Taking the Teeth Out of the Tiger

TIME Tiger Mom CoverNo doubt many of you followed the recent controversy surrounding Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” which was excerpted from her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

For those who might have missed it, here’s a recap:

Chua writes a book describing the parenting philosophy she adhered to while raising her two daughters. (So right off the bat, you’ve got the emotionally-charged issue of parenting on the table.)

But she also brings culture and ethnicity into the mix by labeling her parenting style “Chinese” while comparing it to a different style of parenting she calls “American.”* By doing this, Chua further complicates things by playing into racial stereotypes.

Then the Wall Street Journal posts an excerpt from the book and gives it an inflammatory title.

Soon everyone from morning news anchors to mommy bloggers enter the fray. People’s anxiety/pride/anger/insecurity about the way they were raised and/or the way they parent rises to the surface. Chinese-Americans and white Americans feel misrepresented and misunderstood.

Then TIME magazine fueled the flames further by not only making “Tiger Moms” their cover story, but also by linking it to an article about international test scores. Their teaser? “In global testing, Shanghai and other parts of Asia left the U.S. in the dust.” So now a mainstream news source has tapped into America’s rising xenophobia by raising the “China’s gonna take over the U.S.!” flag.


It’s taken me a while to put my finger on exactly what I wanted to say about this whole mess.**

But a recent confluence of a conversation with my husband, President Obama’s State of the Union Address, To Kill a Mockingbird, and a blog post at Resist Racism helped me put it all together. (I think. Sometimes it can be really hard to sort out all the voices in my head.)

As cheesy as this may sound, what I want to say is, “Can we please redeem what became a national shouting match and turn it into an occasion for learning and understanding instead? Can we please choose conversation over controversy?”

We have a choice.

We can throw another log onto the fire, or we can find a better way to heat the building.

We can make sure our opinions are heard, or we can make time to listen to others.

We can perpetuate racial stereotypes, or can broaden our horizons by learning about a culture different from our own.

We can choose to judge how others parent, or we can use information about how others parent to widen our perspective as we evaluate our own parenting.

We can blame everything on race. Or parenting. Or [insert here]. Or we can admit that it’s always more complicated than that.

We can choose to become fearful about the increasing influence of different culture, or we can use that culture as a mirror to reflect light onto the blind spots we might have about our own culture.

We can accuse another of having selfish motives for how they raise their kids, or we can admit that every parent has a mixture of selfless and selfish motives.

We can group all people from an unfamiliar culture into one category, or we can try to befriend a small group of people from that culture so we get to know them as individuals.

We can give answers, or we can ask questions.

We have the power to make what we want of situations like this. What’s it gonna be?

*I haven’t read Chua’s book. But my best understanding is that Chua carries ambivalence about the way she chose to parent.

7 thoughts on “Taking the Teeth Out of the Tiger

  1. Nicely said! It seems that no one culture has a corner on the good parenting market. We'd be wise to listen and learn where we can instead of letting insecurity about our own parenting keep us stuck.


  2. I was thinking that in previous generations we had larger and extended families to model parenting to us and now we need books because we don't have the models we used to have.
    I also do not understand why people get upset or consider Chua's advice/style so credible. She has only half way raised 2 girls, so the long term effects are not known.
    Also she is speaking for a culture that may know how to demand achievement but not how to have a loving family, since they abandon their baby girls.


  3. Don't believe everything you read…

    In an interesting explanation Chua offered to SF Gate columnist Jeff Yang, she says she was surprised to see the version of the story that ran in the WSJ.

    “The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they'd put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn't even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end — that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model.”



  4. I didn't even know about the controversy, but I have discovered this is how magazines sell more magazines-by creating controversy. Even Christian ones. It has helped me read with more discernment. But I really liked the 10 questions you gave us. We do have a choice. I would like to apply them to other topics that need a healthy dialog. So may I quote you?


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