I, for one welcome our yellow overlords!

By Razib Khan | October 29, 2012 9:33 pm

The above infographic from The New York Times article For Asians, School Tests Are Vital Steppingstones, was titled “1027-asians” when I tried to save it. No idea why, but I think that’s an amusing file name. My offensively titled post is inspired by the cliche reference to Confucianism in the piece. As my previous posts on “Tiger Mom’s” indicate I am not a big fan of the “Asian” way of obtaining academic laurels through brute force alone. In places like South Korea a cram-school bidding war has distorted the culture. The single-minded focus on a specific test means that the whole society has to shift to keep up with the innovators in the educational “arms race.” Think of it as the analog to the doping scandal in cycling. And it’s an irony that the term innovation is being used here by me, because this sort of “education” destroys the creativity, flexibility, and originality which is the engine which motors modern civilization. Sufficient for producing engineers, but I doubt fruitful as the seedbed for an individualistic scientific culture which aims to shift paradigms.

That being said, as highlighted in the piece linked above standardized tests are an achievable and comprehensible metric for most Asian immigrants. In contrast, even with money (and if you check the census note that Asian households in New York City have the same incomes, if not wealth, as white households), you may not be able to purchase “polish,” and the cultural fluency to allow one to be “well rounded.” If you are a reader of the history of ethnic politics in the Northeast you may recall these were the standard put-downs of Jews by the establishment WASP elite.

Racial politics in the United States until the last generation was a relatively simple affair. With the marginalization of Native Americans, the assimilation of “white ethnics,” and the legacy of the Oriental Exclusion Act, you had on the cusp of the Civil Rights period an America in “black and white.” You had white supremacy against a vision of egalitarian outcomes enabled in part through affirmative action on the part of governmental and non-governmental institutions. That narrative is no longer feasible. First, black Americans are no longer the dominant minority in numbers in this nation. Hispanics or Latinos are. However artificial you may perceive this category to be, it has a certain coherency now after two generations of widespread usage. Second, though some Asian American activists may continue to scream that it is a myth, the model minority is a reality. The social pathology of traumatized Southeast Asian refugees simply isn’t quantitatively equivalent to high yield of core elements of Asian America in domains where virtuosity is admirable.

There isn’t a “new narrative” out there yet that I can tell. One successor seems to be a rainbow coalition of People of Color against the institutional white racism. This paradigm is predicated on a myth of homogeneity of People of Color, which I doubt is robust to the reality that People of Color captures an unwieldy coalition. As the white majority declines in power and influence, so the cement that binds this coalition loses its vigor. Then there is the model of harmony forever, and unity and diversity. Nations like like Indonesia, India, or Brazil, predicated on utopian diversity myths actually have to work very hard to maintain inter-ethnic amity, even in the face of extensive hybridization. Mixing does not mean blending, but the creation of new syntheses, and the multiplication of strands of tensions. For example, my daughter, a little brown-haired green-eyed girl who is technically a person of color, and whose maternal great-grandparents were “privileged” working-class white Americans, and whose paternal great-grandparents were “oppressed” Bengali colonial landlords and professionals.

Welcome to the 21st century America!


Comments (33)

  1. Miley Cyrax

    ‘maternal great-grandparents were “privileged” working-class white Americans, and whose paternal great-grandparents were “oppressed” Bengali colonial landlords and professionals.’

    Don’t worry, in the eyes of college-level or white collar job-level affirmative action, your daughter is more than adequately “privileged” through her (South) Asian side.

  2. #1, what do you mean specifically? i’m not a mind reader, don’t be elliptic.

  3. Miley Cyrax


    I had in mind Espenshade and Chung’s 2005 paper and Espenshade’s follow-up work since then–Asians receive steeper punishment than whites in college admissions, to the benefit of blacks and to a lesser extent, latinos.

    I was half-joking, but truth and jest, yada yada.

  4. i was aware of that. we consciously gave our daughter two last names so she could drop ‘khan’ if it suited her to allow her to choose whatever racial identity was convenient at any given time, since she looks a lot more likely my wife (her first name is as they say ‘anglo’).

  5. Riordan

    One can hope Steve Sailer citizenism model can at least be proposed. One can always hope.

    On the other hand, if a new narrative has yet to emerge, what do you think will come out eventually, Razib? They say nature abhors a vacuum, and surely something in the next 15-20 years will come up.

  6. #5, i have low confidence in any one prediction. though i suspect that a ‘whitening’ of people of part hispanic and asian heritage is going to keep the ‘non-hispanic white’ component in terms of identification more robust than we assume now….

