Don’t call it a comeback

This Vox article about spelling bee champions not only tries to make conclusions about the abilities of American kids from the accomplishments of a few prodigies, but amusingly ignores the obvious characteristic in common among the talented kids it discusses (Jairam Hathwar, Nihar Janga, Vanya Shivashankar,  Gokul Venkatachalam, and Akash Vukoti.)


The narrative of “white privilege” is going to become increasingly risible, as Asian Americans become a larger portion of the American elite. Many people have mentioned that discussions of tech diversity tend to overlook Asians, but the issue is going to compound itself, because of overall demographic change.

That is, the under-18 population was only 52% white in 2014, and maybe already majority-minority as of 2016:


Non-Hispanic whites are no longer even a plurality of all California residents: 2014 numbers are 38.5% Non-Hispanic Whites vs 38.6% Hispanic. But the California school population is even more striking:

demographics school age california

This carries over into a changing composition of the academic elite. Stuyvesant and the other selective NYC high schools are now, famously, predominantly Asian (Data here):

Stuyvesant Demographics

While Ivy League schools have used racial preferences in admissions to avoid looking like Stuyvesant (which uses only a single very difficult test to decide who gets in), I’m skeptical that these preferences, which may be on their way out, do that much long-term damage to the very bright kids who end up going to second-tier schools as a result. This is not only because, in general, being above the mean for your institution can be more helpful than we assume but because in my own experience talking with former students, the bright kids who went to flagship state schools for funding reasons seem to be doing better academically and in finding a first job than the ones who got into uber-selective private schools. Historically, mid-century Jewish achievement wasn’t held back all that much by quotas that kept them out of Harvard: there were just a bunch of Nobel prize winners who went to CUNY as a result.

I can understand Asian Americans getting angry over these preferences; abrogations of procedural fairness are always worth getting angry about. But their effects on long-term outcomes may be less than we assume. Meanwhile, overall racial and socioeconomic gaps in achievement won’t likely close; for various reasons, I’m sure there will be lots for social reformers to rail against in thirty years. But calling it “white privilege” is going to look increasingly dumb, at least as applied to achievement among students and young adults.

Using “white” as a code for attacking the old fogeys, on the other hand, may not go out of fashion for a good long while.



Don’t call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear
Makin the tears rain down like a MON-soon
Listen to the bass go BOOM
Explosion, overpowerin
Over the competition, I’m towerin
Wreckin shop, when I drop these lyrics that’ll make you call the cops
Don’t you dare stare, you betta move
Don’t ever compare
Me to the rest that’ll all get sliced and diced
Competition’s payin the price

16 thoughts on “Don’t call it a comeback

  1. I am not qualified to comment on this, but I think the Asian American feeling of being left out is due to the fact that a few ivies hold a large number of places in government and finance.

    Cornell and Princeton have close to 17% Asian admits, but unfortunately no one cares for them. In addition, engineering and science in Ivies are considerably weaker than even several state schools.


    1. Yeah, the story I saw was that McKinsey throws out most applications that aren’t from HYPS. Race preferences obviously makes a difference, just not sure it’s always the one we expect.


      1. To be completely honest, financial consulting provided by McKinsey is pretty horrific and ruinous to most companies. It is hard to afford McKinsey even if you are a corporation, because they charge upward of 350 – 500 $/hour/consultant, even if they are fresh out of college. It is pretty ruinous for a company to hire McKinsey because it soon builds up as they charge 80+ hours a week.

        The second issue is that they hire the same type of person: one who goes to HYPS, too business, math or liberal arts, came from a prep school, swimming or tennis at college. Unfortunately, these experiences are pretty useless for most companies because they are not related to the needs of the industry. They have very high turnover, but the kind of person is essentially the same.


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