independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

'Tiger Mother' author stirs new controversy – but does it apply here?

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Author Amy Chua attends the TIME 100 Gala, TIME'S 100 Most Influential People In The World at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 26, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for TIME) *** Local Caption *** Amy Chua;
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Author Amy Chua attends the TIME 100 Gala, TIME'S 100 Most Influential People In The World at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for TIME) *** Local Caption *** Amy Chua;

Amy Chua, author of the controversial book, 'The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' which claimed that Chinese mothers were superior, is back in the headlines with her new book 'The Triple Package'.

Never one to shy away from contentious topics, this time Chua is tackling the thorny issue of why certain cultural groups in the US succeed above others.

The book, which she co-authors with her husband Jed Rubenfeld, a fellow law professor at Yale, hasn't even reached the shops yet and is already ruffling feathers across the pond.

Over the next few years in Ireland, thousands of first- generation immigrants will leave school and enter third-level education or the workplace. It will be interesting to note the key characteristics that will lead to the success of different cultural groups.

'The Triple Package' deals with the age-old question 'why do some individuals rise from unpromising origins to great heights, when so many others, facing similar obstacles and with seemingly similar capabilities, don't rise at all?'

It's a fascinating premise but the book is not being well received in many circles. 'The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America' is being cited by many reviewers as racism masquerading as social science.

In the book Chua (who is Chinese) and Rubenfeld (who is Jewish) claim that along with the Chinese and the Jews, the Lebanese, Indians, Iranians, Nigerians, Mormons and Cuban exiles are disproportionately represented at the top of the league tables in America.

Apparently Mormons have recently risen to astonishing business success. Cubans in Miami climbed from poverty to prosperity in one generation. Nigerians are earning doctorates at vast rates. Indian and Chinese-Americans have much higher incomes than other Americans and Jews have the highest of all.

How on Earth did they manage to achieve this, we'd all like to know? The authors state that the success of these ethnic groups is down to three main factors, the triple package: a superiority complex, insecurity and a trait they call 'impulse control'.

The rise to the top by some immigrant groups is astounding, Chua says – "Indian Americans have the highest income of any census-tracked ethnic group, almost twice the national average."

The Nigerian Americans are also making their mark. While they only represent 0.7% of the US black population, they account for 10 times that percentage of black students in university. This seems to be a particularly strong achievement with African-Americans in every stratum of society, including the most successful, repeatedly testifying to the internal burdens of being black in the United States and "the sheer force of will required to succeed while being condescended to".

Clearly Mitt Romney is not the only successful Mormon. The book focuses heavily on Mormonism. Mormons make up only 1.7pc of the population and yet they own "10 times more Florida real estate than the Walt Disney company". They also represent a very high proportion of chief financial officers on Wall Street.

But what of the criticism being put forward about the book? Critics are claiming that racism in America has changed – it's not about skin colour anymore, it's about "cultural traits".

Chua has vigorously denied that she is racist for arguing that certain ethnic groups are superior to others. "There is nothing racial about it. Successful groups include people of all different skin colours," she says.

Chua also points out that the successful groups change all the time.

Some of the criticism that is aimed at the couple is the fact that both of their own ethnic groups – Chinese and Jewish – belong to the exceptional group of eight. It is also claimed that the book is perpetuating racial stereotypes.

But the facts actually debunk racial stereotypes. There are black and Hispanic sub-groups in the United States far outperforming many white and Asian sub-groups.

The authors claim that they wrote the book to prove that what triggers success has nothing to do with race at all. They insist that the ability to achieve comes down to having strong self-belief with a little insecurity thrown in to drive you to be better. Add to that a good impulse control to resist temptation and you will have a winner.

We live in a world of immediate gratification. We are told to live for the moment. But all of America's most successful groups cultivate heightened discipline and impulse control.

The most recent census shows that Ireland's non-national population accounts for 12pc of the national population, or 544,000 people. It will be fascinating to see which ethnic groups will rise to the top on this island.

Irish Independent

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