Penn Law Prof Amy Wax's Anti-Indian Rant Excludes Inconvenient History

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tags: racism, Indian Americans, Asian American History

Suhag Shukla is executive director of the Hindu American Foundation. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.

Amy Wax is an unusual provocateur. She doesn’t have a large social media following, doesn’t have a podcast, nor has she any political presence. But she carries the imprimatur of the University of Pennsylvania, where she is a law professor, and this credential gives the conservative media cover to air her xenophobic, racist and cynical rants.

Recently Wax offered up her patented racist diatribe on Fox Nation’s “Tucker Carlson Today” show. No one in her home turf of Philadelphia (where I live) was surprised. In 2018, after she opined that Black law students lacked ability and that America would be better off with immigrants from “First World” countries instead of those nations “that had failed to advance,” the law school’s dean stripped Wax of teaching privileges and barred her from teaching a mandatory first-year course. 

But given Carlson’s platform last week, Wax leaned into her list of resentments. This time her target was Indian and Hindu Americans, particularly Indian American physicians working in Penn Medicine — people like my husband and many of our closest friends — who she said call out racism and discrimination because they resent the accomplishments and advancements of the West.

Born in California to parents who emigrated from India for higher education in the 1960s, I’ve seen my share of racist stereotypes and slurs growing up brown in this country.

When I said I was Indian, classmates tapped their mouth with ululations and threw tomahawk chops my way — insulting Native Americans in the process. When “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” was released in the 1980s, I had to prove I didn’t eat monkey brains. In ninth grade world history we covered India and Hinduism, and the teacher singled me out to ask if my marriage had been arranged already. I was assigned homework to ask my parents about my caste, since I didn’t know. 

I don’t need Wax to remind me that ignorance, racism and hate are daily realities in our country for Indian Americans, Asians and other immigrant communities.

When Wax talks about Indian Americans being left out of Western innovation and excellence,  she elides the fact that, as the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out, “the American healthcare system relies disproportionately on Indian doctors, with 1 out of 10 physicians in the U.S. identifying as Indian — the majority of whom were born in India, according to census data.”

This is the India that, far from owing its accomplishments to the West, was subjected to two centuries of colonial rule by England, a Western power that looted one of the most prosperous regions in the world of an estimated $45 trillion. A bit of self-awareness when droning on about First Worlds goes a long way to preempting this kind of derision.

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