'Weirdly Racist' Tiger Mom Overtones in the WaPo?

March 2nd, 2011 11:13 AM

Amy Chua is a Hot Author for writing the book "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" about how she's raising more successful children by having higher expectations. She stirred up trouble with a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." A February 20 Washington Post story by Monica Hesse on a Chua appearance at the fashionably "progressive" Politics and Prose bookstore included a weird out-of-place slam on a conservative ad:

If "Tiger Mom" had been written by a woman of a different nationality ("Why French Women's Kids Don't Get Fat"), it might not have raised so many hackles. But this book came on the heels of that weirdly racist Citizens Against Government Waste commercial - the one where the futuristic Chinese professor cackles maniacally over the downfall of America - and at a time of concern about the U.S. economy and American children's ability to compete.

Finally, a book that both permissive lefty parents and frightened righty wing nuts can both get behind hating.

The Post reporter probably earns extra fist bumps over coffee for getting "wing nuts" in the paper. Hesse didn't really seem to see the CAGW commercial -- her account was untrue. The professor in the ad does no maniacal cackling. His students laugh  un-maniacally when he says the Americans now work for China. This is "racist" only if every labor-union "Buy America" ad is racist. Hesse also found angry "Caucasians" at the Chua event:

She'd hoped the book would be received as a funny, self-deprecating memoir. Like a David Sedaris book.

It was not.

"From a clinical standpoint, have you ever considered getting some help?" asks a woman named Grisel Martinez during the question-and-answer session.

"I feel like you are being disingenuous," says a young Caucasian guy, after Chua says that she knows nothing about child psychology. "For you to claim that you don't know anything about filial piety . . . do you know that Asian girls have high suicide rates? People are not here to see you as David Sedaris."[Italics hers.]

This racial fixation can boomerang: Hesse's CAGW rant drew a letter to the editor suggesting her suggestion of racism against a woman of Chinese "nationality" was itself racially insensitive. Sylvia Chi complained:

In fact, Amy Chua's nationality is American. Specifically, she is a second-generation Chinese American born in Illinois.

Many people use the word "nationality" when they really mean "race" or "ethnicity," but that doesn't excuse this error. This is a distinction that matters, because confusing it only furthers the "perpetual foreigner" stereotype, which contributes to the under-representation of Asian Americans in the media, government and the economy.

Suggesting that Asian Americans are foreigners is to suggest that we are less American - even though ours is a nation of immigrants.