Black People are Lazy, and Gays are Bad Parents? (updated w/audio)

UPDATE: This afternoon Dr. Amy Wax gave a talk using demographic data from (elite!) universities to show that massive inequality in our society has been caused by “cultural disparities (that) have emerged by class and race in attitudes and behaviors surrounding family, sexuality, and reproduction”  not “economic conditions or social expectations.” If you couldn’t make it we recorded some parts of the Q&A so you can get a taste of what happened:

The orchard in Hillcrest was overflowing for Amy Wax's talk
The orchard in Hillcrest was overflowing for Amy Wax’s talk

[soundcloud url=”″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

(We apologize for the quality of the audio)

Here are some place to tune in:

3:35: Amy Wax condescendingly addresses people who call her and her work “racist”

6:40: Amy Wax talks about how we tolerate too many things (like having a child out of wedlock)

8:55: Amy Wax calls out people using “anecdotes” as evidence

10:25: Amy Wax tells us that we should care about the underclass with “broken wings”

11:00: Professor Jonathan Miller Lane asks Amy Wax a question.

15:09: Amy Wax says that all you need to do is these 4 “really simple” things you will never be poor:

1. graduate from high school
2. get married before you have a child
3. take any job and stick with it, and keep working if you can
4. don’t break the law

ORIGINAL: Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking. You came to check middbeat for a


Best Places to Poop On Campus Part II” or a new installment of middbeat BEATS, and all you’re getting is another lecture listing. Stick with me, for a second, though, because as [murray]dry as the “Jessica Swift Lecture in Constitutional Law” may sound, things are bound to get heated this afternoon…

For those of you who haven’t heard of Amy Wax (I hadn’t, until a friend brought her to my attention), here’s the lowdown— Dr. Wax was educated at Columbia, Harvard, and Yale (ok, we get it, you’re smart) and is now a law professor at UPenn. She’s done all the professorial stuff- written books, articles, participated in online debates- and has also argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court. Her most recent book, “Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century,” is what she’ll be speaking on in this afternoon’s lecture, entitled ”Diverging Family Structure by Race and Class: Economic, Moral Deregulation, or Something Else?”

Wax’s bio says that she brings a “uniquely insightful approach” to issues like social welfare, same-sex marriage, and government policy. “Uniquely insightful” piqued my interest, so I read some of her articles online, as well as (positive) reviews of her work.  Her arguments are neither unique nor insightful, in my opinion; rather, she reiterates some of the oldest and most offensive arguments about gender, race, and class, ones that I’d naively thought had been rejected by the academic world a long time ago. She’s a white academic who claims that her quantitative data trumps the real, lived experiences of marginalized individuals.

Blah, blah, blah, something’s “problematic” again—I know, being offended on everyone else’s behalf seems to be the most popular form of social capital for privileged liberals these days.  But I think even the least-often offended of us all can find Amy Wax’s arguments to be pretty messed up.

Here’s Amy on important issues like, I don’t know, the rights of marginalized people:

On Black people:
African-Americans are poor, incarcerated, and unsuccessful because they’ve internalized a “victim mentality” and are too lazy to help themselves.

Wax rejects Critical Race Theory and contemporary concepts of structural racism in exchange for long-refuted arguments about IQ and Cultures of Poverty, stating that, “The most important factors now impeding black progress are behavioral: low educational attainment, poor socialization and work habits, drug use, criminality, paternal abandonment, and non-marital childbearing.” These so-called Black behaviors, Wax says, have remained problems because “the racism drum is being beat, beat, beat constantly”— Blacks have blamed racism for their struggles [well, duh?] and in doing so have not taken responsibility for fixing their own marginalization.

Not only do I find her ideological framework to be racist, plainly and simply, but I also find that she also makes some pretty offensive offhand remarks in explicating it– in a video, for example, she says that a Black man who writes an NYTimes op-ed about racism should “get a life,” and in another says that President Obama has a hidden “black agenda.” Hmm.

On same-sex marriage:
Gay marriage is a no-no because gays can’t parent children in the traditional loving and supportive way that real mommies and daddies can.

Wax says that gays are not entitled to the right to marry because gay parent families “are destined to lack certain valuable attributes”- that is, they’re not the ideal white, middle class, mom-dad-child paradise of 1950’s black-and-white TV. They’re not Daddy’s home, dinner’s on the table, sweetie, wash up before dinner, sport! “This is not prejudice,” though, she says, [sorry, but how?]; it’s just “a recognition of loss and deprivation: a child will grow up without the love and guidance of its natural parents, and may never even know their identity. The state is entitled to acknowledge this reality, and to structure its laws accordingly.”

