Samuel Liu grew up in a once-white Silicon Valley suburb, where a white-Asian divide became apparent:
To say that whites resented Asians or Asians resented whites would be a gross exaggeration of a largely utopian merger. Youth soccer leagues were run by parents of multiple ethnicities: Indian, white, Chinese, Korean. Often, they were co-workers in their fields. Parental involvement was unified in activities spanning from musicals to the Parent-Teacher Association.
But it was in academics where one could smell the distinct coded scent of a split. There’s a nearby high school called Lynbrook, which by now is probably upwards of 90 percent Asian. I had a friend there who used to joke that they called the white people “the few five.” Everyone knew the one black student by name.
The Wall Street Journal came out with an article in 2005 documenting “The New White Flight,” a twist on the term used to describe the phenomena of white people moving out of poor neighborhoods, taking their tax dollars with them, and often leaving largely black schools derelict and underfunded. At Lynbrook and nearby schools, the Journal writes, whites weren’t quitting schools because the schools were bad. And they weren’t harming them academically when they left; more Asians just moved in.
“Quite the contrary,” the article read. “Many white parents say they’re leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurricular activities like sports and other personal interests. The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.”
Reading that article was a bit like accessing a cipher. It swiped away the coded rhetorical veneer that I had so often heard preached at my school. The administrators at my school, largely white, had spoken for years about limiting competition, decreasing stress, preventing students from skipping math levels. Around me, I noticed that almost all the parents or students complaining about the policies were Asian.
It wasn’t until I read the article that I was able to recognize the code words that the administrators used were, intentionally or unintentionally, aimed at countering an “Asian” school. I don’t mean to suggest any covert or overt racism on the part of my school administrators. They are not racist. But what their words and policies did show was a lack of understanding of Asian academic drive. At my school, we were inoculated against the evils of doing things for college applications, counseled to lessen our workload, reminded that true meaning in life was found not in academic success but in “personal worth.” I heard the phrase “self-esteem” so much that I wanted to throw up every time an inspirational speaker waltzed into our school.
This was all well and good, but at the same time the faculty advocated taking easier classes, avoiding tutors, and participating in fewer extracurricular activities. And not only was there a parent at home to scorn those ideas, our competitive drive immediately found them repulsive, also.