Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Yellow Privilege

Thomas Sowell expounds upon the fact that "students who passed the examination to get into Stuyvesant High School," which he describes "as one of those all too rare public schools for intellectually outstanding students," "included 9 black students, 24 Latino students, 177 white students and 620 Asian Americans" — Tests and Tiger Moms.

Prof. Sowell, who is black, joins the "race hustlers... to cry 'unfair' at the tests." No wait, he writes, "Every study I know of that compares the amount of time that black students and Asian American students spend watching television, and how much time they spend on school work, shows disparities as great as the disparities in their academic outcomes," dismissing "the usual sort of comments from those who are in the business of being indignant and offended." He continues, "When teaching at UCLA, years ago, I once went into a library on a Saturday night, noticed how many Asian students were studying -- and looked around in vain for any black students. How surprised should I have been when Asian students did better in the courses I taught?" He also makes mention of the "recent book ('Gifted Hands') by black neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson shows that his mother was as much of a Tiger Mom as the Asians."

Noting that "similar disparities can be found among students from different ethnic backgrounds in other countries around the world," Prof. Sowell reports that "in the decade of the 1960s, students from the Chinese minority in Malaysia earned 20 times as many Bachelor of Science degrees as students from the Malay majority." [When I lived in that country, I remember a Tamil friend suggesting that "Malays" and "malaise" were homophones for a reason, in the presence of her Malay roommate, and member of one of the royal families; Dr. M, Mahathir Mohamad, wrote about this in The Malay Dilemma, which "dissects the multiple failings of his own race."] Prof. Sowell notes that "[i]n Sri Lanka, children from the Tamil minority consistently outperformed members of the Sinhalese majority on university admissions tests and, in at least one year, made an absolute majority of the A's on those tests." [I don't know why I found this surprising; I guess it must be the Western bias in favor of Buddhism over Hinduism or the bad press the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam got (one of my students in Malaysia was a supporter).] He also mentions that "in the days of the Ottoman Empire, Armenian students did better than Turkish students when it came to writing in the Turkish language." [The Turkish students I have known have impressed me with their intelligence, but aren't there a lot of Armenian chess grand-masters?]

If any or all of this proves too much for you, please keep in mind Prof. Sowell's reminder that this is "an age when race can be discussed only with pious hypocrisy and obligatory lies."

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Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

First, I don't see how Sowell's argument thwarts modern conventions on ethnicty & race. Isn't his argument essentially that it is culture that counts? That's the standard, mainstream model for explaining racial and ethnic differences -- that they are products of culture, and that negative performance is usually the result of oppressive power imbalances.

FWIW, my wife's family are of part-Filipino descent (through her mother), and they are fully immersed in the "tiger mom" culture. Exact same expectations of academic performance, study, etc. My wife's mother is the product of the Filipino version of that culture, from the Illocos region of northern Luzon -- multi-lingual (Illocano, Tagolog, Japanese, Spanish and English), BS in biology from Santo Tomas in Manila, MS in botany from Oklahoma State University (as an international student),took the pharmacy exam when she got to Guam and then became a pharmacy and real estate business maven there. A very formidable woman who as a girl once stared down Japanese soldiers occupying her hometown during WW2.

April 11, 2013 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger 장흥저널 Jangheung Journal 長興日報 said...

The youtube channel Liberty Pen posted a video by Thomas Sowell on this very topic:

April 12, 2013 at 12:36 AM  

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