes to the constant feeling of surprise at the image of my own face. Growing up looking principally at white faces-- their shapes, their features, their colors, their expressive conventions, in all their glorious diversity-- you naturally formulate your mental parameters of human variation based those images. The features that you see most often are the ones you register as normal. Asian faces look surprising, odd, marked by all the ways in which they stand in contradistinction from the white features that seem normal. What's up with those slitty eyes, I used to wonder. Those flat noses. That--my-- uniform hair texture. Asian faces were hard to read. Honestly, I did think they sort of all looked the same. The struggle against "the Asian poker face—the lack of range when it comes to facial expressions" in Wesley's article is truly weird in a way, because it can't possibly be true that one group of people just has less emotive equipment than another. I imagine that what's going on is a matter of frequency. Asian faces are indistinguishable and hard to read for some people, because they simply haven't seen enough of them to create a cognitive apparatus for parsing and recording them. As a bonus for me, since most of the Asian faces I saw were those of my family, other Asian faces also seemed vaguely familiar and kin-like. For this reason it was sometimes hard to regard holders of Asian faces as proper authorities (hello, English professor who happens to be Asian!). They always looked like they could be one of my aunts.

If you think about it, the way Wesley begins his article is heartbreaking-- Sometimes I’ll glimpse my reflection in a window and feel astonished by what I see. Jet-black hair. Slanted eyes. A pancake-flat surface of yellow-and-green-toned skin. An expression that is nearly reptilian in its impassivity. What's sad is the radical sense of alienation of the self from one's own body. Not unlike the experience of looking in the mirror as a transperson who sees a boy where there should be a girl, I imagine. Wesley uses language that associates his image with the nonhuman and inanimate-- "pancake-flat," "yellow-and-green-toned," "reptilian." You think that if you're normal, a normal white face should be looking back at you. And you've so identified that collection of 'white' features with what it means to be human that it's like you're not human. When I was a sophomore in high school my reflection used to make me cringe, so I avoided looking in mirrors.

I've only gotten started; I was going to turn next to the Asian inner conflict about the math-robot/ obedient-timid-overachieving-student stereotype (I was this student, a walking and talking embodiment of this caricature that I was ashamed for being), but it's time to go to sleep. My thanks to Wesley Yang for this fantastically moving, very necessary article.
posted by ms.codex at 2:11 AM on May 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Really interesting to read your perspective ms.codex, would love to hear more.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:52 AM on May 22, 2011


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