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The Return of the Tiger Mom

A new book raises the question: Are Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld racists—or just equal opportunity trolls?
 
 
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Photo Credit: By David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

The following article first appeared on the Nation. For more great content,  sign up for their newsletter here.

She’s ba-a-ack! Yale Law School professor Amy Chua, who last tormented status-anxious Americans with tales of her emotionally sadistic parenting techniques in  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has produced a sequel of sorts. The Triple Package, which she wrote with her husband, Jed Rubenfeld (also a professor of law at Yale), attempts to explain how “three unlikely traits” account for the “rise and fall of cultural groups in America.” As the power couple describe it, in both the book and their widely shared  New York Times op-ed “What Drives Success?”, these three traits are: a collective superiority complex (“a deeply internalized belief in your group’s specialness”); a simultaneous and abiding sense of insecurity (“a goading chip on the shoulder, a need to prove oneself”); and impulse control (not so much against carnal desires, but the ability to resist “the temptation to give up in the face of hardship”). According to Chua and Rubenfeld, only eight groups in the United States today possess this Triple Package—and none of them are gay male porn stars. They are: Jews, Chinese, Indians, Mormons, Lebanese, Iranians, Cubans and Nigerians.

Do you feel triggered yet? Because you should. Chua and Rubenfeld’s book is many things: pop psychology, ersatz self-help manual, shallow cultural history, a Who’s Who of rich and famous people without a WASPy last name. But first and foremost, it is an epic feat of trolling. In 225 dazzlingly glib pages, Chua and Rubenfeld traffic in broad stereotypes, hijack social science, sow worry, revel in conflict and derail the conversation—all with the gleeful “sorry not sorry” mania of a Cheetos and Dr Pepper–fueled Reddit poster.

To say that  The Triple Package suffers from logical and evidential leaps and gaps is somewhat beside the point. The book is clearly intended to plumb the depths of American nihilism and panic, not showcase rational social science. But just to begin: it’s difficult not to conclude that Chua and Rubenfeld picked their Triple Package groups to resemble an ’80s Benetton ad. Look, there’s at least one of each color! But Russian-Americans, who rank seventh in terms of ethnic household income, are excluded for no given reason. So are South African–, British- and Australian-Americans (nos. 2, 6 and 8, respectively), presumably because they lack the necessary social cohesion (and melanin) to qualify as a distinct ethnic group. Mormons, however,  are included, even though they don’t make much more than average Americans; this is explained away by the fact that Mormon men do most of that breadwinning on their own. Meanwhile, Filipino-Americans are not included, because even though they rank third on the list of ethnic groups by household income, Filipino men make less than the individual national average. So much for women being a part of any package!

If you’re feeling left out at this point, count yourself lucky—because the treatment that Chua and Rubenfeld give the ethnic groups they do write about is cringe-inducing at best. Jews are successful because they are told by Talmudic texts, rabbis and parents that they are the “chosen people.” Nigerians of Yoruba background have a sense of superiority because they “boast a royal lineage and a once great empire,” whereas the Igbos, as everyone knows, are called the “Jews of West Africa.” Cuban exiles of the ’50s and ’60s were “humiliated by Castro” and set out to prove him and communism wrong by prospering in Miami. Likewise, Iranian-Americans were not only humiliated by the Arab conquest of Persia 1,500 years ago, but also by the 2007 film  300, which depicted King Xerxes as “effeminate, corrupt, and monstrously body-pierced.” They’ve been working overtime to regain their lost dignity ever since, as the ubiquity of Mercedes-Benzes in the Bravo reality show  Shahs of Sunset proves. No, I am not making this stuff up.

 
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