Sorry, Jerry Hough. But “The Asians” Are Not Doing Better Than Black People

May 19, 2015  |  

I wish the myth about Asians being the model minority would end. Seriously, I am not even Asian, and I am offended by it.

First, whenever someone refers to that myth, they do so to try and make some equally bad point about so-called Black underachievement. Like Professor Jerry Hough of Duke University, who decided to respond to a New York Times editorial about the Baltimore riots by pointing out how none of the riots would have happened if the recipients of police brutality and murder would have been Asian.

As reported by The Root:

Professor Hough also seemed to suggest that the Asian-American community’s response to racism and discrimination has been better than that of black Americans.

“In 1965, the Asians were discriminated against as least as badly as blacks. […] So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian Americans. They didn’t’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard,” Hough said.

Then Hough wrote about how Asian Americans were more willing to integrate into American culture— because they gave their kids “American” names—while saying black Americans gave their kids “strange” names.

“Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration,” he wrote.

In the words of a very smart Facebook friend, “Baby White Jesus, please grant me the confidence of mediocre white men…”

But in all seriousness, Duke, this is who you are hiring? I really hope he is not tenured because I would have to start questioning Duke’s placement as a top tier school as well as call into question the entire tier system in general. Not only is he just plain ol’ ignorant, racist and idiotic, but he is factually wrong.

Believe it or not, it is the factually wrong part that bothers me the most. And frankly, I would expect someone who makes their living in academia, molding the minds of the next generation, to be a little more thorough and do more research than your average racist Internet troll, particularly the trolls who have been showing up in the comment section of MadameNoire as of late, which is a site dedicated to Black women (I see you…).

You see, whenever folks like Professor Hough start spouting nonsense about the “Asians” and how much better they are than Black people, they are usually thinking about the Indian doctor or the Chinese math whiz, who they likely cheated off of in college. They do this, in short, because they are racist, even if they proclaim Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as their personal hero, which Professor Hough tried to do. But rarely do these people consider the state of the other 22 ethnic groups that make up the entirety of the Asian population in the United States. You know, the ones from places outside of China and India, mainly Southeastern Asia? You know, the ones from those little islands that sit out in the South Pacific? You know, the darker-skinned ones?

As I previously reported in an essay entitled, “Bill Cosby and the Cult of ‘Why Can’t Black People Be More Like…”:

Despite the popular image of Tiger-Mom-reared, 12-instrument playing, mathematics whiz kids, not all Asians are good model students. In fact, with 24 distinct Asian ethnic groups in America, the academic realities of Asians as a group are actually more varied. The high school drop-out rate among Southeast Asian Americans in particular is alarming, with 40% of Hmong, 38% of Laotian, and 35% of Cambodian populations in America not completing high school at all (In Philadelphia the number of Cambodian students who do not finish high school is around 70 percent). Likewise, only 14% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders hold even a bachelor’s degree, which pales in comparison to the 49 percent of the Asian American population with at least a four-year college degree.

And here are some other not-so-great facts about “the Asians” taken from the White House’s Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders website:

  • In the first year of college, Asian American and black students have the highest enrollment rates in remedial education courses.
  • In 2012, almost 15% of Asian girls between the ages of 6 and 17 lived in poverty.
  • Pacific Islanders have among the highest unemployment rates of all racial and ethnic groups.
  • Of the immigrant orphans adopted by U.S. citizens in 2010, 49% were of Asian descent.
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander youth have the second highest rate of HIV infection diagnosis among persons ages 13-24.
  • Cancer is the leading cause of death for AAPIs.viii Cervical cancer incidence rates are among the highest in the U.S. for Laotian, Samoan, Vietnamese and Cambodian women.
  • In a Gallup Poll, 30-31% of AAPIs surveyed reported incidents of employment discrimination, the largest of any group, with African Americans constituting the second largest at 26%

I wasn’t going to waste my time responding to Professor Hough’s false claims, mainly because this is about the third essay I have written pointing out the ridiculousness of this overall myth. However, as a former community organizer in Philadelphia who worked in a community with a large low-income and undereducated Cambodian and other Southeast Asian-American population, and after regularly coming face-to-face with the realities that not everything has been all good for “the Asians,” I truly do feel compelled to set the record straight. Including by pointing out that during my tenure as a community organizer, some ethnic groups within the Asian community also had problems with the police and considered a little street justice as a solution to the brutality they were experiencing.

In short, it is not that they don’t complain about the problems and issues they face, problems that have also plagued our community. It’s that folks are so busy washing over their needs with this model minority myth, we do not actually hear them.


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