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Tiger Mom's latest book hits a little too close to the U.S's xenophobic past
The groups in question have changed but the unfounded designation of superiority is still there
The authors' new book.
The authors' new book. (Facebook.com/Amy Chua, Amazon.com)

2014 isn't starting on the highest note. Millions of Americans are still unemployed (and losing their insurance), and our students are doing pretty unimpressively on international exams. Fortunately, Amy Chua — the infamous Tiger Mom — and her husband Jed Rubenfeld have a new book, The Triple Package, to help a nation that has "been losing its edge." Their strategy? Isolating eight cultural, ethnic, and religious groups they deem superior and telling all of us to act like them.

According to Chua and Rubenfeld, eight groups are exceptional: Jews, Indians, the Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Mormons, and Cuban exiles. Why are they so successful? They all share three components: Superiority complex, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control. Yes, all of them do, even the guys in the Jewish fraternity you always saw puking Jaeger Bombs in your freshmen dorm.

Shockingly, this approach isn't going over so well. Many have accused Chua and Rubenfeld of actively trolling pretty much the whole country by trying to offend everyone. Reviewing the book for the New York Post, Maureen Callahan writes that Chua and Rubenfeld use "specious stats to argue some groups are just superior to others and everyone else is contributing to the downfall." She dismisses the book as a "series of shock-arguments wrapped in self-help tropes, meant to do what racist arguments do: Scare people."

Understandably, Americans (these days, at least) tend to get a little upset when they hear generalizations that certain groups are better than others — and that the rest of us should change our ways to homogeneously model their behavior. Essentially saying "Screw the melting pot!" doesn't sit well with our Schoolhouse Rock ideals.

But what's more disturbing about Chua and Rubenfeld's theory is that it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the xenophobic writings of eugenicists of the early 20th Century. Madison Grant wrote The Passing of the Great Race in 1916 to explain the "racial basis of European history." Essentially, it explains why the Nordics — the forbearers of "true" Americans — turned out supposedly better than everyone else. But this "history" was used to justify a xenophobic warning:

There is great danger of a similar replacement of a higher by a lower type here in America unless the native American uses his superior intelligence to protect himself and his children from competition with intrusive peoples drained from the lowest races of eastern Europe and Western Asia. [The Passing of the Great Race]

Rather ironically, Nordics don't make the cut in The Triple Package, and the groups that Chua and Rosenfeld champion — the Jews, anyone from Asia — get bashed in The Passing of the Great Race. However, the false elevation of certain American groups, and implicit denigration of others, is the same: They have just reversed.

An important distinction is that Grant was highlighting racial, physical, and biological characteristics to argue Nordics were better than everyone else. Chua and Rubenfeld do stress in their book that all people can model the superior ways of these eight groups so that eventually "there are no longer any successful groups in the United States — only successful individuals."

But Chua and Rubenfeld are just as unfounded and convoluted in their explanation for why some groups are better at life than others. Grant's argument that "a bridgeless nose with wide nostrils is very primitive," and, thus, denotes the inferiority of a race is just slightly more nonsensical than Chua and Rubenfeld's claim that African Americans are not as successful because the Civil Rights movement removed a chance for a superiority narrative.

And like Grant's The Passing of the Great Race, Chua and Rubenfeld's The Triple Package has the same potential to have a damaging effect on immigration policy at a critical time. Grant's book helped build an anti-foreigner attitude that led to the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, which severely restricted the emigration of people from Asia, the Middle East, and Southern and Eastern Europe.

While Chua and Rubenfeld champion many immigrant groups, the Hispanic communities that tend to immigrant to America in high numbers are absent from the superior eight of The Triple Package, and they are the ones most often discussed in the debates over immigration. Callahan worries that The Triple Package is too "well timed to the misguided belief that immigration reform will result in even less opportunity for Americans than there is now."

But even without this fear, The Triple Package's argument that we should all follow the lead of certain groups is terrifying if it means building a nation of tiger moms.

Emily Shire is chief researcher for The Week magazine. She has written about pop culture, religion, and women and gender issues at publications including Slate, The Forward, and Jewcy.

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