In Defense of Penn Law Professor Amy Wax

by Christopher Paslay

Supporting an immigration policy based on merit that accepts people from countries whose citizens have the ability to assimilate to American culture and values isn’t racist; it’s simply good policy.

(Note: A version of this article was published July 28th on the American Thinker.)

In 2001, Sonia Sotomayor said in a speech at Berkeley Law, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”  

Defending diversity — taking the position that things would be better off with more nonwhites and fewer whites — is at the very core of the toxic identity politics plaguing America today.  The hard left doesn’t want to nominate another white male for president in 2020, or in the words of Politico, “a candidate that looks like Bernie or Joe.” In fact, according to most liberals, police departments would be better off with more nonwhites and fewer whites, as would fire departmentsschool districtssmall businessesHollywood, Major League BaseballU.S. Congress, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, to name a few places.    

Whether this race-based view of progress is ultimately true is debatable.  What’s not is the fact that it’s perfectly okay to call for more diversity in America — to publicly state things would be better off with more nonwhites and less whites.  

Yet when Penn law professor Amy Wax mentioned the same premise only in reverse — that our country would be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites— liberals had a complete meltdown; the media vilified her as an intolerant racist, and after hundreds of Penn students signed a petition calling for Wax to be relieved of all teaching duties, Penn Law School issued a statement condemning her words.   

To be fair to Professor Wax, she doesn’t advocate whites over nonwhites.  But this didn’t stop Vox writer Zack Beauchamp, who was covering the National Conservatism conference where Wax was presenting a lecture on immigration, from creating this misunderstanding.  According to Beauchamp’s recent article:

One panel on immigration — a major topic throughout the conference — stood out in particular. University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax, no stranger to culture-war controversies, used her talk to argue for an immigration policy that would favor immigrants from Western countries over non-Western ones — “in effect,” she said, “taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” She believes this is not racist because her view is “grounded firmly in cultural concerns — doesn’t rely on race at all.”

Beauchamp’s article went viral, prompting those who attended the convention to jump to Wax’s defense.  Yoram Hazony, an Israeli conservative, accused Beauchamp of misrepresenting Wax’s position.  Although Hazony didn’t take a stance on Wax’s position, he stated on Twitter: 

Zack misunderstood this passage from Wax’s paper, and Wax did not say what he claims she said. Wax advocated an immigration policy that favors immigrants with cultural affinities to the U.S. She emphasized that the position she was defending “doesn’t rely on race at all.”

Beauchamp insisted Hazony’s accusation was false, and that he accurately reported Wax’s comments. Beauchamp wrote:

But more important — and revealing — than his allegation of inaccuracy was his take on Wax’s argument. Stressing that he didn’t have a “position on Wax’s position,” he assailed the cries of racism aimed at Wax since she did not propose racial quotas explicitly and rooted her views in culture rather than biology.

The alarming thing about Beauchamp’s rush to vilify Wax is not just the hypocrisy of the matter (the fact that there exists a double standard in regards to “racism” among whites and nonwhites), but also the fact that Beauchamp is selectively interpreting Wax’s lecture on nationalism; a full transcript of Wax’s lecture was published by the Federalist and can be found here.      

Beauchamp is wrong to label Wax a “racist,” and his selective excerpt from her lengthy presentation — purposefully taken out of context at a time when the full transcript wasn’t available to the public — proves that Beauchamp lacks professionalism and basic journalistic integrity.  For those who take the time to read Penn Law professor Amy Wax’s full lecture, they’ll find that Wax analyzes the pros and cons of nationalism, but is especially drawn to a brand she calls “cultural distance nationalism.”  

“According to this view,” Wax stated, “we are better off if our country is dominated numerically, demographically, politically — at least in fact, if not formally — by people from the First World, from the West, than by people from countries that have failed to advance.”  In other words, Wax talks about a kind of immigration that favors people from technologically advanced countries with strong economies over countries that are poor and destitute, not only because immigrants from these countries may have more to offer America in terms of skills, but also because it may be easier for them to assimilate to American culture and values.  

Which leads to the part of Wax’s lecture that Beauchamp strategically singled out for scrutiny: 

Perhaps the most important reason that the cultural case for limited immigration remains underexplored has to do with that bête noire, race. Let us be candid: Europe and the First World, to which the United States belongs, remain mostly white for now. And the Third World, although mixed, contains a lot of nonwhite people. Embracing cultural distance, cultural distance nationalism, means in effect taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.

Well, that is the result, anyway. So even if our immigration philosophy is grounded firmly in cultural concerns — doesn’t rely on race at all — and no matter how many times we repeat the mantra that “correlation is not causation,” these racial dimensions are enough to spook conservatives. As a result, today we have an immigration policy driven by fear: the fear of being accused of racism, white supremacy, xenophobia. Which has cowed and paralyzed opinion leaders, policymakers, politicians across the spectrum, and impeded their ability to think clearly.

Is Wax advocating a kind of immigration based on race that calls for whites over nonwhites? Absolutely not.  She’s merely presenting a lecture that analyzes immigration based on culture and merit — giving preference to immigrants from countries with stable economies that provide their citizens with useful skills and the ability to assimilate to American values.  In fact, she doesn’t believe that “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites,” but suggests this is an inevitable side effect of cultural distance nationalism — a side effect that will be exploited by people who want to shut down conservatives’ immigration policy debate and accuse them of racism, white supremacy, and xenophobia.          

Which is exactly what Zack Beauchamp has done.  He’s misrepresented Wax’s words in an effort to brand conservatives as racist and to bully people like professor Wax into silence, and tragically he’s succeeded. But supporting an immigration policy based on merit that accepts people from countries whose citizens have the ability to assimilate to American culture and values isn’t racist; it’s simply good policy.  


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