The Tiger Mom on Why Nigerian Americans Are More Successful Than You

Amy Chua has a theory about why black Americans groomed in this West African culture are more accomplished. Plus, those hilarious spoofs parodying Nigerian traditions.  

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Amy Chua; generic image

Don Emmert/Getty Images; Thinkstock

Depending on who is asked, the following news lies somewhere between Nigeria's low ranking in the upcoming World Cup Games (frustrating) and the air conditioning system now operating in Lagos' Murtala Muhammed Airport (promising). 

"Nigerian" is the only black ethnicity listed among the eight social groups that have a "cultural edge" when it comes to succeeding and climbing the ranks in America, best-selling author Amy Chua, the "Tiger Mom," argues in her new book, The Triple Package.

Chua gained some notoriety with her controversial 2011 parental memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she exalts the Chinese culture for its ability to rear high-achieving children in America. In this new release, Chua teams up with her Jewish husband, Jed Rubenfeld, to add seven more cultures to her all-star list: Nigerians, Jews, Indians, Iranians, Lebanese Americans, Cuban exiles and Mormons.

If you are Nigerian and feel honored by this recognition, now's your chance to azonto obnoxiously in your cubicle.

But this may not be celebratory news because, according to Chua, Nigerians are already well aware of their culture's prestige. Possessing a "superiority complex" is one of the three core qualities that all eight groups are purported to have. Being fairly insecure, and thereby feeling the need to prove themselves (doesn't this contradict the first tenet?), is the second. Having the ability to control one's impulses for immediate gratification and being able to endure intense periods of hardship and austerity is the third.

This trifecta compels these Triple Package ethnic groups to strive for excellence in America, since they believe wholeheartedly, and without a shadow of a doubt, that they can achieve greatness. They push their American-born offspring to do the same by drilling a by-any-means-necessary persistence into their work ethic.

"That certain groups do much better in America than others—is difficult to talk about … because the topic feels racially charged," a passage from the book reads. Chua and Rubenfeld claim that their findings actually debunk racial stereotypes, since there are black and Hispanic groups that are outperforming some white and Asian subgroups.

"Cubans in Miami climbed from poverty to prosperity in a generation. Nigerians earn doctorates at stunningly high rates … [these] groups have a cultural edge, which enables them to take advantage of opportunity far more than others."

To save themselves from the wrath of those American groups who did not make the cut, Chua and Rubenfeld describe how America itself was once a Triple Package culture but eventually lost that edge. The co-authors want so badly for that "old-fashioned American dream" to be revived, although a few critics in this country are already saying "Thanks, but no thanks" to the implicit offer, going so far as to call the book's entire premise dead wrongThis historical analysis explains how several of the early wave of immigrants whom the authors cite actually had financial, political and educational advantages from the beginning. 

Having been exposed to two West African cultures myself (my father is Nigerian, and my mom, Ghanaian), I see some credence in Chua and Rubenfeld's thesis about how some cultures have distinguishable characteristics. However, I'm leery about how they extrapolate the elite eight and don't give proper due to the circumstances that influence cultural traits: economy, geography and policy—not biology.

All this talk coincides with the popularity of several videos made by first-generation Americans and Brits with parents from Nigeria. They give some insight into the characteristics that make Nigerians so unique.

Nigerian Father Responds to a Teenage Pregnancy

For instance, in the Nigerian culture, there are clear expectations of what is required of you at every stage of your life. And if a person chooses to jump the gun and skip ahead a few steps, then he or she must be prepared to accept the responsibilities that come along with that decision—but not before hearing an earful from Mom or Dad.

Nigerian Mother on Respecting Your Elders, Education and Career

It is fairly common for Nigerian parents to encourage their children to partake in those career paths that may be arduous but have clear, predictable and, more importantly, profitable outcomes, like medicine, engineering or law. Education is thus very important. Getting B's won't cut it—lest your mother cut you.

The Power of Prayer

It is not out of the ordinary to be awoken in the wee hours of the morning to the sounds of a Nigerian mother praying incessantly for her children and her family.

Eating Healthy and Settling Debts

A Nigerian father will always remind his children of how privileged they are to live in the States or the United Kingdom. You will hear the story of how he put a barrel of fruit on his head and sold the fruit at the market for two hours every morning for his mother (hey, Dad!) and then walked many miles to school—barefoot.

Championing Democracy

My father and uncle came to the U.S. in the early 1980s during the Reagan era, and within a couple of years they could recite the name of nearly every U.S. congressman and senator. Being politically aware and knowledgeable about domestic and global policy issues is common in Nigerian households. Most Nigerians could go toe-to-toe with Chris Matthews or Bill O'Reilly on any issue, any day of the week.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a paragraph describing the advantages that several of the early wave of immigrants had.  

Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that parses those compelling topics in your favorite TV shows, songs and movies. Follow her on Twitter.