Duke University political science professor Jerry F. Hough — alumnus of Harvard University whose specialty is domestic identity formation at the intersection of American and Soviet politics — is in hot water. Over the weekend, Hough posted a racist 6-paragraph tirade on the New York Times website comparing supposedly self-defeating behaviours of the Black community (“they feel sorry for themselves”) to the model minority stereotype of Asian Americans, whom Hough praised for “work[ing] doubly hard” and our “desire for integration”.
The comment was posted in response to a Times editorial on how racism in Baltimore has featured in the New Racial Justice Movement.
Hough took issue with the editorial, arguing that the supposed successes of the Asian American community negate any possible impacts of systemic racism on upward mobility. Instead, Hough argues that the Black community’s problem is a failure to assimilate, or put more simply, an unwillingness to be better-behaved; unlike, I guess, Asians.
Again, we have a profound misunderstanding of Asian American politics being deployed by an unabashed conservative as a wedge against Black political uplift and achievement.
Hough’s comment reads in full:
This editorial is what is wrong. The Democrats are an alliance of Westchester and Harlem, of Montgomery County and intercity Baltimore. Westchester and Montgomery get a Citigroup asset stimulus policy that triples the market. The blacks get a decline in wages after inflation.
But the blacks get symbolic recognition in an utterly incompetent mayor who handled this so badly from beginning to end that her resignation would be demanded if she were white. The blacks get awful editorials like this that tell them to feel sorry for themselves.
In 1965 the Asians were discriminated against as least as badly as blacks. That was reflected in the word “colored.” The racism against what even Eleanor Roosevelt called the yellow races was at least as bad.
So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian-Americans. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.
I am a professor at Duke University. Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. 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.
It was appropriate that a Chinese design won the competition for the Martin Luther King state. King helped them overcome. The blacks followed Malcolm X.
Backlash against this comment — wherein Hough self-identifies as a Duke University professor — was immediate, with the Duke community immediately labeling it racist (and rightfully so). Duke vice president for public affairs and government affairs Michael Schoenfeld told Slate: “The comments were noxious, offensive, and have no place in civil discourse.”
Hough, however, doubled-down on his comments and countered in an email interview to reporters that “in writing me, no one has said I was wrong, just racist.”
Challenge issued, and accepted.
Putting aside Hough’s borderline conspiracy theory about “the Democrats” and “what Blacks get”, Hough launches into his tirade by comparing the anti-Asian racism in 1965 against that of Black Americans.
While Hough is correct in arguing that Asian Americans faced significant racism throughout much of our history in America, it is difficult to equate the racism we faced in the mid-1960’s to that faced by Blacks for one simple reason: prior to the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, our community was a fraction of a percentage of this country. Although overtly racist laws in California and on the federal level placed significant strictures on Asian Americans that limited most legal and civil rights, and even though the federal government even went so far as to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans on the basis of race during World War II, our relative scarcity throughout most of the continental United States precluded the kind of nation-wide acceptance for the deep-seeded legal, political and cultural apartheid that Jim Crow segregation represented.
Hough says that Asians, like Blacks, were treated as “colored”. Yet, this is inaccurate: whereas the role of Blacks under Jim Crow was clear (since this entire system of apartheid was designed around the exclusion of Black citizens), our position as Asian Americans was more dubious. Civil rights legend Grace Lee Boggs recounts how a pivotal moment in her activism occurred in the 1960’s when as a child she was first told she could not occupy a seat in a Whites only train-car, only to later be told by the conductor that she didn’t count as “colored” and could remain where she was. Thus, it is simply a misnomer to compare the racism that Asian Americans faced in 1965 to that of Blacks simply because both are “colored”: the racism that Asian Americans faced in 1965 and continue to face is very clearly — and incomparably — different.