That is, children of gay parents grow up deprived of the better things that only real biological mommies and daddies can give. She’s not only homophobic, though, you guys! She tells other people their marriages shouldn’t exist either. By extension of her “ideal family” argument, Wax delegitimizes marriages between couples who cannot conceive, who choose to adopt, and who choose to use in-vitro fertilization, not to mention single-parent households, etc. etc. Yikes.

Despite the fact that I vehemently disagree with Dr. Wax, I’m going to attend her lecture this afternoon. As we’ve discussed with respect to recent controversies on campus, like Chance-gate, it’s important for Middlebury to engage with the real and sometimes deeply problematic ideologies that shape the world beyond our bubble (and within it, as much as we’d like to deny that fact). Part of engaging with these issues, though, means questioning “authority,” and challenging the assumption that one’s status as an invited lecturer or one’s position at the front of the classroom can make one “right.”

I think this has the potential to be one the more polarizing lectures of the semester, and that, with our participation, the Q&A session can be an occasion for us all to better articulate and define our own stances on these important issues.

Also, there will be refreshments.

WHAT: Lecture by Amy Wax
Today, Thursday 11/21 at 4:30PM
WHERE: Hillcrest 103

20 thoughts on “Black People are Lazy, and Gays are Bad Parents? (updated w/audio)

  1. Did anyone record Professor Peggy Nelson’s questions and the dialogue between the two that ensued? Would be great to make that available to those who weren’t able to attend.

    1. For those who weren’t there, Peggy Nelson (Professor in the SOAN Department) responded at the very end of the Q&A session with three main points–

      1. Structural Inequality. This was brought up over and over again by audience members throughout the Q&A session, though I would argue that Professor Nelson articulated it most clearly. Most of us the audience appeared to be on board with the argument that racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice operate overtly and covertly at a societal level in ways that reproduce privilege for some and compound existing oppressions for others. The point was moot, however; it’s hard to have a productive discussion about structural inequality with a lecturer whose entire body of work rests on the assumption that systemic discrimination no longer exists. Wax responded to this point by quite condescendingly saying that Nelson’s “data” (the vaguest, dirtiest 4-letter weapon in Wax’s presentation) was “unsophisticated.”(whereas Wax’s, from “The Bell Curve”, one of the most roundly rejected pieces of pseudo-scientific “research” EVER, was far more reputable…)

      2. Segregation. Nelson pointed to the fact that society today is far more racially segregated than it was even 40 or 50 years ago, She explained that crucial resources are distributed along race lines, therefore evidencing her first point that racial inequality persists at a structural level.

      3. Welfare. Wax proposed that a Black achievement gap exists in part because Blacks are depending upon a “White Uncle Sam” for assistance, instead of being the masters of their own destinies (“masters”…a word that, interestingly, conjures up images of slavery…). Nelson pointed out that it is in fact a war on welfare, not a Black “welfare momma” attitude, that keep many single mothers trapped in poverty, unable to simultaneously work full-time to maintain welfare status and care for their children. Nelson essentially reversed Wax’s argument, claiming that insufficient government support has exacerbated the struggles of single parents.

  2. I attended this lecture and was astounded by how offensive…the audience was. The views expressed in the above article are offensive, but Wax lectured today only that there are disparities concerning outcomes between blacks and no-blacks. She was very empirical and knowledgeable (and yes condescending), but judging from the rude audience’s behavior she may as well have been in the KKK. I found her lecture to be interesting and thought-provoking. Also, she discussed in-depth how anecdotal evidence is misleading, yet every response was “but I am this” or “I know people that did this.” Audience was very close-minded.

    1. I completely agree. There is never any real open discussion on this campus. Or any rational acceptance of facts that don’t conform to the prevailing liberal consensus.

    2. While the crowd was extremely rude at times, by focusing on the crowd’s reaction, you’re circumventing Wax’s presentation.

    3. First: Ben Kinney didn’t write this, I did. The “Open-minded” reply on this isn’t mine though.
      Second: I don’t think I circumvented her presentation. As I stated, some of her overall views are offensive. Still, her argument that day was, literally, there are differences in outcomes between races that highly correlate with the existence of a traditional family structure. She then gave her interpretation of the data, and explicitly said that it is her interpretation and not the definitive answer.
      Third: The fact that people came with signs inherently means that they were preparing to cause a disruption before they even heard Wax’s argument.

  3. You could have done better to keep the tone of this article higher than that seemingly expressed in the lecture and Q&A by both sides. Partial recording of Q&As and leading people to preselected highlights, not to mention the title of the article itself don’t help this at all. Also the final highlight about the four things you need to do to be successful is true, not the creation of some loony conservative. Anyway for a reasonable article on race and america (which includes the above mentioned four keys to success) read this . Clearly Professor Wax offended a bunch of people and it appears was indeed offensive, but for a community that professes such diversity and openness it appears we did a pretty poor job of listening to an intelligent lady (you don’t get that resume or go to those schools without being intelligent) who presented a side of a bunch of issues that is rarely heard on campus. So while she may be an old bigot, it appears we didn’t act like angels.