  7. Isabel

    “The single-minded focus on a specific test means that the whole society has to shift to keep up with the innovators in the educational “arms race.” ”

    Yes. And I don’t know that it’s such a good thing. Beyond controversies about “fairness,” are the top schools actually admitting the best students? If they are not admitting the most creative, innovative students, what will this result in? Already, I saw an article the other day that said kids are less creative than they were decades ago, so maybe we should be emphasizing original thinking more.

  8. Sandgroper

    #4 – My daughter has two names, an ‘anglo’ one she uses in Australia, including for university, and a Chinese one – again, a conscious decision at birth. She used the Chinese one going through school – stupidly, it seems to aid acceptance; but it’s of non-trivial utility that she has a ‘real’ name that can be written in Chinese characters, that is not just some clunky transliteration of her anglo name. I also use a Chinese name – I’m just lucky my anglo surname transliterates into a very nice Chinese name. People don’t seem to think it ridiculous to address me by a Chinese name, although it spawns plenty of “we must be related” type jokes. I invariably respond “Well, if you go back far enough…”

  9. Dean

    I am appalled at the cynicism of using multi-ethnic opportunism for your children as some sort of tool. Really? Does it seem like the kind of ethical behavior that we should be passing along to the next generation? Do you not see this as racism in another form? It is more than proper to be proud of your heritage but your intent to have children put on a racial “face” dependent on what achieves a goal is wrong on so many levels.

  10. Tim

    White Hispanics will likely be assimilated into the white mainstream just as Italians and Slavs were in the early part of the 20th century.

  11. #9, shut the fuck up will you? i don’t think it is ‘proper to be proud of your heritage’ really. i don’t give a shit what ethnicity my daughters’ ancestors were. society does (or people like you). if she is anything like me she won’t give a shit either. the fact is that as people we are put into dumbass categories for social statistics. we can’t escape it, so people just use it (unless they actually care about their ‘heritage’).

  12. are the top schools actually admitting the best students?

    well, the ivy leagues do not take in academic standouts only. if they rank ordered in that manner they’d probably be 40% asian, not 20%. that being said, i do think that their holistic criteria is basically being ‘gamed’ in a similar manner by the right number of extracir. activities, etc. i don’t know that there’s an easy solution to this, though making college admissions such a tight elite pipeline doesn’t help.

  13. Karl Zimmerman

    As you suggest in (current) post 6, I think the black/white dichotomy in U.S. culture is ingrained enough that it will remain for many generations to come. All signs are both Asian and Latin American immigrants are completely acculturated to the U.S. (monolingual English-speakers) within three generations, and both have very high rates of intermarriage with non-Hispanic whites.

    Sure they are, visibly speaking, different from white Americans. But that didn’t stop groups like Armenians or Christian Arabs from being graduated into white status before. Hell, there are many “white” Americans (and some Black) who have fractional Filipino ancestry from a century ago or more. There are many prominent Americans, white and black, who have a Filipino grandparent or great-grandparent. I expect there will simply be several orders of magnitude more such people a century from now.

    The flip side is some immigrant groups will probably “become black” as well. Generally speaking, this has happened to Jamaicans and Haitians a few generations after migration, and I expect the same thing will happen with more modern groups like Somalis. Dominicans remain the great holdout, due to their national identity being so wrapped up in denial of black ancestry, but even here, younger Dominicans I have known have been embracing being “Afro-Latino.” Mildly ironic, given current genetic studies suggest most Dominicans have slightly more European than Sub-Saharan African blood, but to be expected given the divisions of the U.S. color line.

  14. Miley Cyrax


    If we’re going to have a racial spoils system, it’s only natural that people leverage it to their own benefit. Perhaps it would be better for you to direct your indignation toward the underlying issue.

    Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Wouldn’t US get its ass yellowishly whupped, immigrants or no immigrants? I think 2016 is still the contender for the year of economical takeover. (As in China being the dominant economical superpower.)

    But I think it is a good call to question the “education” practices. You can only do this as long as children have less than full human rights.

    Sufficient for producing engineers, but I doubt fruitful as the seedbed for an individualistic scientific culture which aims to shift paradigms.

    I think you mean technicians here. Engineers are known to produce individualistic engineer cultures that shift paradigms (iPhone, say).

    In fact, the standing lament is that their education fosters them to be too creative, and dabble in science. :-/

  16. #15, good point re: engineers. in regards to china’s economic dominance, i am china-positive, but please note:


    i think btw that it is fine if some cultures focus on ‘smithian growth,’ pushing economic gains by increased efficiency. but, we do need the innovation loci (or locus) as well. it may be good for there to be south koreas, but it is also good for there to be a silicon valley (i know that this sort of dichotomy is too stark, but it gets the stylized fact across).

  17. April Brown

    #9 – Seems weird thing to pick on. Does it also offend you when a child is taught the languages native to their ethnic background? Because that’s also a form of leveraging (being able to switch communication modes, not just name, when convenient), and really I wish it were more common.

