Friday, October 12, 2007

A Different Story

I believe that when it comes to comparing the achievements of various racial groups, you hear the same stories and arguments over and over again. You know what they are, I think. Asians work harder, and blacks should be more like Asians. The failure of blacks is their fault--just look at Asians. Better grades, better test scores, better colleges, better jobs, better incomes. Asians do as well as, and in many cases, better than whites. So other minorities can do it, too. And I realized that my story growing up doesn't look anything like these stories and arguments. The following is, I think, why I've never really bought into the idea that Asians are smarter than anybody else:

I grew up mainly attending racially mixed schools, which I think is the best you can give any minority kid. However, my schools never really had that many Asian students until I reached high school. The funniest thing about that is high school was the first time during my education in which I attended schools where there were more than seemingly a few Asians and Latinos there, but it was predominantly a "rich" white high school in a "rich" white area. The other schools I attended were not in that area.

Thinking back, high school was the first time in which I had friends from all races, though not really Latino friends--I knew Latino kids, but we weren't really friends. I had Asian friends, one of them being my best friend I mentioned in this post. I didn't care much about race then, and that was probably the last time I could say anything like "I don't see race." So here I am, realizing things now that I never thought about or realized back then.

For one thing, I've been thinking about all those advanced classes I took. I was essentially one of those kids who was in Honors and AP everything. I woke up this morning, thinking about the racial demographics of those classes. To understand what they mean, you need to understand what the demographics of the school were. Now, the school was a white school, but with a decent percentage of minorities. Blacks probably made up the largest minority group, then Asians. There were enough blacks and Asians in the school for neither group to really feel alienated. If a black or Asian only wanted black or Asian friends, they could easily have that--indeed, many did--and didn't feel like it was out of necessity, racism or feel they were lacking in the number of black or Asian friends available to them. But those Honors and AP classes, however...let's just say that any Asian in any of those classes was definitely having that "I was the only Asian in the class" experience. In fact, you could find more black kids in those classes than Asian kids. At the very least, I was usually able to say there was one other black kid in the class besides me.

Asian kids generally couldn't say that. As a matter of fact, Asian kids were almost completely absent from those advanced classes. This morning, I tried to count the Asian kids I could remember in my classes through all 4 years of high school...I came up with 5. And four of those kids were in more than one of my advanced classes, but never in more than two. So that means that when I saw Asians in my advanced courses, it was basically the same 4 Asians. To be fair, I must admit that there was a Korean girl in my freshman Honors Biology class...but she moved to Texas during the school year. And then there were three other Asians I can recall who took advanced classes, but just happened to never end up in any of mine--two of them weren't in my graduating class in school. An interesting fact is that, except for one, the Asians in my classes were Asian females (out of all the Asians I remember in advanced classes, two were male). And the one Asian male only showed up in advanced classes after transferring to our high school from another school. He was very open about having a 2.9 GPA.

Everyone else in these advanced classes tended to be white kids. There were two advanced classes I had in which Asians weren't having "I was the only one" experiences. If you remember, I mentioned in this post a story about these two Asians whom I asked where they were from when we were in high school. We had AP US History together, and it was just the two of them until the Asian male mentioned above transferred to our school and landed in our class. Well, one of those Asians--the one whom the other Asian and I both questioned about her ethnicity--also happened to be a transfer student that year. She stood out to me on the first day, and I think she did because I wasn't seeing Asians in my advanced classes. I was the first one to speak to her, admittedly because I thought she was really pretty, but also because I could tell she was new. The only minorities in the class, originally, were me and this one black girl, plus those two Asian girls...and the four of us became friends. Then the pretty Asian girl and the Asian male showed up in AP Economics with me, which also included my best friend who was Korean, a black female friend I had made in Honors Spanish and a black male.

Every other advanced class I took, the Asians in them were the only ones. I was friends with this one Chinese girl, whom I met in Honors Spanish. She and I ended up in AP European History together the next year--we were the only minorities in that class. I don't think she ever felt out of place, but who knows? Our high school never really felt like that kind of environment, though--where we felt racially out of place. And this with it being the South. But AP European History was kind of awkward for me, though, because it was the only class, other than Honors Biology--which was also awkward--in which I was the only black person. In AP US History, the pretty Asian girl and I had the lowest grades in the class for a while, and everyone knew it--that was awkward, too, but she and I kind of bonded over that.

And that's the other thing I have been thinking about--while my Asian friends had parents who were relatively strict and, for lack of a better word, pushy...they didn't really seem like the kind of Asian parents you hear about, i.e. they "weren't that bad." So, the Asian guy did have a 2.9, and the pretty Asian girl was a bit of an underachiever. And I didn't think much of it. It wasn't like, "Wait--they're Asian. They're supposed to be doing better...?!?!" I probably knew what Asian parents could be like more intimately through my Korean friend. Her grades were good but not 4.0, and that didn't seem to be a huge problem. There wasn't really pressure about what kind of college to attend, but she knew that she was only allowed to study areas such as business or medicine. Although she never wanted to say it, I could tell I wasn't really allowed at her house...but a white classmate would have been. I knew that the pretty Asian girl had a lot of responsibilities after school and couldn't even so much as talk on the phone without doing it behind her parents' back.

My Chinese friend and her brother were under a lot of pressure, and I don't know how much of it came from their family. I always had the feeling that she didn't feel smart enough and that making the grades she did in her Honors classes was the result of a lot of hard work. One of our white classmates in AP European History was basically tutoring her in Honors Algebra II. She seemed stressed a lot of the time and got meaner as time progressed. Her brother was stressed out because he was earning a 'D' in AP Biology. His career choice was doctor, as was their older sister. But my friend, not having the aptitude for that, was thinking law...which never made sense to me given her personality.

Dude, I just remembered that I used to make fun of her last name to her face. Holy crap, I was one of these people these Asian college students complain about in these stories I've been reading! Noooooo...I didn't really do that!!!!! But...yeah...I really did. But I've also been remembering other racist "jokes" a white friend of mine and I had about Asians and Latinos. I can only speak for myself in saying I didn't know what the hell I was saying--it's the kind of stuff that it takes age or someone telling you to understand what's wrong with it. Ugh, and I'd been all proud of myself, thinking that I'd never said anything racist to Asians. Another thing I did--my white friend and I--is called the Chinese girl an airhead all the time.

This brings me to another thing. I've said that I don't get the harm in the "smart" stereotype about Asians. But that's not true--I do and I don't. I get the pressure it brings, and, obviously, the Chinese girl was under a lot of pressure...and being called names by us probably wasn't helping if she really did already feel overwhelmed and insecure. What I figured out that I don't understand is why allow it to be pressure. Why does it matter if white people label you smarter than everyone else? Why does that mean you have to work hard to live up to that? It's one thing when your parents are pushing you. It's another thing when it's society. And I've pretty much always just been kind of like, "f*ck society." Still am. Heck, with law school, I'm like, "f*ck parents," too, especially since they're not even paying for law school. I don't want all 'A's anymore (my mother acts like I should be getting all 'A's, which just goes to show how little she knows about law school), and I'm not going to work hard for them anymore. Once again, this is a case in which there's a part of me that gets why what society thinks matters, especially after doing some of the readings I've done, and then another part that still feels like Asians should be able to just let that go.

And speaking of working hard...although some of the Asians I knew worked hard in school, some of them didn't. And I don't know why I said "anymore" in reference to myself, because I've never worked hard in school. I was always one of those kids who simply got good grades, even in college, and that's just not how law school works. I made the conscious choice that law school wasn't worth my working hard. Since everyone loves to point to Asians and say they work hard, then point to blacks and say they don't...let me just say that I believe in working hard when it's necessary and not working hard when it's not. I don't think it's necessary in law school for me to work hard, being that I'm at a top 10 school and I don't really even want to be a lawyer but can still find a job in the legal profession with the kind of grades I have. Had I needed to work harder in high school or college to make the kind of grades I did, maybe I would have. I did find it necessary for me to work hard to achieve the kind of LSAT score I wanted, and I have never worked harder academically in my life. And after that was done, I gave my absolute all to putting together the kind of application packages necessary for getting admitted to the best law schools in the nation. It's in me, and I pulled it out when I needed to--and that paid off better than I expected.

