Indian American actor Kal Penn and Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri are among members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities who resigned Aug. 18 morning as a mark of protest against the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 13 and President Donald Trump’s response to it.
Penn tweeted the resignation letter, which began with “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville.”
“The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. The Administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill,” the members wrote in the letter addressed to the president.
The statement further read: “We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisers have, without speaking out against your words and actions.”
Created in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities is an advisory committee to the White House on cultural issues, according to its website. Its core areas of focus are arts and humanities education and cultural exchange.
First lady Melania Trump serves as the committee’s honorary chairwoman.
“Elevating any group that threatens and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, orientation, background, or identity is un-American,” read the letter, which was signed by 16 members, including Penn, Lahiri, painter and photographer Chuck Close, and entertainment executive Fred Goldring.
They added that Trump’s words and actions push everyone further away from the “freedoms we are guaranteed.”
“Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President,” the letter read. “But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so. Art is about inclusion.”
Calling for Trump’s resignation, they wrote: “Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.”
Members of the commission are Obama-era holdovers, including Penn, a longtime Barack Obama supporter and former White House staffer, according to The Washington Post, which wrote that some members of the arts and humanities commission quit after Trump’s victory last fall, but the remaining commissioners agreed to continue in their roles until Trump named successors.