    I can’t really think of any levels (you claim there are many) of wrongness to giving one’s child qualities that help them navigate diverse cultures.

  18. jb

    The thing that impressed me about the NYT article was how utterly hell-bent it was on denying that intelligence had anything to do with Asian success, attributing everything to hard work and prepping instead.

    I posted a comment pointing out that: 1) Asians also do better than blacks and Hispanics (as well as whites) on intelligence tests, not just academic tests; 2) IQ tests are rather different than entrance exams and other academic tests; and 3) nobody seriously preps for IQ tests, because there is no big payoff for doing well.

    My comment, naturally, was never posted. A recent blog post by the Times’ public editor asserted that comments do not “slip through the cracks,” but that every one is read, and either approved or rejected. Since my comment was no more rude or inflammatory than this one, it’s pretty clear that someone just didn’t like what I had to say. (This happens to me fairly often).

  19. The recent history of Asian immigration to the United States (i.e. post-WWII) has involved a number of programs, often temporary (e.g. medical professionals, tech professionals, student visa to spouse visa for students in engineering and science programs) that have disproportionately favored immigration by STEM professionals from Asian countries.

    One wonders how much of the “Asian advantage” in STEM fields and steps on the pipeline to those fields is simply a product of the highly unrepresentative pool of Asian immigrants. In any community where 40%-80% of children are from households with STEM professionals in them (compared to perhaps 5% or less in the general population), you’d expect that their children would perform well in similar fields. I suspect you see something similar in post-Cold War Russian immigrant communities, which are also STEM heavy (with a particularly profound effect in the elite ranks of physical scientists and mathematicans).

  20. Sandgroper

    ‘Multi-ethnic opportunism’ has to be the joke phrase of the month.

  21. One wonders how much of the “Asian advantage” in STEM fields and steps on the pipeline to those fields is simply a product of the highly unrepresentative pool of Asian immigrants.

    some, but not all. the ‘model minority myth’ arose in the 1960s when the primary asian communities were the descendants of chinese laborers and japanese tentant farmers.

  22. note: no cryptic or quasi-net nazi comments please. no idea who linked to this, but you’re comment won’t get posted, and if you get peeved i’ll just ban you. thanks.

  23. Mark G.

    I wasn’t linked here. I read your blog fairly regularly. I’m not a Nazi.

    Silicon Valley has changed significantly, and one of the major changes has been a demographic change in leadership towards Jews and Indians. And many Indians have entered the computer programming industry.

  24. Justin Giancola

    @ razz

    “i don’t think it is ‘proper to be proud of your heritage’ really. ”

    Might you elaborate on this?…It seems rather ‘elliptic’. 😉

  25. #24, i don’t give a shit about collective identities. you take pride in your ancestors if you have nothing to take pride in yourself. i don’t expect the sheep to adhere to such values of course.

  26. Daw

    It’s intesting that the table leaves out Hunter High school.
    That used to have a reputation of being much more difficult to get into than Stuyvesant or Bronx Science. Wonder what the numbers are there?

  27. #26, there’s something called google. it returns results like this:


    (~50% fwiw)

  28. Simon


    Another way to look at it is, you have no say which ethnic group you are born into. It’s not something you can achieve, hence not pride-worthy.

  29. #28, i just want to be clear that that’s my personal stance, and i don’t expect others to have the same attitude. but, i also probably ‘down-vote’ people implicitly when i think they have this collectivist fixation. i.e., i pretty much down-vote most of the human race 😉 as for my naked opportunism about my daughter’s ethnicity, as a person whose father is colored but who does not look colored at all, she’ll probably have to spend an annoying amount of time ‘explaining’ herself to people excessively interested.* so i long ago made sure that she could at least take advantage of human stupidity when it was ubiquitous. with her dual surname she can switch ethnicities facultatively (as being colored is always an option for a white looking person; e.g., white hispanics).

    * i have to regularly explain why i’m interested in things not-brown, because i’m brown. or that i don’t give a shit about colonialism, etc. the null hypothesis, which is probably defensible, is that i’m a collectivist sheep.

  30. Justin Giancola

    While I reflect your thoughts on people taking credit for things that aren’t of there own doing, that same point informs respecting those before you in how they’ve shaped your outcomes – acknowledging the pride in, and having respect for, are often spoken interchangably.

  31. #30, you’re just being a laconic lawyer. i’m talking about one specific thing, which i think i make clear above, and you’re just shifting it to another meaning altogether. i’m not going to discuss something which i wasn’t discussing.

  32. Justin Giancola

    That was not my intention – only to have clarity on what others might have come to mind when they see or use that phrase.

  33. careless

    10: that already happened. Many years ago. Before there was a benefit to not being considered white.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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