Monday, August 07, 2006

Is this racism?

Very interesting article in the Denver Post today about a couple of statements made by Colorado Republican Governor Bill Owens and former Democratic Governor Dick Lamm. The title of it is "Owens' stereotyping not positively received."

Republican Gov. Bill Owens on Thursday defended former Democratic Gov. Dick Lamm's remarks that Asians and Jews have more ambition than Hispanics and blacks, saying he wished his three children had more of a Jewish and Asian work ethic.

"There are many days ... when I wish they'd have more aspects of Jewish and Asian culture. I wish they'd get up earlier in the morning, I wish they would work harder and in many respects that's what we do see out of many of the Asian and the Jewish culture," Owens said on a talk-radio show.

Colorado Republican Party chairman Bob Martinez called the remarks by Lamm and Owens racist. He said he was "flabbergasted" by Owens' comments.

Owens also said that we need to have a discussion on what it is in certain cultural backgrounds that leads to success.

"My kids are all Anglo, they're Irish, English and they're wonderful kids and I wish they'd work a little harder sometimes. Sometimes, I wish that I had some more of those traits," Owens said of Asians and Jews. "So I don't think Dick Lamm was being in any way racist and I think some of the response to him has been knee-jerk. I think that we need to have a debate on what it is about certain backgrounds that leads to more success."
Lamm began the controversy with this statement:

"I believe Asian and Jewish culture sends signals that do lead to success, and Hispanic culture doesn't put the same emphasis on a whole list of things like frugality, risk, entrepreneurship, innovation."

Is this racism? Or is it a legitimate discussion about what it takes to be successful in school?

8 Comments:

Blogger Deb S. said...

In my humble opinion, Owens and Lamm lack cultural literacy and competency. Intentionally or unintentionally, they are promoting stereotyping. They imply that some cultures don't share the same work ethic or values others.

It is unfortunate that these men, who are public figures, aren't better educated.

8/08/2006 7:55 AM  
Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

But if you look at Asian culture, there is a greater emphasis put on education than in the U.S.
I'm not sure how to take his remarks, as my initial reaction is to say they are racist, but on thinking about it, we can look at the differences in culture as a way to potentially improve our children's education.

This does deserve some thought. Good post, Dennis.

8/08/2006 3:00 PM  
Blogger anonymous educator said...

I teach several half-Asian, half-Jewish students. They are not particularly hard working. It's a small sample, though.

8/08/2006 4:09 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Deb, AT, and AE, thank you for responding. This post obviously invited comments, and when no one did for over a day, I was starting to feel like someone who invited all his neighbors to a party, but nobody came. Thanks to you, I don't have to feel so stupid anymore!

I think Lamm would have been fine if he'd have stuck with his praise for the cultures of Asians and Jews. I think all of us could learn something from the work ethic that is taught in many Asian and Jewish families. I think Lamm gets himself into trouble, though, with his statement about Hispanic culture.

We have a significant number of Laotian kids in our school, and a higher than average number of them, especially the girls, have fantastic study habits. Those families are doing something right, and I do think it's something in their culture. We also have some Laotians who are lousy students, however. Maybe they've just been Americanized.

I do hate to hear that in some minority communities, kids who try to do well in school are accused of trying to be "white" by their peers. That is a real problem. but I have also seen the same thing among certain groups of Caucasian kids. In our school we seem to go through cycles. We'll get some fantastic classes of kids where it's okay to study and to try to do well in school, and there's a lot of friendly competition. Then we'll have other classes where the kids who try are accused of being "preppies." No term I've heard as a teacher has ever irritated me more than that one.

8/08/2006 7:03 PM  
Blogger Deb S. said...

I cannot think of one culture that does not have a strong work ethic. I think many cultures are simply misunderstood. We Americans are notorious for wanting to generalize populations and label people without getting to know them.

It wasn't that long ago when Asians were stereotyped as cooks, laundry people and laborers. If you don't believe me, just watch some old Western movies or check out some old TV series such as "Bonanza."

Owens and Lamm demonstrate that you don't have to be bright to get elected.

8/08/2006 8:19 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

There's plenty of entrepreneurship by hispanics in New York City. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Sometimes working in the family business is seen as a higher priority than finishing school.

