Cornell lecturer is ‘fired’ after suggesting Kamala Harris rose to VP because of mom’s Indian caste


A Cornell lecturer claims she was ‘fired’ in late March after suggesting Kamala Harris rose to vice president only because of her mother’s privileged Indian caste – but she hasn’t actually worked at the university since October, a source said.

J. Khadijah Abdurahman said she was fired from her role as visiting lecturer and researcher at Cornell Tech by Associate Professor Tapan Parikh over an argument that broke out online late last month. 

Abdurahman admitted in a post on Medium that she had shared a GIF of Harris sipping tea to make the argument that America’s first South Asian VP was able to rise up the ranks to the White House because of her ‘immense social privilege’.

She said she shared the image on Twitter to call out what she said was South Asian ‘anti-blackness’ and speak out against ethnic cleansing in the Tigray region of Ethiopia in defense of another professor’s syllabus that focused heavily on black and indigenous scholars.

The post sparked an angry response from Parikh, she said. She said he bombarded her with ‘racist direct messages’ on Twitter before firing her the next day. 

But a source familiar with the matter told DailyMail.com that Abdurahman was not fired and had only worked as a temporary employee for Cornell Tech’s Milstein Program from February 2020 until October 2020.

A Cornell lecturer has claimed she was ‘fired’ after suggesting Kamala Harris rose to vice president only because of her mother’s privileged Indian caste but sources have said she hasn’t actually worked at the university since October. J. Khadijah Abdurahman above

She has not been employed by the university since then, the source said – five months before the online spat erupted after which Abdurahman claimed she was fired.  

Parikh, however, was removed from the Milstein Program following the March incident, according to the source. He was the co-director of the New York City program. 

He continues to be employed by the university, however. His online biography details that he is an associate professor at Cornell Tech and in the Information Science Department at Cornell University. 

His bio makes no mention of the Milstein program that specializes in combining technology and humanity.  

Parikh did not return a request for comment.

The exact details of the altercation are not fully clear but, according to Abdurahman, the saga first erupted back on March 23 when Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Sucheta Ghoshal posted the syllabus for her Critical Technology Practice class on Twitter. 

The syllabus was focused on black and indigenous scholars, which prompted a backlash from some South Asian scholars who ‘began to question the absence of ‘global south scholars’, Abdurahman wrote in the April 5 blog post. 

She said she ‘knew’ the criticism was really about some academics questioning the heavy weighting given to black scholars. 

‘…a series of South Asian scholars began to question the absence of ‘global south scholars’ which I knew with relational/information was truly a gesture to ‘Why so black?’ she wrote. 

Abdurahman said some of the critics suggested Ghoshal take inspiration from one of Parikh’s syllabus – a suggestion she said was ‘upsetting’ because she knew he featured ‘almost zero’ black scholars in his syllabus.

J. Khadijah Abdurahman admitted in a post on Medium that she had shared a GIF (above) of Harris sipping tea to make the argument that America's first South Asian VP was able to rise up the ranks to the White House because of her 'immense social privilege'

J. Khadijah Abdurahman admitted in a post on Medium that she had shared a GIF (above) of Harris sipping tea to make the argument that America’s first South Asian VP was able to rise up the ranks to the White House because of her ‘immense social privilege’

‘In fact, the only Indian scholar assigned was Gandhi, well known for being anti-Dalit, anti-Black and slept naked with children as a ‘celibacy test’,’ she wrote. 

At this point, Abdurahman admitted she posted the GIF of Harris, to make her point claiming the vice president rose to her position due to her heritage.   

‘The politics here might not be immediately legible, but Harris’ ascension to the second highest office in the United States is inextricably linked to the immense social privilege she inherited by being born to a Tamil Brahmin mother, extensive career as a prosecutor and her mandate to create a Bureau of Children’s Justice which might be the Clinton Crime Bill of our era in its ambitious expansion of juvenile detention and child protective services,’ she wrote.

‘Indian caste discrimination is imported into Silicon Valley. The few Dalit engineers who receive an H1B visa come to the United States only to find the caste system thriving here as well.’ 

Harris’s mom Shyamala Gopalan was a Tamil Brahmin who moved to the US as a 19-year-old student in 1958. 

Brahmins have long been at the top of the hierarchy of India’s caste system, descended from Hindu priests. 

Tamil Brahmins originate from Tamil Nadu, the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent and have long benefited from greater education, literacy and land-owning opportunities than other groups. 

