Tiger Mom Amy Chua is back with a new, controversial book claiming she is “better than.”
With a theme similar to her 2011 hit, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which Chua argues that Chinese mothers are superior, The Triple Package: Why Groups Rise and Fall in America, tackles the qualities that make certain segments of the U.S. population more successful. Co-authored with her husband Jed Rubenfeld, the book measures success in terms of degrees earned and other traditional markers of achievement as the outcome of three factors — one of which is absent for African-Americans.
Groups marked for success
The people described by the Yale University law professors as possessing the most desirable qualities are as follows:
- Jewish (Rubenfeld’s background)
- Chinese (Chua’s background)
- Cuban exiles
What could groups as disparate as these share? Supposedly, having an inherent sense of superiority, coupled with an inferiority complex and impulse control, drives these groups.
The sense of superiority allegedly generates a belief in deserving the best, while the underlying inferiority complex fuels the need to compensate for feelings of worthlessness. Impulse control is seen as not only the ability to delay gratification, but also the strength to persevere in the completion of difficult tasks.
Accusations of racism for Triple Package
The writers are careful to avoid saying race is a factor in achievement, even though conflating the ideas of race, ethnicity, and religion is inevitable in a discussion they state is purely about cultural values.
“That certain groups do much better in America than others — as measured by income, occupational status, test scores and so on — is difficult to talk about,” they write in the tome. “In large part, this is because the topic feels so racially charged.”
Yet, that is exactly how first reactions to The Triple Package have been. Reviews of the book poke holes in the thin veil dividing their logic from racist arguments.
The New York Post calls the book “a series of shock-arguments wrapped in self-help tropes,” adding that, “it’s meant to do what racist arguments do: scare people.”
Like myself, many on social media have not read it, but are highly disturbed by the book, which is due out on February 4. The Triple Package reeks of the theories of human classification that justified the Holocaust and slavery. “Dear Amy Chua & Jed Rubenfeld, the 1920s called and want their theories back,” tweeted one disgusted person about this association.
Race and the idea of superiority
Eugenics, a social science theory that rose to prominence in the early 20th century, does resonate with Chua and Rubenfeld’s premise. It became popular in America when immigration was increasing, and World War I made citizens fearful of foreigners.
Believing that characteristics of certain groups could be predicted based on their genes was popular because, “its conclusions told many people what they wanted to hear: that certain ‘racial stock’ was superior to others in such traits as intelligence, hard work, cleanliness, and so on,” states a PBS paper on the movement.
Replace “genes” with “culture,” and you have a 21st century licence to discriminate.
At a time when immigration is a huge issue in U.S. politics, are Chua and Rubenfeld capitalizing on the public’s insecurities to promote a destructive concept? They say no. Ultimately, they want the U.S. to return to its former days of being a “triple package” nation in which the three elements of success were central to the American Way.
The authors emphasize that these traits can be adopted by anyone. “It’s a set of values and beliefs, habits and practices, that individuals from any background can make a part of their lives or their children’s lives, enabling them to pursue success as they define it,” the authors claim.
Blacks: No hope for “superiority”
Except black people. We seem to be handicapped. Claiming that, “the Civil Rights Movement took away any hope for a superiority narrative” (emphasis mine), according to the New York Post, Chua and Rubenfeld believe “the black community is screwed.”
“Superiority is the one narrative that America has relentlessly denied or ground out of its black population,” write the married couple.
Tell that to President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who beat Mormons Mitt and Ann Romney in a race to the White House. Their histories suggest that far from a sense of superiority, it is their humble desire to serve others that has driven them to make history. This glaring contradiction renders the two remaining aspects of the “triple package” dubious.
Black cultural strengths ignored
Rather than overreaching to create a cultural (and inevitably racial) hierarchy, far more logical is the widely-accepted notion that immigrants, whom most on their list represent, tend to arrive in the United States with more drive, education, and pooled material assets than other people, including those in their countries of origin.
Chua and Rubenfeld think they have deciphered the elements of achievement, but they have only regurgitated well-known facts within a harsh, divisive veneer. Plus, their assessment of the valiant, bloody battle that was our successful Civil Rights Movement shows they hardly understand what makes African-Americans tick.
But it’s up to us to value our own culture — without resorting to putting down that of other races.
Follow Alexis Garret Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb