What we can learn from Asian Americans

This is not to let anyone off the hook. The United States has a long history of anti-Asian bigotry that has included discrimination, segregation, exclusion, massacres and internment.

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A woman prays during a vigil and rally against Asian hate crimes on March 26, 2021, in Chicago’s Horner Park.

AP Photos

This much can be said without fear of contradiction: There has been a spike in disgusting crimes against Asian Americans during the past year.

One analysis of 16 of the country’s largest cities found that acts of anti-Asian bias, not just crimes, increased by 145% between 2019 and 2020, even as other hate crimes declined. They range from vile insults hurled at subway riders in New York (“Get the f--- out of NYC”), to violent assaults.

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Is the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes a symptom of white supremacy? Most left-of-center outlets interpret it that way. It’s certainly possible that many of the crimes were expressions of white supremacy. But how do we categorize the anti-Asian attacks committed by African Americans and Hispanics? Voice of America looked at some of the data:

“In New York City, where anti-Asian hate crime soared nearly nine-fold in 2020 over the year before, only two of the 20 people arrested last year in connection with these attacks were white, according to New York Police Department data analyzed by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Eleven were African Americans, six were white Hispanics and one was a Black Hispanic.”

This is not to let anyone off the hook — the United States has a long history of anti-Asian bigotry that has included discrimination, segregation, exclusion, massacres and internment — but just to pump the brakes a bit on the white supremacy talk in this particular case. (The Derek Chauvin trial is another matter.)

Also, let’s not omit the other side of the story. There’s a reason so many Asians and others are eager to immigrate here. They really can enjoy political freedom, practice their religions, speak their minds, improve their incomes and secure vast opportunities for their children.

The term “model minority” has become unfashionable, but as Manu Sarna writes in Quillette, it was coined for a reason. Asians are more law-abiding by a large margin than the general population. They claim fewer unemployment benefits, have higher incomes and have higher rates of business ownership than any other racial/ethnic category. They get and stay married at higher rates than others and 84% of their children grow up in two-parent families (compared with a national average of 68% in 2013-15).

Here are some other things we could all copy from Asians: They watch less TV, do 50% more homework and hoover up lots of awards.

You know what immigrant group is similar? Nigerians. Immigrants from Nigeria and their children are among the most highly educated groups in America, with 61.4% of those over age 25 and older holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, more than double the rate of the general population. Their median income is above the national average, and their divorce rate is below it.

This is not to disparage native-born Blacks, whites or Hispanics, nor to suggest that the solution to deep inequalities and injustices in our society is to “pull yourselves up by the bootstraps.” There’s a world of difference between coming from an African nation and growing up in a society where your great-grandparents could have been born slaves and where racial discrimination has persisted (though radically reduced) to the present. We are a long way from healing those wounds.

But it is also true that the cultural patterns among immigrants are in some respects superior to our own. And if we can learn from them, why wouldn’t we? Culture is not immutable like skin color or blood type. Culture can change.

Both Asian Americans and Nigerian Americans thrive for many reasons, but certainly, an important factor is strong families. The kin who support each other, loan each other money, help out when someone is ill, tutor the nephew struggling with algebra, drive one another to job interviews and so on cannot exist without the foundation of marriage. Marriage is the essential first link in the chain of family formation, and strong families — including extended families — are more important than any other factor in human flourishing. One of the most vicious aspects of American slavery was the purposeful separation of husbands and wives, parents and children. It’s perverse to suggest that high levels of births to unmarried mothers among African Americans (70%) have no effect on the life outcomes of Black children. Besides, the rates are destructively high among Hispanics (52%) and whites as well (28%) — with the same results. Kids raised by single mothers (it’s usually mothers) are at a disadvantage no matter their ethnic group.

So, by all means, let’s protect Asian Americans from hate crimes and other offenses. And let’s strive to transcend the primitive urge to divide the world into us and them. But we can do something more. We can recognize superior habits and emulate them.

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