With the usual kind of help from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the events in Ferguson, Missouri got people talking once again about white privilege in America. White privilege has become one of the favorite arguments of politically-correct, pandering liberals who like to make excuses for the fact that black Americans do not, as a rule, fare as well as white Americans on standard of socio-economic indicators. The concept of white privilege is also a favorite weapon for those who make their living stirring up racial discord because it is based on the supposition that being white in America offers special advantages that people of other races do not enjoy. Said another way, white privilege means that to be anything but white in America is to be economically and politically handicapped. For those who wish to exploit envy and greed for political benefit, the rhetoric of white privilege has great appeal.
However, there are a number of problems with the fundamental premise of white privilege. One problem is that there are so many successful black Americans who have done what successful people of any race do: Persevere in facing life’s obstacles head on and do what is necessary to overcome the obstacles while refusing to make excuses. Another factor that tends to undermine the fundamental premise of white privilege is that poor whites face many of the same challenges that poor blacks and poor people of all races face in trying to improve their lots in life. In fact, it would be easier to make a case for wealth privilege in America than white privilege. But perhaps the biggest problem with the underlying premise of white privilege is that when applying the socio-economic indicators its purveyors use to justify their arguments, Asian Americans come out on top, not white Americans. If one takes the time to examine the evidence, it is easier to make a case for Asian privilege in America than for white privilege. However, even a cursory examination of the situation will show that Asians succeed not because of their race, but because of other factors that they and they alone control.
This being the case, all Americans would do well to consider why it is that Asian Americans as a group do so much better on basic socio-economic indicators than white, black, and Hispanic Americans. There may be something worth learning from such an exercise. For example, Asian Americans have to overcome not just racial and cultural barriers to succeed in America, they have to overcome the language barrier. As to the argument that is sometimes made that blacks have a more difficult time succeeding because of the enduring legacy of slavery, this supposition fails even the most basic test of logic. It has been 150 years since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years since President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As shameful and debilitating as the peculiar institution was, continuing to blame it for the poverty and depredations of black Americans all these years later is a bit of a stretch. As a college professor for more than 38 years, I have taught a lot of students of all races. The black students who did well in my classes did well for the same reasons that students of any race did well: they showed up for class well-prepared, studied hard, did their homework, and took their education seriously. Those who did poorly in my classes—not just blacks, but students of all races—did so because they were sporadic in their attendance, did not study, made excuses for failing to do their homework, and were either lackadaisical or downright negative in their attitudes toward education.
A fact that is often overlooked in debates about white privilege is that the earliest Asians to immigrate to America—although not slaves—were not much better off than slaves. Known in the vernacular of the time as “coolies,” these early Asian immigrants were viewed as nothing more than cheap labor by the power brokers who imported them to work on major infrastructure projects such as railroads and dams. In the eyes of their employers, the coolies were an expendable commodity. They worked in often brutal conditions, were paid miserly wages, and were subjected to the worst kinds of racial prejudice. If a coolie was worked to death, employers would unceremoniously toss him aside and bring in another. Consequently, if Asian Americans wanted to make excuses about the lingering legacy of the coolie system, they would have plenty of ammunition. However, there is no lingering legacy of the coolie system because Asian Americans have worked hard to put that era behind them and have refused to use it as an excuse.
Refusing to make excuses is one of the reasons people of Asian descent have prospered in America. There are several others, and it is these reasons that people of other races—white, black, and Hispanic—need to understand and acknowledge. What Asian Americans have proven is that privilege in America is based not on race but on merit. Having worked with Asian students, as well as students of all races, for more than 38 years now, I can attest with authority to why Asian Americans out-perform all other races on standard socio-economic indicators. Here are just a few of the reasons:
- As a rule, Asian Americans place a high priority on education. They value education as their ticket to upward mobility, take it seriously, and work hard at it. Further, Asian American parents set high expectations for their children concerning education. A friend of mine who came here from China has three children. He and his wife sent them to public school so they would learn American culture and how to speak English without an accent. But to ensure they were solidly grounded in academics, my friend and his wife home-schooled them after school three to four hours a night. While their American counterparts were playing, participating in after school activities, or just goofing off, my friend’s children were studying. As a result, all three of these children are now fully assimilated, successful, and prosperous adults. By the way, this approach of enforced study beyond that required in the public schools is also how Dr. Ben Carson’s mother turned the renowned surgeon and future presidential candidate and his brother into young scholars who became successful adults. The formula of taking education seriously works for people of all races, not just Asian Americans.
- As a rule, Asian Americans have a positive work ethic. The hundreds I have taught over the years worked hard, worked smart, and worked long. My Asian American college students were often criticized by their counterparts for skewing the grade curve and, thereby, making it harder to earn an “A” or “B” in courses. This slow-down-you-are-making-the-rest-of-us-look-bad attitude says a lot about the other students in my classes, and what it says is not complimentary.
- As a rule, Asian American families remain intact. There is a father and a mother in the home and the family unit is considered sacrosanct. Family members are expected to support and help each other. Children are given responsibilities and are held accountable for meeting those responsibilities. I learned as a professor that Asian students were willing to work hard and long to avoid bringing shame on their families by performing poorly in school. While Asian families are approaching education in this serious manner, other American families have digressed to the point that they give their children attaboys, trophies, and other rewards for doing little to nothing. They continually tell their children how special they are when, in point of fact, their schoolwork is anything but special. The Asian families I have worked with over the years would not allow their children to accept praise or trophies for doing substandard work.
- As a rule, Asian Americans do not make excuses. In 38 years as a college professor I cannot remember one Asian American student making excuses for failing to turn in a homework assignment on time or to prepare properly for a test. I have had Asian American students who brely spoke English but refused to let this obstacle hold them back. In fact, in most of these cases the Asian Americans still out-performed their counterparts of other races in my classes. Some recorded my lectures so they would have more time to decipher them later. Some even brought fellow Asian students who were more fluent in English to class with them to take notes. The point is, they did not let the language barrier be a barrier. For them it was just another obstacle to overcome.
People of any race can succeed in America is they emulate the approach of Asian Americans: take education seriously, develop a positive work ethic, obey the rules, respect the laws of the land, and stay together as families. Consequently, the next time some pandering liberal raises the issue of white privilege in America, ask him why Asian Americans do so well—better, in fact, than whites.