“Tiger couple” defends controversial new book

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Photo by Brianna Loo.

Yale Law School professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld maintain that they are not racists.

On Monday, Chua and Rubenfeld spoke at the Yale Bookstore on the first stop of a tour for their controversial book “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups” — a work that has generated nationwide attention and criticism. The book, which claims certain cultural groups are inherently more successful than others, follows Chua’s hotly debated 2011 parenting memoir “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

In their book, Chua and Rubenfeld declare that three factors — insecurity, superiority complex and impulse control — cause certain cultural groups to achieve professional and material success over others. Delving into race, success and generational gaps in immigrant families, the book has been criticized as racist by some.

But on Monday night, a passionate Chua and jovial Rubenfeld called their book “an honest way of looking at success.”

Chua and Rubenfeld admitted they addressed sensitive issues. The book is not racist, Rubenfeld insisted, claiming that it gives a “cultural explanation” for success rather than a “genetic explanation.” He added that any individual can have the “triple package” and succeed, but that the three characteristics of success are more prevalent in certain cultures.

Rubenfeld and Chua also brought up issues surrounding the word “success” itself. Though Rubenfeld said his personal definition of success is the achievement of personal goals, he added that the book defines success as being in a position of financial stability and high social esteem. The reason these narrow metrics are used to represent success, he said, is that they are easy, objective measurements that many of the cultures described in the book adhere to.

The event drew an audience of roughly 30, and over half of the audience members were Yale Law School students. Attendees — some of whom admitted that they were “star struck” by the couple — described Chua as “lively and funny” with a sense of humor, defying the stereotype of the strict Asian mother presented in “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” One attendee traveled an hour from Hartford, Conn. to attend the talk. A Yale Bookstore employee commented that the book reading was the most popular event in recent memory.

As the night ended, Chua repeated a sentiment that was stated earlier in the talk. What she wants more than anything is for the book to be viewed simply as a “meditation on success,” she said, adding that the book’s message is optimistic, but not meant to be prescriptive.

While other books focus on the overall decline of American life, Chua and Rubenfeld said, they tried to describe what will reinvigorate the country and lead it to future success.

The triple package of insecurity, superiority complex and impulse control is more than just an observation of modern America, they said — it is a meditation on how cultures shape and influence America just as America shapes and influences them.

The idea behind “The Triple Package” first took root when Chua taught a class at the Law School on cultural identity in America.

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