Hough goes on to cite the Model Minority Myth of Asian American work ethic, suggesting racial or cultural traits of “grit” underlie the perceived successes of Asian Americans. He contrasts this against the perceived lacking of such perseverance among Blacks. I’ve written at length on this particular fallacy (“The Culture Canard of the Model Minority Myth: how racial gaps in academics aren’t due to cultural pathology“); sufficed to say, Hough’s position is as intellectually dishonest as it is just plain racist.
Hough then proceeds into the most bizarre — and clearly false — portion of his comment; he suggests that “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration[, while virtually] every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration.”
First of all, this is just plain wrong. Every Asian student does not have a “simple old American first name”: probe any listing of Asian American students and you’ll find a mixture of names, representing first- and second-generation Asian Americans who have Westernized first name and the numerous Asian Americans who do not, for any of a myriad of reasons — Hough seems to simply ignore the existence of these Asian Americans. Even among famous Asian Americans we can see this trend: for every John Cho, there is a Sung Kang. For every Helen Zia, there is a Mari Matsuda. For every Mike Honda, there is a Tulsi Gabbard. Like seriously, Jerry F. Hough: what the fuck are you talking about?
That diversity in naming practices is also evident in the Black community, where “virtually every Black” does not have a “strange new name”. While a trend to reject conventionally White names and embrace names that reflect the Black community’s African roots has become increasingly popular starting from the cultural nationalism of the 1970’s into today, to generalize this trend to the entirety of the Black community or to assert that these naming practices have always existed is an absurd erasure of Black history. For better or for worse, throughout most of Black American history, “traditionally Black names” have actually originated from the Bible.
This gets at the second problem with Hough’s comment: the parallel between naming practices and a desire to integrate. More specifically, Hough asserts that a Westernized name is a deliberate signal of assimilationism. Hough forgets that, whether in the Black or the Asian community, Westernized and Anglicized names have not always come by choice. In the Black community, the tradition of Biblical names has its roots in slavery.
For immigrants, the process of legal entry creates significant pressure to Anglicize names. Immigration forms are in English; immigrants are asked to provide names in a language that is not their own. Asian-language names may not readily conform to how we structure these forms. Many Chinese given names, for example, are two separate words and it is not always entirely clear how to Romanize two words into a single name. Errors during this process can produce significant consequences: inconsistent spellings of Romanized Asian language names might, for example, invalidate a particular form. Some immigrants may choose to adopt an “American” name, for example, not for political reasons, but simply to simplify their immigration paperwork.
Meanwhile, immigrants — some of whom may not speak English well enough to navigate the immigration process on their own — sometimes end up having those who process their forms Anglicize their names for them, perhaps even against their will. My last name, for example, is an unusual Romanization of the same character shared by many other Chinese families. This happened because when my father first immigrated, the employee who — confronted with the name in Chinese — filled out his paperwork with a more Anglicized spelling.
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.
While intermarriage rates between Whites and Asians represents 13.7% of all interracial marriages, those rates are particularly high for foreign-born Asian Americans (particularly women), and falling for second- and third-generation Asian Americans. Interracial marriage between White and Black partners represents 7.9% of all interracial marriages, and is also among the most prevalent of interracial combinations.
And, as Snoopy and I frequently love to point out, the presumption that the Black community is intolerant of outmarriage only dates the accuser and demonstrates that person’s inexperience with the Black community. It’s been a long time since Jungle Fever and Waiting to Exhale, y’all. Olivia Pope is doing just fine.
Hough’s comments are intolerant and prejudicial, and have no place in association with an institution of higher learning. That Hough would presume to be an expert not just on American political science but on identity formation within the American landscape is flagrantly insulting. That Hough would couch his racist tirades on so much clearly incorrect information is simply offensive.
Asian Americans need to keep pushing back against those who would use us as a cudgel against Blacks. We are not — and will not be — your model minority.
Update: An earlier version of this article mistakenly wrote that Hough was suspended for his comments. He is actually on an unrelated academic leave which means that he has yet to face any consequences for what he has said so far.