Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Cultural Stereotypes: Immigrant parents, Amy Chua & Jack Straw

I just can’t seem escape Amy Chua and her Chinese mothering tips.

First, my mum-in-law sent me Chua’s essay – Why Chinese Mothers are Superior – published in the WSJ last Saturday, in which she rhapsodised over the benefits of the strict, demanding parenting exercised by immigrant families in America. She credits this parenting style for Chinese (and other immigrant) kids outperforming American kids in general. Then, The Times, yesterday ran an interview with Ms Chua, and today, the Independent, discusses the merits-demerits of Chua’s dictator-style parenting model. And just a few minutes ago, New Yorker uploaded a piece inviting three Chinese-American high-achieving women to give their views on Chua’s assertions.

What I find really interesting is that none of the four articles above mentioned the dreaded words: “cultural-stereotyping”. They discuss the merits and demerits of Chinese-style parenting. But none of them point out that asserting that there is something inherently different about the way a minority community brings up its children – and worse, that the parenting style has definite consequences on how such children will relate to society around them – amounts to stereotyping.

Contrast that with the furious response met to Jack Straw’s statement that young Pakistani men are sexually repressed and are made to think that white women are easy. Thus, they are likely to prey on them. Almost every respectable newspaper in town, and every respectable British-Asian community leader, was discussing the perils of cultural stereotyping even before the merits of Straw’s accusations could be judged.

Why is it that if no one has problems believing that the strict parenting practiced by immigrant parents results in high-achieving immigrant kids, it is unacceptable to suggest the opposite: that if immigrant kids grow up with the notion that white girls are trashy and easy, they may act on that belief. (I don’t have a problem with people picking holes in Straw’s argument – and there are many holes to pick. But I have a problem with the discussion being scuttled under the bogeyman of what “cultural stereotyping” can do to immigrants.)

What the responses to Chua and Straw say to me is that the press and minorities are perfectly fine with stereotypes, provided the stereotypes are positive!

Stand-up comedian Russell Peters on another kind of strict immigrant parenting.


Simantini said...

stereotypes - positive or negative overlook individuals n box us into a tight suffocating slot coz of colour, class, creed, race or region hence the basis of stereotyps is faulty! all blonds are not dumb, all indians in USA are not techis, all browns in UK are not "Pakis" , to name a few! n after reading wot Chua n Straw said- well i think both r idiots ;-) but thats just me!

globalbabble said...

I will pass on your sentiments to Chua and Straw next time I bump into them ;-)