Nick Kristof’s column reframing Asian Americans as the “model minority” caused
quite a stir last week. And the New York Times op-ed star’s response
published on Facebook
probably won’t win over his many critics.
I wasn’t sold. (See my original column in response to his
Let me just say, his offending column does arrive at the same conclusion most
sane Asian Americans and anyone else living in these modern times would reach.
Post-racial times? In this era of inequality–who are you kidding?
Discrimination is not over.
That’s where Kristof and I can comfortably agree.
He just takes a strange approach to get there, using his notion of Asian
American success by lumping us all together like some human version of Gold
At Harvard Yard, Asian Americans now make up 21.3 percent of Harvard’s freshman
class of 2019.
But does that really indicate an “Asian Advantage” when it comes to success?
(photo by Emil Guillermo)
This is where his response takes on a mea culpa-like tone. Yes, he admits he’s a
bit heavy on East Asians, to the detriment of South Asians. Kristof blames it on
the lack of existing data. And on his argument that Confucian values play a role
in success, he admits that “While I believe that there are connections, I have
to acknowledge that the critiques are legitimate and the evidence is mixed.”
Even with that, Kristof still boldly included his assertions in the column.
As many have pointed out, despite the success of Asian Americans according to
Census data on income and educational attainment, a deeper dive by ethnicity
will shatter any generalization of some “Asian Advantage.”
Kristof himself even admits that “the Hmong are struggling.”
But that still didn’t stop him.
“That’s certainly true,” Kristof writes. “But the same is true of every race or
ethnic group. There’s tremendous diversity within the African-American
community, and among whites and among Latinos, and it’s not obvious to me that
there’s greater diversity among Asian-Americans. Just because plenty of whites
are struggling in Appalachia doesn’t mean that it’s meaningless to talk about
median white incomes or the black/white education gap.”
Sure, but why rely on an overgeneralization that you know is a racist myth to
begin with–one easily disproven by the lack of economic and educational success
of Hmong Americans, Laotian Americans, and Cambodian Americans? If you know some
groups are struggling, insisting on an “Asian Advantage” is as racist as saying
all blacks are great athletes. That got Jimmy the Greek fired from CBS in 1988.
When you write about “Asian Advantage” to explain success, you have to expect
people to respond, “We aren’t all successful; the bamboo ceiling is real.”
Kristof admits he didn’t explore the discrimination that exists against Asian
Americans. Had he done so, he would have seen how too many Asian Americans are
stymied in all fields. But in his Facebook response, he said his column was
really about something different: “I was focused on pushing back at what to me
is the great issue of racial injustice in this country, the ongoing racial
inequity and unconscious bias toward blacks.”
Blacks? Kristof says his column was about black disadvantage.
Did you get that on your first read?
When 90 percent of his column is about Asian Americans and success, you can see
how I might have missed that.
Only at the end of his column does Kristof mention how the “Asian Advantage”
could benefit someone like the “black boy in Baltimore who is raised by a
struggling single mom, whom society regards as a potential menace.” By then,
it’s just a strikingly offensive line on top of a tired iconic stereotype.
Kristof apparently feels justified perpetuating the model minority stereotype
under an “Asian Advantage” label because it exposes whites who use Asians to
discriminate against blacks.
He responds: “Some readers argued that it’s just inappropriate to highlight
Asian-Americans’ educational success because this can fuel precisely the
stereotyping that I’m criticizing. I do think there’s something to this warning,
and in general I think we journalists should be wary of writing about any
minority group in ways that make it easy for outsiders to compartmentalize
So he does know better.
But what the heck. He still wrote the column.
And here’s why: “In this case, though, this stereotyping is not only already
widespread but has an invidious effect on bias against African-Americans. One of
the most common arguments used by white Americans to justify their anti-black
bias is that Asian-Americans outperform whites in income and education: They
argue that this means discrimination is over, and that anybody can make it. The
result is that whites today believe that blacks suffer less discrimination than
whites do. That’s absurd, and it’s important to confront the issue directly;
shying away from it for reasons of political correctness just gives license to
that white bias against blacks.”
So perpetuate a racist myth against Asian Americans because it’s already
widespread? But that’s OK because he uses it for good to fight the myths some
whites still have against blacks?
And the KKK should have more bake sales too?
This isn’t about political correctness. I’m not about being a PC cop. This is
simply about being direct in challenging racism against blacks without
resurrecting the model minority myth about Asian Americans.
A straight mea culpa would have been better.
We can all agree on one thing: Discrimination against people of color isn’t
over. But that will be difficult to overcome if our conversations about race are
as confused as Nick Kristof’s “Asian Advantage” column.