I attend a “mid-sized” (about 17,500 student) university located in the western U.S.A. The student body here is primarily white, and many students come from rural or small town backgrounds.
Today a call was put out on the university Diversity Center’s Facebook page for
“S@#t Tiger Moms Say”
The flyer posted was all black with white font and a close-up picture of snarling tiger’s face. The concept is expanded upon in a font like that seen on Chinese food take-out boxes:
“Tiger Mom: Describes mothers who practice extreme parenting. Tiger mothers are considered to have unrealistic expectations of their children and hold them to a very high standard. Many are thought to be overbearing and overprotective of their young ones. This term was made popular by Amy Chua’s book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.”
Followed by this (in some sans-serif, non-racialized font) is the call for submissions:
“Please submit phrases and quotes from your Tiger Mom to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments from Tiger Moms of all cultures and ethnicities are welcome. These quotes will be used to create a short film titled ‘S@#t Tiger Moms Say’ and put on the Diversity Center’s YouTube.”
There’s a lot going on here. There’s a lot that I’m bringing to the table as I’m reading this.
I started this semester signed up for a 200/sophomore-level Asian American History class. I am a “nontraditional” student (meaning, I did not go to this college directly out of high school, and as such I am older than most students). I am also fairly well-read. My parents have always encouraged me to know about U.S. American history, and I’ve been actively interested in race/ethnicity/color in the U.S.A. for quite a while. Still, I know there is plenty that I don’t know, and I thought this would be a nice introduction to the nitty-gritty of Asian American politics.
The first day of class was horrific.
We began be reading Amy Chua’s 2011 Wall Street Journal piece “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” When the professor asked for content analysis of the piece, the small (maybe 20-person) class broke out the racial stereotypes. Young, white men were the majority of the class, and they almost exclusively dominated the conversation. Comments in the vein of, “Asians should stop playing piano and violin, they’re only confirming stereotypes” were more or less how the majority of the class went.
When I pointed out that the mythical Tiger Mother only reinforces the individualistic, racial hierarchy that punishes Black and Brown peoples who supposedly cannot rise above their subordinate statuses by juxtaposing them with the myth of Asians who were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the young, Hawaiian man sitting in front of me nods, but remains silent.
I can’t blame him. I didn’t want to talk either.
This call for “phrases and quotes” from “Tiger Moms” suspiciously avoids mention of the gendered, racial origin of the stereotype, unironically using a font heavily imbued with racial meaning. I recognize that this may very well be the work of a good heart that might not understand the potential problems in a video meme that exploits racial stereotypes without critically exploring them.
I also see minority students who are tired from the anger that is rooted in the hurt of constant misrepresentation. I have felt and witnessed the points when some of us drop out or lash out with angry defiance.
This is how things are at this university.
A few weeks ago I sat in on a general education requirement meeting, and saw how white students were the target audience for the crafting of these requirements. I heard one of the board members question whether or not we need a “diversity requirement” since so few surveyed students and faculty members even cared.
I wanted to tell them that it doesn’t matter whether the hegemony cares. What matters are minority students who are hurting—who we are hurting—because these students are shown over and over that unless they join sororities or fraternities or p.o.c. business clubs, no one cares.
I wanted to tell them, but instead I gnawed on my tongue like I was trying to eat myself alive. I tried to remain invisible.