Duke University Professor Jerry Hough use of Asian Americans to denigrate the African American community uses Asians as a scapegoat for his plainly racist views. In response to a New York Times article detailing the racist policies impacting Baltimore, Hough commented that African-Americans were themselves to blame and that Asian-Americans had suffered racism but found a way to succeed because, “[T]hey didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.” Hough then went on to remark that Asians are successful because we have simple, old American first names and date/marry a lot of white people. If this is what passes as being accepted into white America, I think I’ll pass.
The stereotype of the hardworking, successful Asian is a convenient way to gloss over increasing inequality within the Asian American/ Pacific Islander community. Poverty is growing rapidly within the AAPI community, especially among the native-born AAPI, but it is masked by the increase in high-earning AAPI. Though the number of AAPIs living in poverty increased more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2011, the overall poverty rate remained relatively unchanged due to the increase in the overall AAPI population, including large numbers of highly skilled, highly educated immigrants. The highly skilled Asians are Hough’s chosen minority and the ones that are struggling are “feeling sorry for themselves.”
Hough’s white supremacist viewpoint comes through most clearly in the reasons he says Asians are successful: adopting very simple old American names and dating/marrying white people. Here, white supremacy is so necessary that even one’s name must be a “simple old American name.” Understanding this dynamic, my parents gave me a western first name, Julia, and I have deliberately chosen to go by my Korean name, Mijin. Very few people can pronounce my name but that’s not my problem. Unless you are Native American, your name has been imported. And, I don’t want to live in a country where everyone is a Jerry.
Finally, Hough’s commentary on Asian-white dating/marriage shows a disturbing view on inter-racial relationships. He writes, “The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.” His assertion is false: of 5.3 million inter-racial couples, 13.7 percent are Asian-white and 7.5 percent are white-Black. More troubling is his idea that only the minority-white interracial coupling is desirable, an idea again based in white supremacy. The only right path is the one that brings us closer to whiteness and if one is not born white, as least one can dream of marrying white.
The fact that Hough is a professor at Duke brings his comments from being easily dismissed as just another racist rant to an issue of serious concern. To be sure, I am not calling for his censure or a restriction on his speech. But, Hough teaches young minds of all races and it is hard to see how his racism does not affect his interactions with students. Moreover, I am tired of seeing Asians used as a scapegoat for racist rants. The oppression Olympics, where people of color are pitted against each other to see who has it worst, deflects attention from the white supremacy still rooted in our institutions and our culture. The attitude of Professor Hough shows how deep white supremacy runs and no manner of using Asians as scapegoats can hide it.