Monday, July 3, 2017

Chidike Okeem ― Model Minorities and Colorblind Cowardice

Group differences, whether real or apocryphal, can be used to discriminate and harm, but that does not make noticing genuine differences inherently problematic.

Image source: Chelsea Beck/NPR

 Voice of Chid --- Yesterday, I did an interview on Connections with Evan Lawson on NPR. The discussion focused on my recent Intercollegiate Review interview; however, other topics were addressed. Other than forgetting Sebastian Gorka’s name and a moment of inarticulateness, it was a decent performance for an extemporaneous interview, especially since I do not do them often. For the past few years, I have turned down several interview requests because I have been extremely busy.

During the interview, I defended Dr. Ben Carson against the unfair criticism he received for pointing out that poverty is partly a mindset. (See my Twitter thread on the topic.) Had Carson said that poverty is solely a state of the mind, I would have joined anti-poverty activists in their vigorous denunciations of his comment. However, what Carson said is patently accurate. In order to escape poverty, there is a wealth-building mindset that one ought to have, especially in a free-market economy. Carson, a man who grew up poor and became one of the most prominent pediatric neurosurgeons in the world, should be listened to on the topic of poverty. This does not mean that everything he says on the topic is beyond critique, but the idea of dismissing his comments with a wave of hand and heinously distorting his point is wrong.

Advancing the idea of a poverty mindset is not an attempt to dispute the existence of oppressive structures. Only someone being willfully uncharitable to Carson would suggest that is what he meant. Racism and discrimination exist. In defending Carson, I also made the point that there are older Chinese immigrants who arrive in America with nothing and work extremely hard to create opportunities for their children. (Kay Hymowitz’s piece Brooklyn’s Chinese Pioneers describes this very well.) Many immigrants do not subscribe to the notion that discrimination and oppression are unconquerable, which is why immigrant groups in America outperform the national average in many areas of educational and economic achievement. For highlighting this, I was told I was perpetuating the “model minority myth,” and I was also laughably accused of racism.

Let us start with racism.

How is racism promoted when one points out that both black Dr. Ben Carson and certain poor Chinese immigrants have the mindset required for the building of wealth in a free-market society? Which group did I suggest was inferior or superior because of their race? How can it be considered racist to praise the grit and determination of a certain demographic and argue that those characteristics are worthy of emulation? In a sociopolitical climate where the sitting President of the United States was rewarded with that office for calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, using the term “racist” to describe someone earnestly praising immigrants is the zenith of absurdity.

As for the model minority point, I do believe that Asian Americans are used to castigate and pillory other ethnic minority groups. I have written on the strategic use of the success of Asian-American groups as a ruse to deny white supremacy. (See my piece from three years ago addressing Bill O’Reilly’s use of Asian Americans in this way, and the way in which statistics on Nigerian Americans expose his sophistical reasoning.) However, there is a fundamental difference between using Asian Americans and their successes as a tool of white supremacy and simply pointing out that there are some objectively salubrious attitudes and behaviors that some Asian-American groups demonstrate that are worthy of emulation. Unlike white supremacists, I am capable of acknowledging the fact that many immigrant groups have these characteristics, and I praised Dr. Ben Carson for also exhibiting these characteristics. Simply repeating “the myth of the model minority” is not a refutation of the fact that there are groups that have shown the behaviors needed to socially climb in a free-market society. (For more on this, Dr. Thomas Sowell’s The Economics and Politics of Race is fantastic.)

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