Barry Saunders

Yes, Duke professor has right to express his opinions – even if they’re wrong

Duke University professor Jerry Hough has the right to express his opinions, and Duke is right not to censor him. The university is also right for seeking to distance itself from the comments.

Good luck with that, though.

Hough’s comments last week in the New York Times about an editorial on the Baltimore uprising were, at best, objectionable. At worst, they were noxious and unsympathetic.

According to the nutty professor, “the blacks” in America would be better off if they’d only emulate “the Asians” instead of “feel(ing) sorry for themselves.” And marry whites.

Despite Hough’s worldview, not every Asian is a model of moral rectitude, stalwart work ethic and educational brilliance. Asians are as varied as any other race or ethnic group. Claiming otherwise limits and insults them as much as claiming that all blacks are lazy or good dancers insults us. (If you’ve ever seen me doing the Hustle, the Dougie or the Stanky Leg, you’ll see the fallacy of that stereotype.)

‘Model minority myth’

I asked Hae-Young Kim, professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies at Duke, what she thought of the “model minority” stereotype so long affixed to Asians. She noted that because her area of expertise is bilingual language development, she didn’t feel she was the best person to comment on Hough. She did, though, point me to an insightful 2004 commentary by sociolinguist Mary Bucholtz.

“The model minority myth has been shown to promote racism both because it creates an idealogical expectation that minorities can and should advance so socioeconomically without assistance – a belief that is damaging to Asian and non-Asian immigrants alike– and because it ignores the fact that many Asian Americans do not fit the stereotype.”

Karen Narasaki, of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, told me in a statement, “Professor Hough’s comments perpetuate misleading stereotypes. My parents and family were unjustly detained during World War II due to their Japanese ancestry but this does not compare to over a century of slavery, the Jim Crow era and the continued institutional racism in this country. Moreover, much of the success you see in the Asian American community is due to our country’s immigration policies which favor educated and well-off immigrants. His focus is misplaced and ignores the history of and continuing discrimination that all communities of colors face.”

In other words, professor, a stereotype can be wearisome and burdensome to the stereotypee even if it’s positive. You, sir, are doing Asians no favor.

Neither is he doing blacks any harm, if you believe Bennie Vines. Vines, a reader from Newport, is a 63-year-old black man who told me via telephone, “Blacks, African Americans, whatever you want to call us – we have the strength, the ability, to do anything we want to do.”

Vines said Hough’s comments don’t bother him because, “I’ve lived long enough to know who I am as a person. ... It’s not what people think about me. It’s what I think about myself.”

Right on, homes.

Check the statistics

In his Times comments, Hough said, “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.”

Statistics don’t bear you out, prof. A Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. Census bureau showed that in 2010, 24 percent of all black male newlyweds married someone of a different race, while 17 percent of Asian males did. For Asian females, the figure was 36 percent, while for black females it was 9 percent.

You don’t even need statistics to refute Hough’s contention that blacks don’t marry outside our race. All you need to do is watch any TV show produced by Shonda Rhimes.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

  Comments