So why did New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof choose to title his recent op-ed about successful immigrants "The Asian Advantage" rather than "The African Advantage"?
To be fair, Kristof was responding to commenters to his column, "When Whites Just Don't Get It." According to Kristof,
"...one of the most common responses from angry whites was along these lines: 'This stuff about white privilege is nonsense, and if blacks lag, the reason lies in the black community itself. Just look at Asian-Americans. Those Koreans and Chinese make it in America because they work hard. All people can succeed here if they just stop whining and start working.' "
Kristof cites the "Confucian emphasis on education," hard work, and strong families, as factors contributing to the "Asian Advantage." Kristof's attributions are problematic.
First, as African immigrants show us, emphasis on education (not to mention hard work and strong families) is not limited to Confucius or the East. Nor is it clear that modern-day Asians value education because of Confucian ideals. Kristof's evocation of Confucius without qualification hearkens too closely to the fortune cookie mockery, "Confucius say...".
Second, Kristof assumes that Asians are indeed successful. However, as numerous critics have pointed out, the experience of certain Asian groups, like Laotian Americans and Cambodian Americans, fall far short of the college-graduated, high earning South Koreans and Chinese Americans. Kristof's generalizations do a disservice to socioeconomically struggling Asian American groups, particularly as they strive to gain access to critical social services and government support.
Further, defining success by median income or educational attainment is highly limiting and can be used to justify the bamboo ceiling. For example, as the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans has shown, Asian Americans are underrepresented at the highest levels of corporate and political leadership, including on boards of directors, in the executive suite, and in Congress. Given Asian Americans' much-touted "success," why is this the case?
Lastly, Kristof does what his commenters have done; he uses Asian Americans as a political tool. The "angry whites" Kristof cites point to the success of Chinese and Korean immigrants as a reason to oppose the concept of white privilege and, presumably, affirmative action. Kristof counters by offering his own deconstruction of Asian American success. At the end of the day, both Kristof and his commenters objectify a heterogenous, complex group of Americans to serve their own means. This objectification -- and the concrete fiscal and political consequences thereof -- is what is most problematic.