University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax made headlines and sparked outrage recently for claiming that Black and Asian people resent “Western peoples’ outsized achievements” on Tucker Carlson’s Fox Nation show. Wax, who has a history of racist remarks, told Carlson she thinks “there is just a tremendous amount of resentment and shame of non-Western peoples against Western peoples for Western peoples’ outsized achievements and contributions.”
Citing instances where people of color called out racism, as she did, is not proof that we resent “Western achievements” but that there are systemic inequalities in the U.S.
What we resent is not being credited for our contributions to these achievements, people telling us how we feel, and an unequal system that continues to exploit and exclude us.
While Wax is entitled to her opinion, at a time when racial tensions already run high and racist attacks have risen sharply, her rhetoric is irresponsible, problematic and, at its core, actually very inaccurate.
Black and Asian people do not resent Western achievements. Why would we resent something that we have contributed significantly to?
Historically, the U.S. has relied heavily on the labor of people of color and immigrants for its economy. Enslaved Black people were responsible for the growth of America’s economy in the 19th century. Slavery has been called the economic engine of the South, which at one point was the source of the majority of cotton used in Britain, France and Russia. By the start of the Civil War, the South was profiting handsomely from the labor of enslaved Black people.
Around the same time as the war, in the early to mid-1860s, the Central Pacific Railroad was recruiting Chinese laborers to work on the country’s first transcontinental railroad after an insufficient number of white workers responded to its ads. Doing extremely dangerous and exhausting work while being paid less than their white counterparts, these estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Chinese migrants were essential to what has been described as “one of the most ambitious American engineering enterprises at the time” — despite the lack of recognition they receive even to this day.
Nowadays, Black and Asian people — whether American by birth, immigration or not at all — are still behind some of the United States’ greatest achievements in technology, business, sports and entertainment.
The man behind Zoom, the video conferencing platform that most of us have depended on to work from home during the pandemic, is Eric Yuan, an Asian man who immigrated to the U.S. from China in 1997. Baiju Bhatt, an Indian American entrepreneur, is one of the co-founders and the chief creative officer of Robinhood, the commission-free trading app that has made investing in and trading stocks and other financial assets more accessible to the masses and has been valued at $32 billion. As its name suggests, Beats by Dr. Dre, which Apple acquired in 2014 for a record $3 billion and is one of the most recognizable headphone brands on the market, was created by Dr. Dre — a Black American rapper, producer and entrepreneur from Compton, California — with business partner Jimmy Iovine.
Many more such examples exist of both Asian Americans — who “drive Silicon Valley innovation,” according to a 2016 Nikkei Asia article — and Black Americans, who have succeeded despite the lack of support from Silicon Valley investors.
Nowadays, Black and Asian people — whether American by birth, immigration or not at all — are still behind some of the United States’ greatest achievements.
One of the greatest examples of innovation in business in recent years is the collection of Fenty brands created by Rihanna, who is from Barbados. The brands have a combined worth of multiple billions of dollars.
Contrary to Wax’s point about people coming to the U.S. and pointing out problems with the country as a form of expressing resentment, Rihanna identified problems in the beauty and fashion industries and built a multibillion-dollar business centered around addressing these issues.
The mogul’s first brand, Fenty Beauty, was among the first companies to offer an inclusive range of shades — debuting at 40 and now up to 50 — for its foundation and concealer products. While not the first, as some competitors have pointed out, it was Rihanna and the way traditionally overlooked consumers reacted to Fenty Beauty that made the beauty industry work harder to create more products for a more inclusive range of people.
The same has been true for Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty inclusive lingerie brand, which provides lingerie, underwear and loungewear for people of all shapes and sizes.
Looking at the arena of sports, we find so many Black and Asian people winning medals and breaking records for the U.S. Most recently, Nathan Chen won gold at the Beijing Olympics, making him the first Asian American man to win a medal in men’s singles figure skating. The year before, at the Tokyo Olympics, Hmong American Suni Lee won gold in the women’s individual all-around gymnastics final, making her the first Asian American woman to win gold in this competition. Her teammate at the Games was, of course, Olympic champion Simone Biles, the most-decorated gymnast in World Championship history.
In entertainment, more and more creators of color are starting their own production companies and creating unprecedented stories that capture the world. Perhaps the most famous of these creators is Shonda Rhimes, whose production company Shondaland has produced some of the most beloved and binged shows, from “Grey’s Anatomy” to “Bridgerton.” Season two of “Bridgerton,” which was released in March, broke Netflix’s streaming record for the most-viewed English-language TV series. In the seven days after its release, the Shondaland Regency-era drama was watched for 251.7 million hours and was in the top 10 most-popular shows and movies on Netflix in 93 countries.
Rhimes, a Black creator, has often approached her shows with diverse casting and other forms of inclusion that have proven to be successful not only in the U.S. but also globally. This is another example, like Rihanna’s Fenty brands, of how pointing out a problem with the status quo and achieving great accomplishments in the respective industry are not mutually exclusive.
In this day and age, when the global community is so interconnected and constantly collaborating, the term “Western achievements” feels outdated. The East-West divide that Wax’s rhetoric perpetuates is unnecessary and dangerous, as it could enforce stereotypes about differences that are not accurate and fan the flames of xenophobia. For one, the people to whom the professor has repeatedly pointed in her anecdotal examples — Black and Asian Americans and immigrants — are part of Western and American society. However, more importantly, the divide does not take into account the many accomplishments that have come about when people from different countries and cultures worked together as one.
When it comes to achievements, what people of color really want is equal opportunity and rightful recognition. No, people of color or non-Western people do not resent Western achievements. What we resent is not being credited for our contributions to these achievements, people telling us how we feel, and an unequal system that continues to exploit and exclude us.