PERSPECTIVE: What’s the problem with Asian American success mythology?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff’s piece on “The Asian Advantage”  tried to address “one of the most common responses from angry whites” about racial inequality complaints: “This stuff about white privilege is nonsense, and if blacks lag, the reason lies in the black community itself. Just look at Asian-Americans.”

This highly questionable premise produced an equally questionable column from Kristoff, who cites some academic studies to back up his personal assertion that “the success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education.”

Both Kristoff’s premise and his assertion trade in problematic stereotypes about two American communities with much more complex histories than suggested by his column. In his book “Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nahesi Coates debunks with soulful pain and more enlightening substance the clueless premise about the African American community.

And in contrast to the New York Times column, the New Yorker’s book review “The Two Asian Americas” presents a more responsible and detailed description of the Asian American experience. After outlining a history of racial discrimination and immigration opportunities, the New Yorker article concludes:

There are now, in a sense, two Asian Americas: one formed by five centuries of systemic racism, and another, more genteel version, constituted in the aftermath of the 1965 law. These two Asian Americas float over and under each other like tectonic plates, often clanging discordantly….In the eyes of some, Asians in America are, Lee writes, “perpetual foreigners at worst, or probationary Americans at best.” If Asians sometimes remain silent in the face of racism, and if some seem to work unusually hard in the face of this difficult history, it is not because they want to be part of a “model minority” but because they have often had no other choice.

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