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Using Asian-Americans to Justify Racism and Prejudice

Asian-Americans are Not a Model Minority

Supporters of affirmative action argue that discrimination and racism have held down minorities in the U.S., and that affirmative action is needed to correct it. In response, critics ask: “If blacks and Mexicans are being held down by discrimination, then why do Asians come to this country and do so well for themselves?” According to this myth, Asians immigrate to America with little or nothing, often as boat people fleeing communism, and through hard study and work become even more successful than European-Americans. Their success would suggest that the U.S. does not really discriminate against minorities.

Asian immigrants to the U.S. tend to be already highly educated and from the middle or upper class, for a number of reasons. Thus, they get a completely different start in life in the U.S. compared to other minorities. Although Asians achieve a much greater degree of success in the U.S., the “model minority” stereotype is a myth because Asian-Americans still bump into the glass ceiling, receive lower pay even with the same qualifications, and have higher poverty rates. The image of boat people escaping the ravages of war and communism to take full advantage of American opportunities is also a myth, in that Southeast Asians actually have the lowest success rate of all Asians.

Supporters of the “model minority” myth cite many statistics in their favor. For example, among college-bound seniors in 1989, Asian-Americans had a high school grade point average of 3.25, compared to 3.08 for all other students. A study of 7,836 high school students in the San Francisco area found that Asian-Americans spent 40 percent more time doing homework than non-Asians, a fairly common finding….

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7. Foggo.

8. Ibid.

9. Carolyn Jung, “Asian-Americans Say They Run into Glass Ceiling,” San Jose Mercury News, September 10, 1993, p. 1B.

10. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Asian-American rate: P20-459 and unpublished data; U.S. rate: P-60 series; white American rate: P20-480 and unpublished data.

11. Nancy Rivera Brooks, “Study Attacks Belief in Asian-American Affluence, Privilege,” San Jose Mercury News, May 19, 1994, p. 1A.

12. Foggo.

13. Harold Stevenson et al., “Cognitive performance of Japanese, Chinese, and American Children,” Child Development 56, 1985, pp. 718-34.

14. Charles Lane, “Tainted Sources,” pp. 133-5, in Russell Jacoby and Noami Glauberman, eds., The Bell Curve Debate (New York: Random House, 1995).

15. Thomas Sowell, “Ethnicity and IQ,” The American Spectator (February, 1995), pp. 32-36.

IQ and Success

IQ and Success

Using data from a long-term survey, The Bell Curve purports to show that IQ is a far better predictor of adult success than childhood socioeconomic status. But the authors used an extremely limited number of social factors as the basis for their calculations. By taking into consideration a greater number of social factors (to make the study resemble a more complete picture of real life), sociologists have been able to show that social factors, not IQ, are a much better predictor of future success.

In The Bell Curve, authors Herrnstein and Murray claim that a child’s IQ is a far better predictor of future success than a child’s initial socioeconomic status (or SES). For example, a white child raised in the bottom 5 percent of SES is eight times more likely to become poor than a child from the top 5 percent. But a white child whose IQ is in the bottom 5 percent is fifteen times more likely to become poor than a child whose IQ is in the top 5 percent. (1)

Is this true? (Well, no — but more on this below.) It does seems obvious that intelligence is important to succeed in life, but it also seems obvious that social factors play a large, if not larger, role. For example, the crushing economic disparity between North and South Korea has nothing to do with IQ differences, and everything to do with different social and economic policies. Even on a personal level, intelligence is only one of countless factors that contribute to success. Others include: Access to education Training opportunities Personality type Physical attractiveness Athletic ability Inheritance Nepotism Prejudice Social and business connections Knowing someone who is successful Lobbying Congress Business cycle trends Fads Inventions Discoveries Wars Speculation Gambling Miserliness Insider trading Unfair market practices And, last but not least, dumb luck — being at the right place at the right time

And these are just the adult factors — there’s a whole host of childhood factors as well, which follow below. How the rules of the game are constructed determines which of these factors becomes most important for winning and losing, and therefore which individuals have the most “merit.” For example, we might think that those who play professional baseball have the most merit — that is, they are the best players in the game.

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