Boston Herald | January 27, 2014 | Op-Ed

Are you Jewish, Chinese, Indian, Iranian, Lebanese, Nigerian, Mormon, or a Cuban exile? If so, Amy Chua thinks you are more likely to succeed in this country than your African American, Indonesian, Palestinian, Atheist, Sudanese, Mexican, French-Canadian, or Irish-Catholic peers.

Yes, Amy Chua, aka “Tiger Mom,” is back. And once again, she is embroiled in controversy.

Three years ago, the Yale Law professor set the parenting world on fire with “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” her memoir of raising children “the Chinese way.” Excerpted in The Wall Street Journal under the provocative headline, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” “Battle Hymn” was a personal, and generally positive, reflection on the strict parenting style of many Chinese parents, including Chua.

In “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America” (due out in February), Chua and her husband, fellow Yale professor Jed Rubenfeld, single out Jews, Chinese, Indians, Iranians, Lebanese, Nigerians, Mormons, and Cuban exiles as groups that have achieved significant success in the United States, as measured by income, occupational status, test scores, etc.

According to the authors, there are three things these groups have in common:

• a superiority complex;

• insecurity;

• and impulse control.

What does this mean?

The authors argue that, generally speaking, members of these groups regard their culture as exceptional. Accurate or not, group members often believe that their culture’s values, resilience, and/or lineage are special. They believe that they have an obligation to maintain this exceptionalism, and that failure discredits the group.

Chua and Rubenfeld’s critics argue that this so-called superiority complex is fundamentally at odds with the second common trait the authors identify: insecurity.

And, yet, it is not. The superiority complex refers to a person’s beliefs about his specific culture, whereas, insecurity refers to a person’s feelings about his own ability to live up to group expectations.

In addition to personal insecurity, many members of highly successful sociological groups remain insecure about their place in America — about factors beyond their control, such as the economy, racism, or religious bigotry. Yet, members of the eight groups identified by Chua and Rubenfeld are driven by their superiority complex to work harder than members of other groups to overcome such challenges (real or imagined) in order to maintain group honor.

Amy Chua

Which brings us to impulse control, or as Chua explains, the ability to resist the temptation to take one’s eye off the prize or to give up in the face of hardship.

The authors believe that impulse control, or self-discipline, is not something derived from within the individual; rather, it is a culturally enforced norm.

Although critics argue that “Triple Package” relies too heavily on anecdotal evidence, they, ironically, attempt to prove the authors wrong with a silly anecdote of their own: the African-American Barack Obama defeating the Mormon Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. (Apparently, these critics fail to understand, as Chua and Rubenfeld do, that Romney’s financial and occupational successes support, rather than detract from, the “triple package” theory).

Where “Battle Hymn” sent millions of angst-ridden “Western” mothers into a collective frenzy of self-doubt and defensiveness, “Triple Package” has been attacked as “cringe-worthy” and outright “racist.”

And yet, those who attack Chua and Rubenfeld gloss over — or ignore altogether — their central thesis: That certain groups succeed in America not because of innate racial or ethnic traits, but because of specific cultural beliefs and practices.

Perhaps what angers people most about “Triple Package” is that it articulates in scholarly, yet provocative, fashion what most of us already believe: Culture matters.


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