You can call it whatever you want, but I call it efficiency. If you work hard all the time, even when it's not necessary...a little something called burnout happens. You can also lose your mind from hard work. Stay with me on this. I think this is a side effect of the whole "smart" thing with Asians. Some commit suicide because of the pressure or the embarrassment they feel they've caused their parents. According to my mother, some completely freak out and have breakdowns, not to say that students of other backgrounds don't do this. But my mother does work at a university, and she has apparently seen this more in Asian students than others. To me, it's not worth it. Keep your sanity; you can still make it just fine in this life.

Honestly, the point of this post is not to totally disprove people's ideas about Asians--it's to take away some of the universality of their applications. I'm actually wondering if a regional difference exists in the US among Asians, in combination with the other differences such as ethnic background and immigration vs American-born status. I don't think that the Asians I knew growing up nor the ones I met in college were pushed that much more than other kids, and pretty much none of them were gunning for top schools. Indeed, very people from my high school went on to anything better than local schools as opposed to Ivies and UC-system schools that everyone seems to think Asians attend or are ready to commit suicide over if they can't get admitted. And some of them could have gone off to those schools but didn't and, in general, didn't even apply to those kinds of schools. Off the top of my head, everyone who did go on to top colleges from my high school...was black...although I'm sure there are some white kids I'm forgetting. But they generally weren't Asian.

Next to last point--I get tired of hearing about how black kids allegedly get picked on by other black kids for doing well in school. I don't know where these schools exist, or if this might be another possible regional--or maybe even urban v suburban--difference...but my doing well in school and being enrolled in all advanced courses was one of the reasons why I ended up popular in high school. I'm mentioning this because on one of the Asian websites I checked out a few hours ago, one Asian was telling this same old story about how blacks allegedly get picked on for working hard and valuing education. Some people might tell those kinds of stories in an effort to be helpful or sympathetic towards the gap between blacks and Asians in achievements, but really what it does--other than unfairly generalizes and oversimplifies--is fuels the racist argument by many and the racial war between Asians and blacks that, look at blacks, they don't care about education and don't work hard but Asians do. And yet, I don't think I've ever met a black person who has gotten picked on because they performed well in school. Because they didn't have enough black friends, spoke a certain way or lived in a certain area--yes. Academics? No.

And speaking of the racial war between Asians and blacks--I've been detecting some Asian supremacy comments on the net. Like I said, Asians and blacks could be friends where I grew up. Just because some blacks in some places attack Asians doesn't make that cause for Asians to feel it's okay to hate blacks and write as much online. And these blacks who attack Asians don't go to show that blacks are jealous that Asians are "smarter" and make better grades and don't need handouts and all this nonsense. Maybe those particular blacks are, and maybe they're not. But it doesn't apply to all or even most blacks. Most blacks I know would be with me in arguing that, hey, Asians aren't smarter than anybody else. Rather, there are some Asians who are smart and some who are not, just like you have in any race. There are some who work hard and some who don't. Some go to Harvard and Berkeley, and some don't go to college at all. And, apparently, you have some Asians who grow up in the kind of environment that Americans, particularly whites, tend to attribute to and praise Asians for and some...not so much.

And these are environments that, incidentally, a lot of Asian kids grew up resenting and still, as adults, while understanding some of it a lot better and even valuing some of it, would totally reject some of it and wouldn't apply some of it to their own kids. As this happens more and more, will we see a decline in Asian success? And, if so, what will racist whites and racist Asians have to say about that? If not, will these people finally have to admit that Asian success is not just about Asians being the "model minority" but maybe also somewhat about light vs dark, fighting to assimilate vs fighting to maintain non-white identity, variations in the degree of racism experienced by various groups, having the choice to come to America precisely to achieve for self/family vs being forced to come to America so that someone else can achieve and then being "stuck" here because you know no other land...and so on?