8/09/2006 9:38 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Good point, Elizabeth. And it's not just Hispanics, and it's not just kids working in their family businesses. The most recent statistic I saw says that 61% of our nation's high school seniors work at after school jobs. (28% do in other countries.) There are some kids who can handle that and still keep their grades up, but a lot of kids can't.

8/09/2006 10:05 AM  
Blogger TangoMan said...

I'm not sure how to take his remarks, as my initial reaction is to say they are racist, but on thinking about it, we can look at the differences in culture as a way to potentially improve our children's education.

Look, well meaning folks need to get over the association of any reference to race being deemed racist, or borderline racist. Like you point out cultural practices do matter somewhat, and there are attitudes, beliefs and practices that vary according to race and these differences result in benefits and hindrences depending on the metrics they're evaluated against.

But if you look at Asian culture, there is a greater emphasis put on education than in the U.S.

This is generally held to be true, but there is little effect associated with this greater emphasis. As Stanley Sue and Sumie Okazaki found in their paper Asian-American educational achievements: A phenomenon in search of an explanation the parenting styles and values found in East Asian-American homes tend to correlate with lower test scores when they are found in white homes. On a related note, Sacerdote, in his study of Korean adoptess randomly assigned to families, found that there was little relation between the academic performance of the Korean adoptee and the natural-born children of the families. The socio-economic status of the family didn't have that large an influence on the performance of the adoptee. Further, the children performed closer to the national Korean American mean than they did to the family mean.

These are strong hints that we're dealing with genetic issues. An even stronger clue, that goes beyond mere suggestion is this finding:

The g factor has a normal distribution in the general population, suggesting g is probably a product of several genes that interact with the environment. Moreover, although g correlates with the parental value, it has a tendency to be closer to the population mean, suggesting a regression to the mean. These observations suggest that some genetic variants that influence g will vary between populations rather than within populations. For instance, certain Asian populations have a frequency of 0.60 in COMT Met158 allele, which predicts lower COMT-enzyme activity and thereby better cognitive performance, while Caucasians have a frequency of 0.42 for the same allele.

Same issues at work with Jewish populations. The overwhelming influence of the Jewish mother is overplayed, while the genetic issues associated with the common Jewish ailments, and their relation to intelligence, are ignored:

The sphingolipid-storage diseases, Tay-Sachs, Gaucher's and Niemann-Pick, all involve extra growth and branching of the protuberances that connect nerve cells together. Too much of this (as caused in those with double copies) is clearly pathological. But it may be that those with single copies experience a more limited, but still enhanced, protuberance growth. That would yield better linkage between brain cells, and might thus lead to increased intelligence. Indeed, in the case of Gaucher's disease, the only one of the three in which people routinely live to adulthood, there is evidence that those with full symptoms are more intelligent than the average. An Israeli clinic devoted to treating people with Gaucher's has vastly more engineers, scientists, accountants and lawyers on its books than would be expected by chance.

See here for a very detailed discussion of this work. Thankfully, the days of Leftist Creationism are coming to a close, for we know that humans groups have not been immune to evolutionary processes, that evolution is an ongoing process, and that we've detected genes that have been under strong selection pressure even during the last few thousand years.

Intentionally or unintentionally, they are promoting stereotyping. They imply that some cultures don't share the same work ethic or values others.

The problem for your argument is that stereotypes are not often that divergent from underlying reality. The problem with stereotypes is when people attempt to apply the stereotype to an individual who doesn't fit the profile.

Further, their implication is correct, as any observer of anthropological data can attest. To paint quite a stark portrait for you, the Pakistani community in the UK languishes at the bottom of the social welfare index while the Indian Hindu minority in the UK does far, far better. The Hindus, unlike the Muslim Pakistanis, don't engage, within the UK, in the practice of cousin marriage.

new research showed Pakistani families produced an alarming 30% of the UK’s genetically diseased children.

The research, conducted by the BBC and broadcast to a shocked nation on Tuesday, found that at least 55% of the community was married to a first cousin.

This is thought to be linked to the probability that a British Pakistani family is at least 13 times more likely than the general population to have children with recessive genetic disorders.

The research found that while British Pakistanis accounted for just 3.4% of all births, they had 30% of all British children with recessive disorders and a higher rate of infant mortality.


If you'd like a more scientific report on this phenomona, see this report.

8/27/2006 2:08 PM  

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