In 2012, white supremacist John Derbyshire wrote a screed at Taki Magazine, a publication formerly edited by Richard Spencer, entitled “The Talk: Nonblack Version.” It was a play off of “the talk” that black parents give to their children in an effort to protect them from police brutality. Derbyshire’s 15 bullet points, written for his own kids, listed numerous reasons why black people are inferior to other races and warned against their “antisocial behavior.”
Derbyshire was swiftly fired from the National Review—a decade too late, given his history of open bigotry. But less noticed at the time was the fact that Derbyshire did not address his “talk” to only white children. At the end of the piece, Derbyshire wrote, “You don’t have to follow my version of the talk point for point; but if you are white or Asian and have kids, you owe it to them to give them some version of the talk.”
This inclusion of Asian people is not unexpected, given the fact that Derbyshire is married to and has children with a Chinese woman. But Derbyshire is part of a greater trend, which Audrea Lim termed “the alt-right’s Asian fetish” in a recent piece in the New York Times. Lim notes that numerous far-right figures like Andrew Anglin, Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovich, and Kyle Chapman have all been romantically involved with women of Asian descent.
But the nebulous acceptance of Asian people goes beyond the so-called “alt-right’s” dating preference; it’s baked into much of the ideology of white nationalism. Take, for example, the far right’s obsession with IQ tests, which builds off of junk intellectuals like Charles Murray, author of the infamous 900-page book, The Bell Curve, and Jason Richwine, a scholar who was fired from the Heritage Foundation after his racist dissertation was dug up (Richwine now writes for the National Review). With this, the far right loves to peddle the thoroughly debunked argument that differences in IQ tests show that black and Latinx people are genetically disposed to be “less intelligent” than white people.
The use of pseudo-science by racists to make their ideas sound more respectable is nothing new. Intellectual racism persists, but the guises change. While Bell Curve-era “race science” was once all the rage, now the online alt-right bangs out Wordpress blogs about “human biodiversity” written by users with monikers like hbdchick.
But one pesky problem for racists is that East Asians actually score higher on IQ tests than white people. (As do Ashkenazi Jews, a fact rendered even more complicated when dealing with neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic segments of the far-right.) “It’s almost like [the alt right] having to make that sacrifice,” Keegan Hankes from the Southern Poverty Law Center told me. “If your whole world view is based on this idea that there are meaningful genetic differences, you have to acknowledge that Asians score higher on IQ tests.”
Jared Taylor, who runs the white nationalist website American Renaissance and is one of the most avid hawkers of racist IQ theories, expounded on the “good culture” of East Asians in an interview with Splinter. Taylor spent the first 16 years of his life in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese. He told me that “if whites are to be replaced by some populations other than themselves, it would be better that they be replaced by Asians.” (“You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us” are white supremacist slogans, heard most prominently in the far-right’s Charlottesville rally, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer by a white supremacist.)
Examples abound of tacit approval of Asians. Domestic terrorist Dylann Roof’s manifesto read: “I have great respent [sic] for the East Asian races. Even if we were to go extinct they could carry something on. They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race. I am not opposed at all to allies with the Northeast Asian races.”
These views aren’t the deranged babblings of a lone gunman—they’re found amongst the online alt-right as well. In a recent thread dedicated to discussing the higher IQ of Asian people on 4chan’s /pol/ (ie. “politically incorrect”) discussion board, one person wrote that “asians (not jungle asians) are richer, smarter, more stable, less degenerate. they are objectively better than white and black men.” Another post asked in response to former Google employee James Damore’s recent lawsuit, “Will the google lawsuit and affirmative action bullshit cause whites and asians to finally unite?”
While the far right’s bigoted sentiments aren’t exactly revelatory (surprise, white nationalists are racist!), they do say a lot about the underlying racism of the rest of America. At first glance, views like Taylor’s seem like the model minority myth on steroids. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the way many white nationalists view Asians—intelligent, naturally good at math, complacent—mirror all the same racist tropes you find in more polite society.
