Much has been said about Amy Wax’s opinion editorial, and I don’t wish to beat a dead horse. However, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the piece since I read it.
I don’t have multiple degrees from Yale, Harvard and Columbia. I am just a lowly Penn student still trying to finish her one bachelor of arts degree. Even so, I wanted, somehow, to object to certain of Wax’s statements.
Let me start by summing up the whole of her article in one sentence. Essentially, Wax argues that bourgeois values — which she claims were prevalent in the 1950s — help people, in this case minorities, advance in 21st century society. Nothing revolutionary there. I do not disagree that taking on the values of a certain class would then help one to become a member of that class.
Hereon in, things become a little murkier to me. Wax finds that these bourgeois values — such as thrift, gratitude, temperance — are typically associated with Anglo-Protestant culture (for the sake of simplicity, I will generalize this to be white European culture). And it is because of these values that white European culture is able to dominate global society and that “everyone” wants to move to these countries.
Firstly, thrift, gratitude and temperance are not values necessarily relegated to a white-only, 1950s bourgeois culture. They exist in their own right, present in every culture, even in the black culture that Wax characterizes as “single-parent” and “anti-social.” For instance, Chance the Rapper has a song entitled “Blessings” that discusses gratitude for all the benefits in his life: a far cry from Wax’s depiction of rap culture.
Still, perhaps I miss her point. Rather, she wishes to state that though these values exist in every culture, white European culture has an abundance of them, to the point where we can say it is defined by them. But it seems to me that she has picked and chosen only the necessarily positive values to define white European culture and, moreover, to have misunderstood immigration to these countries.
If we were to define white European culture by its other dominant values, we could also name greed, ambition, self-centeredness — aspects tied to white Europeans since the 16th century beginnings of colonialism. I might even go so far as to argue that it is not temperance, gratitude and thrift which led to white European culture being a global force, but rather those other, more sinister, underlying features I have recognized.
Furthermore, I find it strange that Wax believes desire for these bourgeois values to be the reason behind immigration to white European countries. If anything, immigrants often come to white European countries in search of more individual and personal goals; they seek not bourgeois values, but liberty, opportunity and comfort in these white European-dominated countries. In fact, many immigrants move to white European countries because they have no choice, because they are fleeing persecution and poverty back home.
There is another odd moment in the article as Wax boils down black refusal to assimilate as a case of “acting anti-white,” rebellion for the sake of rebellion. If it is black people’s own desire not to assimilate, then that, in some part, is justified. Many black people came to America not of their own will, but as slaves, robbed of their sense of self. If they wish to maintain some semblance of their identity before enslavement, if they wish not to homogenize with their oppressor, that is a very human response.
The juxtaposition between Wax’s acknowledgement of a legacy of racism and her continual desire to, frankly, blame minority refusal to assimilate plays out like a bully on a childhood playground. The bully pushes the victim to the ground, takes their things, then says, “It is your fault for allowing me to push you. You have to be more like me.” The victim has no options but to lie on the ground, fight back or become the very person who terrorized them.
Minorities have been and continue to be disempowered by political, civic and social institutions inherently slanted against them. For example, the and have historically targeted minorities both directly and indirectly. They do not always have the tools to rise, due to a complex interaction of history and remnant stigma which has more to do with a white-centric “we the people” than white culture’s natural superiority.
By conflating white culture with superior values and ignoring the harm it’s caused, Wax does exactly what she accuses Penn students of. She spouts an entirely unoriginal idea, extant since Imperial times, and uses her own handpicked facts to justify it.
If all cultures are truly not created equal, as Wax states, then we must examine the downside of white European culture before pointing the finger elsewhere.
AMY CHAN is a College senior from Augusta, Ga., studying classics. Her email address is email@example.com. “Chances Are” usually appears every other Thursday.
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