University of Pennsylvania professor Amy Wax sparked controversy this past week during a panel on immigration at the National Conservatism conference in Washington DC. The uproar seems to have begun when Vox reporter Zack Beauchamp wrote that, “Wax’s view [on immigration] is an outright argument for white supremacy.” This led to a clapback on Twitter from the conference’s founder, Yoram Hazony.
Several journalists writing about the National Conservatism Conference have relied on @zackbeauchamp's reporting below, which accuses Amy Wax, one of the speakers, of making "an outright argument for white supremancy." In fact she made no such argument. https://t.co/SHs8tpdCwH
— Yoram Hazony (@yhazony) July 19, 2019
In response, Beauchamp doubled down on his claim and stood by his story. He provided what he claims is a transcript of Wax’s remarks in a botched attempt to prove himself right. Yet, as we shall see below, the transcript he provides harms his theory that Wax endorsed white supremacy.
Here is the surrounding context for Wax's comments. It's excruciatingly clear that she is endorsing an immigration system that (in effect) prefers whites over non-whites pic.twitter.com/XYMxuqsz7k
— Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp) July 19, 2019
One thing to note before diving into this is that, as of this publishing there is no recording or official transcript available, and the fact is Beauchamp has a history of making things up, like a non-existent bridge between Egypt and Gaza. But for the sake of arguing his point, let us assume the transcript is accurate.
What the transcript makes clear is that Wax is not basing her argument for admitting more foreign citizens from Western and first world countries on race at all, but on culture. Her belief is that immigrants who share some cultural norms and values with native-born Americans are better for the country than those who do not.
More specifically, Wax is addressing the exact and wrongheaded allegation of racism against her argument. She acknowledges that her policy prescription will, at least in the short term, lead to more white immigrants and fewer non-white immigrants, but effectively shows that this is a correlation, not a cause. That is to say that the change in the racial makeup of immigrants is a byproduct of her policy, not at all its intent.
Another good way to think about this is in terms of discrimination and disparities, the title of Thomas Sowell’s excellent 2018 book. Sowell shows that different outcomes for different racial groups are far less often the result of discrimination, or racism, and far more often the product of natural disparities of myriad kinds, and the prerequisites that racial groups have on average, almost all of which are social constructs, not inherent traits of a racial group. Thus, to improve outcomes you must look at the roots of the disparities, not simply blame racism and believe that ending racism would end disparity.
It is fair to say that Wax’s theory is controversial, and there are plenty of good arguments to be made against it. Indeed, countless non-white immigrants from third world countries have found great success in America. But whatever one thinks of Wax’s argument, it is clearly not white supremacist. In fact, looking for immigrants with cultural proximity to the United States and first world status includes millions of potential non-white immigrants from countries such as India and Japan, as well as much of South America.
Vox’s slur against Wax is both lazy and dangerous. It’s lazy because Beauchamp simply assumes that any policy that harms some minority communities is white supremacy, which is absolutely absurd. It’s like saying that the testing standards at New York City’s elite public schools that lead to extraordinarily disproportionate admission of Asians is “Asian supremacy.” He badly confuses disparity with discrimination and barely even tries to defend his salacious and fallacious argument.
The slur is dangerous for a few reasons. First of all, there are now serious calls from many quarters for Wax to be fired, which would be bad not only for her and her students, but for academia in general, where such a firing would no doubt have a chilling effect on discourse.
It is also dangerous because it waters down the concept of white supremacy to an extent that renders it almost meaningless. This makes it much harder for society as a whole to focus on actual, egregious white supremacist ideas that focus on the concept that white people are inherently better than others because of their whiteness.
Under Beauchamp’s ridiculous definition of white supremacy, any policy that disadvantages any people of color is white supremacist solely based on the outcomes. By this rubric, one could argue that welfare and affirmative action, policies that have not succeeded in uplifting all non-white U.S. residents, are two of the most white supremacist policies ever.
Vox should, but likely won’t, apologize for defaming Wax and correct the article. There are serious and reasonable arguments to be made against Wax’s views on cultural proximity immigration. In fact, it could and should be the starting point for an important debate about what immigration means to America and how we want to use it.
But instead, Beauchamp decided to just point at Wax and yell “Racist!” And Vox decided that was perfectly fine. Increasingly, this seems to be the only tactic that those on the left have, and it is stunting a whole host of important discussions that they refuse to engage in good faith. “You’re a racist” can’t be the answer to everything, and if it becomes that, the term will have lost even more meaning than it already has.