The model minority myth, as conceived by the mainstream, is the idea that Asian American “achievement” is proof that minorities can rise by working hard and keeping their heads down. As Ellen Wu, author of The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority, puts it in an interview with the Washington Post’s Jeff Guo, the idea was originally pushed by Asian Americans themselves as a “survival strategy.” But these ideas, as Guo notes, were “quickly co-opted by white politicians.” By the 1960s, Guo writes that “the image of the hard-working Asian became an extremely convenient way to deny the demands of African Americans.”
This is the stereotype’s main function: to vilify other racial groups like black and Latinx people. But it also serves to obfuscate a wildly diverse group of “Asian Americans,” many of whom still suffer from racism and poverty.
One can find tropes about Asian American success because of their “hard work” in everything from school to sports. And it is a myth that seemingly never dies, no matter how many times people try to stomp it out. As one of the most persistently acceptable racist arguments, it is employed not just by conservative writers like Andrew Sullivan, but by well-meaning liberals like Nicholas Kristof, who, in a piece about the “Asian advantage,” earnestly wrote, “To me, the success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education. Bravo!”
These arguments match up almost exactly with the ones made by far-right bigots. Take, for example, the similarities between these two passages:
“Asian-Americans, like Jews, are indeed a problem for the ‘social-justice’ brigade. I mean, how on earth have both ethnic groups done so well in such a profoundly racist society? How have bigoted white people allowed these minorities to do so well — even to the point of earning more, on average, than whites?”
“It’s not just a question of IQ. East Asians have lower crime rates than whites, they have lower illegitimacy rates, on a per capita basis in the United States, they have higher incomes than whites. I think that in many objective terms you could describe East Asians as superior to whites.”
The first is from a piece by Sullivan, published last year on his column hosted in the liberal-leaning New York Magazine. The second was from my interview with Taylor, who also believes that “when blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization—any kind of civilization—disappears.”
In his article, Sullivan goes on to answer his own questions with another rhetorical one: “It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?” Similarly, Taylor used his views of Asians as a way to prove that he couldn’t possibly be racist, telling me he’s always been “bewildered” by charges of white supremacy, given that “I have acknowledged in many ways that Asians are objectively superior to whites.” (That Sullivan shares these views is perhaps not surprising, given that he published excerpts of The Bell Curve when he was then-editor of The New Republic in 1994.)
Using Asians to deny racism on the behalf of white people is one of the most handy apparati of the model minority myth. As Hankes put it, Asian IQs “provide useful cover” for white nationalists. “They can say, ‘Look I’m a realist, I believe in these genetic differences. When you look at the numbers Asian people are smarter than white people. How can you call me a racist?’” And for conservatives who hold up the purported Asian American success story as an example of how the American dream “still lives,” this only serves to obscure the institutional racism baked into our country’s policies.
But one need only to crack the hood of the far right’s tenuous tolerance for Asian people to see the virulent racism simmering underneath. On the same 4chan /pol/ thread that pointed out higher IQ test scores for Asians, some posters responded by saying “Maybe, but the chink webms prove that they have no souls” and by calling Asians “Disgusting insectoids.” And, as Taylor helpfully clarified after telling me he would rather be replaced by Asians: “I certainly don’t wish to be replaced by anyone.”
The true motivating factor of the far right spreading the model minority myth is to use it as it was originally intended: as a cudgel against other minorities (including darker-skinned Asians, who are often lower-income). “The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites,” Derbyshire wrote in the screed that got him fired. “Intelligent and well-socialized blacks” are “something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets.”
It’s unlikely that we’ll see the end of the model minority myth any time soon, given its explicit function in propping up racist institutions. But we should make sure that the idea becomes less and less acceptable for both white and Asian Americans to spread around. After all, there is perhaps no better proof that your ideas are racist if the alt-right happens to agree with you.