Is Calling an Asian Woman a ‘Tiger Mom’ Racist?

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I’d like you to weigh in on this for me. An Asian friend of mine recently had an incident at work where she made a comment about some trouble her children were having at summer camp and a White co-worker called her a “Tiger Mom” as a joke. My friend was furious and hurt. Not only does she find the term racist, but it effectively diminished her ability to “parent in public.” The worst part is, she’d already schooled her co-workers on a previous occasion as to why the term “Tiger Mother” was offensive.

I blame this book for bringing the term Tiger Mother to the mainstream
I blame this book for bringing the term Tiger Mother to the mainstream
So, I ask you, dear readers, is the term Tiger Mother racist, offensive, insensitive, rude or all of the above? Would we file this under racist microaggressions? I have to admit, until my friend pointed this out to me, I never really thought of the term Tiger Mother as racist, but I also never thought about calling anybody a Tiger Mother either. I more or less only thought of it as the title of Amy Chua’s 2011 book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

So school me, dear readers. Share your knowledge and opinion about this loaded term. I’m totally listening.


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8 Thoughts to “Is Calling an Asian Woman a ‘Tiger Mom’ Racist?”

  1. Michelle

    As an Asian American woman, I definitely agree that the co-worker’s “Tiger Mom” comment to your friend was insulting, dismissive, sexist, and racist. What makes it problematic, in addition to many of the points made in some of the posts by other commentators, is that it perpetuates the idea of the Model Minority Myth–the false belief that Asians and Asian Americans have attained a level of privilege financially, educationally, and socially in the United States. The Model Minority Myth is what underlies stereotypes such as the perception that all Asians are “smart,” never experience racism, and somehow receive unfair opportunities to open up businesses over other people of color, etc. Also, since the Model Minority Myth is generally considered a “positive” stereotype, people tend to think that it’s not insulting to make these kinds of comments to Asians and Asian Americans because it’s a “compliment.” That fact is that the Model Minority Myth is harmful precisely because it erases the diversity, struggles, and obstacles within the the Asian and Asian American communities. The New Yorker ran a very good article on the Model Minority Myth last fall:

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Thank you, Michelle for your response. And agreed, it was quite “dismissive.” That’s what always hurts is being reduced to some stereotype.

  2. Amy

    For me, as an Asian woman who is often the only Asian or one of the few Asians in the room, this is a no-brainer. Yes, it is racist and unacceptable. By calling your friend a tiger mom, the white co-worker dismissed your friend’s concerns and reduced her to a stereotype. Unfortunately, racism and discrimination against Asians often goes unnoticed or is minimized.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Thanks, Amy. I appreciate you sharing your perspective as well.

  3. Jane Moore

    Yes. First, I think we should support our Asian sister. If she feels insulted, the I’d say it’s racist( and sexist). I’ve read comments about the book from Asians and many remembered hating the “Tiger Mother” aspect of their childhood. Of course a lot didn’t and were even glad that they were urged and encouraged to succeed. I read through the book, probably in the library. In the book the author spends time writing about how her own children rebelled against her, so the book itself didn’t seem to me to be a full on support of the concept. But then I’ve heard parts of a talk by the author when she seemed to be arguing for this kind of mothering. So now I’m not quite sure.
    Yet – I can’t deny that there is a racial stereotype of Asians being smart but focusing on memorizing rather than true deep knowledge and spontaneity. And the memorization requires usually a parent hovering over. As opposed to being “creative and free”. I live in a small town that has a fairly large Asian population and the entire area has a large Asian population. White parents have told me things like their kids have to compete against all those Asian kids who memorize everything. And if your friend means that Tiger Mother feeds into that stereotype of Asian intelligence (as if white people just magically get everything) she is right to be offended. Did you ask her what she told her co-workers about why and how the term is offensive?
    And having been on the receiving end of many microagressions about blackness and black womanness, I think at the end I’ll accept the Asian sister’s interpretation.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Jane, thanks for adding your voice. And yes, let’s all support our sisters fighting the fight in whatever color it may come.

  4. LauraHS

    I read Battle Hymm of the Tiger Mother (and am getting ready to read Tiger Babies Strike Back by Kim Wong Keltner explaining why she is not a Tiger Mother) and the book really made me think about parenting differences and how the needs of children vary, but I guess I hadn’t thought about the term being used as an insult by Whites (or others) towards Asians. But now that I’ve read your story about your friend, it makes sense that the term is offensive and I get why she was angry and hurt. I was just telling my husband that I feel that racism or prejudice towards Asians is not taken as seriously as it needs to be. (This was particularly timely after reading the article about the young man who was called a “Chink” when he walked into AHRC New York City Foundation, a foundation for children an adults with disabilities, by an employee). Thank you for sharing your friend’s story, gives me much to think about and work on.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Thanks, Laura for your response. I hadn’t heard of Tiger Babies. Gotta check it out.

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