Abdurahman said she was fired from her role as visiting lecturer and researcher at Cornell Tech by associate professor Tapan Parikh (above) over a row that broke out online last month. A source said Parikh has been removed from the Milstein Program following the incident

Abdurahman said she was fired from her role as visiting lecturer and researcher at Cornell Tech by associate professor Tapan Parikh (above) over a row that broke out online last month. A source said Parikh has been removed from the Milstein Program following the incident

Abdurahman claimed that the meme about Harris sparked a ‘series of egregious, racist direct messages from Tapan Parikh on Twitter’. 

In one of the messages she said he told her ‘all these kinds of actions do is make it harder for ppl like sucheta to get tenure because they have to decide whether they want to sit at this lunch table or the other one’ in reference to her colleague.

In another, she said he ‘unprompted drew in the Ethiopian state’s Oromo-phobic rhetoric, stating ‘anyway u and noname can go start your black liberation oromo front and make podcasts, remixes or whatever. I dont think I share a lot in common with that agenda, nor u for that matter.’ 

The Oromo are one of Ethopia’s two largest ethnic groups. The Amhara, another ethnic group, share a border with the Oromo and there have been clashes between the two.

Abdurahman said she has often spoken out about the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia where around two million are thought to have been displaced and thousands of civilians killed. 

Abdurahman said she responded to Parikh asking him to leave her alone but that he continued ‘to harass me with 17 additional messages for over 6 hours’.

She said she asked him again to leave her alone later that night and he stopped sending her messages. 

The next morning, she said she received a two-sentence email telling her she was fired and that she must return her university ID to campus. 

‘We should no longer work together right now or in the future and drop off your headset and ID at Cornell Tech,’ the email read, she told the Cornell Sun

It isn’t clear why she still had an ID or headset.

Abdurahman said in the blog post (above) that her GIF sparked an angry response from Parikh, who bombarded her with 'racist direct messages' on Twitter before firing her the next day

Abdurahman said in the blog post (above) that her GIF sparked an angry response from Parikh, who bombarded her with ‘racist direct messages’ on Twitter before firing her the next day

However, a source familiar with the matter told DailyMail.com that Abdurahman (above) was not fired and had only worked as a temporary employee for Cornell Tech's Milstein Program from February 2020 until October 2020

However, a source familiar with the matter told DailyMail.com that Abdurahman (above) was not fired and had only worked as a temporary employee for Cornell Tech’s Milstein Program from February 2020 until October 2020

She said the professor then sent an ‘apology email’ to Ghoshal telling her that his issue was with Abdurahman’s ‘incendiary social media comments abt the brewing ethnic conflict in Ethiopia.’

Abdurahman said she has often spoken out about the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia where around two million are thought to have been displaced and thousands of civilians killed. 

She said her alleged firing was an effort to silence her for speaking up in support of black scholars and in support of people in Ethiopia. 

‘My termination is part of a broader pattern in academia and industry of silencing Black scholars who speak out against injustice,’ she wrote in the Medium post.

‘It also sends a horrifying message to Tegaru and other marginalized people that the systematic state sanctioned and extrajudicial rape, murder and starvation they’re experiencing can’t even be spoken.’

Abdurahman demanded her ‘immediate reinstatement’ as lecturer in the Cornell Tech Milstein Summer Humanities & Technology Program as well as her ‘privileges associated with being a year round Visiting Researcher at Cornell Tech’. 

She also called for her ‘reinstatement’ to ensure she not be ‘vulnerable to Tapan Parikh’s racist harassment’, a public, written apology from Parikh and a statement from Cornell Tech Dean Greg Morrisett about ‘how academic freedom will be protected at the university given the dangerous precedent my dismissal sets’.

Cornell Tech (pictured) told DailyMail.com in a statement that it had reviewed the incident and determined that both Abdurahman and Parikh 'did not act appropriately and will not be involved in the Milstein Program moving forward

Cornell Tech (pictured) told DailyMail.com in a statement that it had reviewed the incident and determined that both Abdurahman and Parikh ‘did not act appropriately and will not be involved in the Milstein Program moving forward

Abdurahman also hit out at that there has been ‘no full time, Black faculty at Cornell Tech since its founding’. 

Her blog post was signed by 245 activists and academics, including some affiliated with Cornell Tech.  

Cornell Tech told DailyMail.com in a statement that it had reviewed the incident and determined that both Abdurahman and Parikh ‘did not act appropriately and will not be involved in the Milstein Program moving forward.’

‘After a comprehensive review of the recent issues at Cornell Tech, we determined that both parties involved in this matter did not act appropriately and will not be involved in the Milstein Program moving forward,’ they said in a statement.

‘Cornell Tech is deeply dedicated to making the campus and our industry more inclusive and equitable for everyone, and this dialogue makes clear that we still have much work to do. 

‘We are very proud of our work across the tech ecosystem with our K-12 and Break Through Tech programs, and we are committed to bringing that same energy to making change at Cornell Tech.’



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