In her best-known work, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Amy Chua had focused on the politically touchy notion of ethnic differentials, and the costs and benefits that they may confer. Here, she expands on the theme to suggest that the founding philosophy of America overlooks the obvious out of political expediency. The ideal of one nation under God equalises the differentials left by the legacy of slavery and massive immigration. Citizens were guaranteed to find happiness as hyphenated individuals, like Italian-Americans, provided the ethnonym to the right of the hyphen carried more weight. But some Americans have an ethnonym to the left of the hyphen, and some have none. It makes a difference.
The national myth suggests that the Chinese-American and the Indian-American are fundamentally different, but they achieve the same paradise on earth because they are American first. Exactly like the Americans who are just American. But, perhaps, the accent on the hyphen denies the power of ethnicity, which is the basis of the identity politics which is sweeping the world, and it renders American policy, at home and abroad, unable to engage with reality.
The “ethnically blind” outlook — as Chua terms it — is obviously utopian, and denying the reality of community and privilege has obvious consequences for domestic politics. An African-American is not the same as an Indian-American is not the same as a redneck, and when the rednecks learn about it, they just might find themselves dying to elect someone like Donald Trump, in order to establish a distance with the other communities.
The logic may explain contemporary American politics, but has little prescriptive value, especially when it is applied overseas. For instance, it may be interesting for Americans to be reminded that Pakistan owes its name in part to Choudhry Rahmat Ali’s appeal, in 1933, on behalf of the “33 million of PAKSTAN” — an acronym of the Raj provinces of Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan. But how does it help Americans formulate policy, especially since Punjabis constitute almost 45 per cent of the nation? And what use is the perspective to the other country which is historically engaged with Pakistan — India, which is accustomed to much greater cultural diversity? This lack of diagnostic or prescriptive value reduces what could have been an interesting book to a cursory read.