Silicon Valley White-Asian Divide

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

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.


  1. Bill says:

    “My high school, academically top-of-the-line, illustrates one of the many absurdities of a country populated by different cultures and yet seemingly still possessed by that primordial urge to seek those whose skin color is the same—which goes to show once again that what is natural is not always good. In the end, we self-segregated because it made us feel more comfortable. And we lost out on all sorts of chaotic cultural interactions that might have happened in between.” (from the referenced article)

    It made the Asian kids more comfortable.

    My son enjoyed math and science while attending our (university town) high school – and so he naturally spent a lot of time with the Asian kids. I think he was one of two white participants in Science Olympiad (about 25 kids total).

    One Friday night he came to me with a somewhat miffed expression. Apparently, there was going to be an informal party that night with all of the Science Olympiad kids, but he wasn’t invited. When he asked his best friend in this group for the reason, my son was told that he wasn’t invited because he is white. He then raised this point with some more of his “friends” in this group, and they all commiserated – but they didn’t change their behavior.

    Should I have been telling him to have more white friends?

  2. Wow Just Wow says:

    The last sentence made me chuckle:

    “And we lost out on all sorts of chaotic cultural interactions that might have happened in between.”

    You can use the word “chaotic” to jokingly describe cultural interactions in a white/Asian/Indian school because the chaos won’t really rise above the level of mild discomfort. But if he were talking about cross-racial interactions in a Bad School™, you’d know “chaotic” actually meant “chaotic”, and the Slate editor would swap in “vibrant” instead.

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