Race and Supremacy

The Far East Rises in the West

February 29, 2012

Multiple Pages
The Far East Rises in the West

The white/black test-score gap has been in the news since the 1960s, yet much like Mark Twain supposedly said about the weather, despite all the talk, nobody seems able to do much about it. 

America in the later 21st century will likely be dominated numerically by blacks and Latinos. In 2008, the Census Bureau projected that America’s Hispanic population would increase by 66 million from 2000 to 2050. So far, though, there’s scant evidence that they will have much impact on elites other than as affirmative-action tokens. 

The big news in this century has been the growing Asian-white test-score gap at the high end.

Consider a feature article in The New York Times over the weekend, “To Be Black at Stuyvesant High.” It was seemingly commissioned to argue for admissions quotas at the famously competitive Manhattan public high school by pointing out that only 3.6 percent of Stuyvesant’s students are now black or Hispanic, down from 15 percent in 1970. My guess is that the story’s emphasis on a lonely black student was mostly an elaborate framing device for its more interesting but unspoken message: Holy God, look at ALL THE ASIANS!

“Although Asians comprise only 13 percent of California’s population, three-fifths of the state’s National Merit Scholarship semifinalists have Asian last names.”

Stuyvesant’s Asian fraction has grown over four decades from six percent to 72.5 percent. The whites who comprise a large majority of New York Times subscribers have seen their share plummet from 79 percent to 24 percent.

A similar pattern can be seen among the top “one percent” on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test for high-school juniors. Although the National Merit Scholarship Corporation appears reluctant to discuss its honorees’ ethnic makeup, industrious individuals can examine National Merit semifinalists’ names on its state-by-state press releases. The NMSC doesn’t post these lists online, but some obsessive souls at College Confidential have tracked down a couple dozen here.

For example, California is allotted 1950 semifinalists this year. A reader of mine whose screen name is “Rec1man” counted 974 Northeast Asian surnames and 184 South Asian surnames. Although Asians comprise only 13 percent of California’s population, three-fifths of the state’s National Merit Scholarship semifinalists have Asian last names. (This doesn’t count those with Western surnames who no doubt have East Asian Tiger Mothers.) A breakdown of the previous year’s winners proves this isn’t a onetime fluke.

(Surname analysis is not foolproof on the individual level, of course. Much to the surprise of some of his South Boston constituents, Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) was discovered in 2003 to have no Irish in him. And what about “first-name analysis?” I looked for scholars with monikers such as D’Quisha or D’Sqhan, but nobody with an apostrophe qualified.)

In California, 40 semifinalists are named “Lee,” which could be Chinese, Korean, white, or black. Rec1man assumes they are all East Asian, which can’t be far off: “Smith” and “Jones” are more common among white and black Americans than “Lee,” but they account for only one California semifinalist.

Another conundrum lies in distinguishing Spanish-surnamed Filipinos from Latinos. Overall, though, that’s insignificant because there are only a few dozen Spanish-surnamed California semifinalists. In general, the state’s Filipinos score about as well as whites on various tests, although they lack the math turbocharging seen among other East Asians.

The Northeast Asians and Indians dominate the semifinalist ranks so thoroughly that other groups are pushed into statistical insignificance. For example, California has a sizable and prosperous Armenian community, but only four kids whose names end with “-ian” or “-yan” qualified. In contrast, there are 40 Korean “Kims.”

Interestingly, in California, whites average slightly higher than Asians on the high-stakes SAT. Perhaps whites see little incentive to study for the low-stakes PSAT unless they hope to score in the top few percentiles, while the Tiger Moms see the PSAT as an important checkpoint in a multi-year ordeal of SAT prep.

One reason for Asian dominance in public-school testing could be that upscale whites often pony up for private schools, while Asians tend to congregate at a handful of taxpayer-supported schools in Silicon Valley, Orange County, and the San Gabriel Valley.

Together, the National Merit lists and the mandatory STAR/CST tests of all public-school students cast useful light on the emerging competition between Chinese and Indians. 

Rec1man observes that in top California suburbs such as Santa Clara County, Indians score about as well as the Chinese. Statewide, the Chinese are ahead, although both groups are well in front of whites.

Much like back home in Asia, Chinese performance appears to be more consistent, while Indians are divided by caste. Although only a tiny fraction of India’s population is South Indian Brahmin, Rec1man estimates from surnames that over half of California’s Indian semifinalists are from this caste.

Two major questions remain: Do these outsized Asian elite scores represent higher intelligence, better work ethic, more conniving test preparation, or some combination of all three? And if innate intelligence proves to be a factor, how long will policymakers be able to continue denying it?


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