Indian Americans condemn Amy Wax, says her claims could provoke violence

Ritu Jha-

Indian Americans represent the American dream in its fullest form and love the country and its ideals, Neil Makhija, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School and executive director of Indian American Impact, an organization dedicated to building the presence of Indian and South Asian people in the United States, told indica.

Makhija condemned Penn Law professor Amy Wax’s inflammatory remarks against Indians and minorities during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News.

The show featured Wax’s views on a variety of subjects, particularly on Asian students at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. She criticized South Asian and Indian doctors at Penn Medicine, who, she said, “are on the ramparts for the antiracism initiative for dumping on America”.

She particularly took on brahmin women. “Here’s the problem,” she said. “They are taught that they are better than everybody else because they are brahmin elites and yet, on some level, their country is a s-hole. … They have realized that we’ve outgunned and outclassed them in every way. … They feel anger. They feel envy. They feel shame. … It creates ingratitude of the most monstrous kind.”

Makhija said, “It is important for us to realize that some people might actually take this hateful language seriously. This kind of language also leads to violence as we have seen against Asian Americans, against any community of color.”

This, of course, was not the first time Wax was making incendiary and racist remarks. Last December she made similarly outrageous remarks about Indian Americans when she was interviewed by Brown University Professor Glenn Loury for his YouTube show. She suggested the U.S. would be “better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration” and questioned the compatibility of Asians with the American democratic ethos.

Makhija openly questioned Wax’s ability to remain impartial and grade her students fairly in light of her expression of her positions on Asian and Black students, and criticized her comments on the Tucker Carlson Show for “attempting to add a veneer of intellectualism to blatant racism”.

Makhija said it would be impossible for a person with such views to teach students and evaluate them. “I do not know how she can do her job if she makes such remarks about people of different races who are students in the law school,” he said. “I don’t think she is able to really teach the class if the students don’t believe they are going to be treated fairly by her. And it is reasonable for them to believe they won’t be treated fairly, given everything she has said.”

The Impact director said he had been receiving texts and messages, some asking for action, others asking why Wax was saying such outrageous things. He said it is important to think about the bigger picture and the people who might believe the kind of things she is saying. “I think there is a whole set of people out there who think Indian Americans hate America. What an outrageous statement!

“So, we have to condemn it forcefully and not just condemn it ourselves, but we have to look for allies and members to make clear that it is unacceptable, and we have to come up with smart ways of tackling hateful misinformation being spread through widely accessed mediums online.”

At Impact, he said, the team has created a fact-checking website

Asked what impact Wax’s statements have made at UPenn, Makhija, who teaches election law, said, “There are students who do not want to be in law school anymore. Kids are reaching out with this issue and are concerned after her statement.”

Wax’s statements are embarrassing and distracting everyone, he said. Makhija on his part has been trying to teach students how to think about the process and be effective advocates and work with the university administration. He has also been trying to give them the information they need to move forward on the process.

UPenn has been reprimanding Wax for her inflammatory rhetoric since 2018, but she has never been asked to leave the campus. The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), a coalition of faculty members from across the country and across the ideological spectrum committed to upholding the principles of academic freedom and professorial free speech, has also expressed its firm view that Wax should suffer no formal consequences as a result of her public statements.

Regardless of what one may think of her personal political views, the only appropriate action the university should take is to publicly reaffirm the free speech rights of the members of its faculty, the AFA has said in the past.

Penn Law Dean Theodore Ruger made a statement Jan 18, 2022: ‘Taking her public behavior, prior complaints, and more recent complaints together, I have decided it is my responsibility as dean to initiate the university procedure governing sanctions against a faculty member.’ No action has been taken as yet, however. The proceedings will take time and involve the faculty senate.

UPenn did not respond to an email sent to get Ruger’s comment.

Reacting to Wax’s statement, the South Asians for America (SAFA) national director Neha Dewan told indica, “The comments by Professor Amy Wax are flagrantly racist, insulting to South Asians, and grossly unacceptable under any circumstance. It is abhorrently clear that she does not respect South Asians or immigrants, many of whom could be her own students in the classroom. She has a track record of making racist remarks and the fact that she continues to stay in her position as a professor under the guise of ‘academic freedom’ is intolerable.”

Dewan said SAFA has been encouraging the South Asian community to pressure the Penn Law School leadership to expedite Wax’s removal because every moment that she stays at the university provides an additional opportunity for her to continue propagating views that are “the antithesis of the values that we and our country stand for”.

Makhija said the upcoming Indian American Impact summit agenda would be expanded to include discussion on the incident and offer solutions for anti-Asian and anti-South Asian hate in educational settings.

Earlier in 2018, Wax said Black students are rarely in the top 25 percent of a class, and barely found in the top 50 percent. The statement was rebutted by dean Ruger and Wax lost the opportunity to teach mandatory first-year classes, being shuffled instead to optional classes.

On the criticism she has received, Wax said that while “one does have the right to hurl crude words like yuck, ick, xenophobe, hater, and of course, the ubiquitous, accusatory ‘racist’ … that doesn’t make it the right thing to do or the right way to go about academic discourse.”

Makhija said “it’s just kind of sad when you have someone so dumb on the faculty of one of the best law schools in the country” and stated that she was being ‘irresponsible’ in using her position to “lend credibility to overtly racist sentiments that don’t recognize Indian Americans for who we are.”

He also pointed out the hypocrisy in her comments on medical students at UPenn, saying “most were born in the U.S. and Americans all their lives, and are probably going to be the ones to treat her if she’s in the hospital.”

Dean Ruger acknowledged that Wax’s comments shone a light on the underlying tension around harmful speech at American universities, and that “the same academic freedom principles that permit current scholars to engage in critical and overdue analysis of this nation’s historical and structural discrimination – despite zealous efforts to censor such speech by some – also apply to faculty like Wax who voice xenophobic and white supremacist views”.

Despite this, he stated that her comments were diametrically opposed to the ethos of the institution and a “tangible reminder” that xenophobia, sexism and racism are not abstractions but reality only “sharpens and deepens our commitment to support our community as we continue to work to advance equity and inclusion”.