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
(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 bloggingheads.tv 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
WHEN: Today, Thursday 11/21 at 4:30PM
WHERE: Hillcrest 103