Tiger Mom’s Latest Book? Obnoxious, but Not Racist

Calling some cultures superior to others is pretty galling. But it’s not racist.

Amy Chua at Time magazine’s “World's 100 Most Influential People” gala, April 26, 2011, in New York City
Amy Chua at Time magazine’s “World's 100 Most Influential People” gala, April 26, 2011, in New York City DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

But as much as we may try to dismiss the harm that is being done to our bodies by using language that downplays the brutal truth (maybe by telling ourselves “a little cobbler never hurt anybody”), the reality is that consistently making unhealthy food choices constitutes poor impulse control. This gives communities that collectively make wiser food choices an advantage over our community. So why shouldn’t an author be allowed to write about that?

I think what really rankles a lot of Chua’s critics is the fear that—at least some of the time—she may actually be right. Her premise that certain groups may succeed more than others because of communitywide choices—something that cannot be addressed through better government, public policy or social programs—simply scares some people. And it makes some of those it doesn’t scare very uncomfortable.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t believe Chua and Rubenfeld can be criticized. There is something extremely condescending about two people of privilege writing a book about how they “earned” their privilege, in part, by being privileged enough to grow up in the right kinds of communities, with, presumably, the right kinds of people.

There is, as I see it, a fundamental flaw in Chua’s argument. It seems that she and her husband define success in very limited ways. For instance, of the eight “superior” groups mentioned in the book, how many have produced U.S. presidents? Senators? How many of them have produced artists and musicians who have forever changed the face of American culture?

This isn’t to say that no one in these groups has done so, but rock and roll and hip-hop—billion-dollar industries—were not primarily the brainchildren of the groups she touts. And from my vantage point, cultural and political power are also pretty key to group “superiority.” But what do I know?

Maybe—per Chua—I don’t possess the right traits to weigh in.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.