    1. I’m really disappointed by this comment. “You don’t get that resume or go to those schools without being intelligent.” Ummmmm, was the fact that issues of privilege and structural inequality were totally absent from her lecture lost on you? The whole meritocratic society thing isn’t real, ya know. And regarding the fact that “we did a poor job of listening to an intelligent lady,” the audience listened to Professor Wax for a solid 45 minutes lecture about the rampant inequality in our society while refusing to acknowledge its root as anything but the moral degradation of poor people, specifically poor black people. While some comments during Q&A were clearly coming from an emotional, frustrated place, after 45 minutes of being lectured at condescendingly I’m going to go out on a limb and say these emotional reactions were warranted. In fact, it’s not even up to you or me to validate those reactions because they were coming from real, lived experience. I would argue that Wax did most of the work in preventing any open discussion by trivializing other viewpoints and discrediting research done at educational institutions other than Harvard and MIT. And not sure what problem you have with the title of this middbeat article. The fact that, in her mind, black people are lazy and gay people are bad parents is literally the backbone of her research. She said as much multiple times during the lecture.

  4. “Does everybody understand the difference between a particular instance and an average pattern?”

    Duh. The point is her interpretation of the statistics reflects her bias. High wedlock rates and murder rates and their association with poverty in America is a structural issue that involves much more than racial inferiority. She calls the audience lazy, but instead of assuming that she doesn’t understand black on black violence and all the factors that go into it, she chalks it up to racial difference.

  5. I was disappointed (but not surprised) that Amy Wax often did not respond to comments with anything but reiterations of “Ok, but I have the data” (data that was valid, she claimed, because “it’s from MIT”). The Q&A session as a whole was unfortunate for this very reason, but I also found it to be quite uplifting. While some of our questions were perhaps not the most strategic nor the most well-articulated, in them we expressed a common sentiment– we seek to value and affirm the rights, the intelligence, the values, and the character of all members of our community. We accept the responsibility to support one another in a world in which not everyone’s equally-as-hard work means the same thing.

    Middlebury (that’s us) has a lot of work to do to make all students feel like they belong here. We breathed in the polluted air of systemic inequality for years and years before arriving at this “bubble,” and as a result, the air here is no less polluted. Recent conversations about oppression have been overshadowed by names; it’s not about Chance the Rapper, it’s not about Amy Wax. All of this is far bigger than that. It’s about us- all of us- learning to listen to one another, to value voices that have been silenced, and to discern how to most effectively stand in solidarity with those whose oppressions are the flip side to the coin of our privileges. I felt a sense of unity in the audience yesterday, a collective rejection of a dangerous ideology. I hope we can hold onto that feeling as proof it is possible for us to approach that learning process with humility and compassion.

    1. Ahh this person was the one interrupting the speaker the entire time. Your behavior was very rude, and your interruptions added to the lack of civility in the room.

      1. disrespectful,

        Thanks for your response. I do have a tendency to have strong, vocal responses to issues that I care about. If I interrupted what you found to be a productive conversation, I apologize.

        In the discussions that have followed last night’s lecture, it seems that many people found it more disrespectful for audience members to “speak out of turn” than for Amy Wax to cut audience members off mid-statement, to speak to them so dismissively, and to deny the significance of their lived experiences. It causes me to question what else we protect when we defend “civility,” given that civility as we define it in an academic setting- an uninterrupted lecture, then an unmoderated Q&A session led by the lecturer him/herself- further privileges the individual in the room who already has the most power.

        I can understand how even those who disagreed with Amy Wax as strongly as I do could perceive my rude behavior (and the similarly rude behavior of many others in the audience, by your definition) as unstrategic, at best. I’m not sure how much “strategy” matters, though; I do not believe that, even if audience members had been “well-behaved” or more “respectful,” that we could have had a productive conversation with Professor Wax. Even if we had channeled our emotional responses into more polished, calculated questions (which is especially difficult when emotions run so high), I doubt she would have shot back with anything but her characteristic dismissiveness.

        It was from a place of deep frustration, out of a desire to further a spirit of solidarity, and out of hope to advance the palpable “common sentiment” that I mentioned above, that I spoke out of turn, as did many others. I recognize, however, that discerning how to best address issues of civility, respect, and productive conversation, is a lifelong process. I’m open to criticism and dissenting points of view.

        Thank you for your thoughts.

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