Notes From The Great Stupid: “I’m an Asian TV Writer. Should I Take on Projects With Black Leads?”

As you may have guessed, that a question posed recently to Kwame Anthony Appiah, “The Ethicist” of the New York Times Magazine. Unlike most of the queries to that column that I periodically discuss here, I don’t think the question is difficult, challenging, or even interesting. What is interesting is that anyone would ask it, and further, that someone like Appiah would deem it worthy of spending over 800 words treating a question as a genuine ethics conundrum that is, in my view, merely evidence of brain seepage provoked by George Floyd Freakout propaganda.

The whole question was,

I’m an Asian television writer who has been extremely lucky in working fairly consistently since my first gig. I’m now in a position where people reach out to me to develop new projects. When these projects feature a Black lead character, is it ethical for me to pursue these opportunities?

As an Asian (and a woman), I’ve definitely experienced my fair share of racism and discrimination, and I can write authentically about that experience. But I’m “just” Asian, and I may be taking a job from a Black writer. Or because it is Hollywood, it’s more likely I’d be taking the job from a mediocre white dude, which, ethically, I feel just fine about. If any of these projects got off the ground, I’d be able to create a lot of opportunities for other BIPOCs, but again, it’s Hollywood, so who knows how likely it is the project would ever get to that stage.

The question is: Where do I, as an Asian, fall in this movement? I don’t want to be a tool of white supremacy, but visibility is important for my community too. Name Withheld

I admit that I have little patience for ethics navel-gazing when the answer to such question should be obvious, and thus the response to “Name Withheld” should begin with, “What the hell is the matter with you?” To his credit, “The Ethicist” gets this one right, but man does it take him a long time, apparently because he doesn’t want to seem unsympathetic to flagrant virtue signaling by Name—I wonder if that’s a common Asian moniker…

I would be tempted to respond,

1. Why are you reasoning like a racist while you are presenting yourself as supportive of a non-racist “movement”? Why do you think a racist movement, for that is what a movement that seeks to limit and define individuals by their race, is ethical to support? (Hint: it’s not.)

2. Does it not occur to you that if you are not qualified to write about black characters, there is no reason to believe you would be any more qualified to write about white characters? Your concern leads directly to the conclusion that Asian-American writers can only credibly write about Asians, and that black writers can only credibly write about blacks.

3. Since you don’t seem to be suggesting that you have been asked to take on this assignment out of some bias against black writers, you have the opportunity to write for this project because someone thinks you’re a good writer. Do you disagree with that? If so, it’s unethical to take the job. Do you believe a black writer must be superior because of the color of his or her skin? That’s per se racism. Do you want to undermine the project’s producers’ desire to have the best written show possible, so you can advance a dubious social justice objective that is unlikely to have any impact beyond making that project less successful than it would have been with a better writer—you?

4. Do you believe that the only way a black writer can get hired is if superior writers of other races create a vacuum by leaving the field? How demeaning to African-Americans!

5. Ethically, it’s “ok” to presume that a “white dude” writer would be mediocre, but a black dude wouldn’t? You’re a racist, dude.

6. Please explain in detail how you reached the point where you regard creating jobs for BIPOCs as a worthy objective but creating jobs for human beings of all colors and ethnicities as not. Virtually all writers are poor and struggling, you know, and you’re not taking the job of anyone who isn’t. But from your question, I gather that you only care about struggling blacks, right? You’re a bigot, then.

7. You haven’t devoted any quality thought to this at all, and are just taking cues from manipulative activists whose objective is power, not ethics. If this is representative of your insight into human behavior, even “a mediocre white dude” could do a better job on the project.

Smart people have been intimidated, bullied and brainwashed into thinking positions like that of Name Withheld make sense. The Ethicist ends up enabling him by treating the question as respectable. What must be done is to metaphorically slap victims like Name across the face.

9 thoughts on “Notes From The Great Stupid: “I’m an Asian TV Writer. Should I Take on Projects With Black Leads?”

  1. 6. Let’s face the fact that BIPOC really means ‘not white’. It is very telling that she feels guilty taking a job from a black writer, but justifies it by stating that she will make up for it by making sure whites don’t get hired. Why has it been ordained that everyone needs to discriminate against the same 11% of the world population? It is funny that she accepts that the darker your skin is, the more righteous you are. As an Asian, her skin is probably pretty light, maybe lighter than mine. She is probably hoping she can earn some racist brownie points so can use when they want to put her up against the wall.

  2. It’s not unethical in the least for her to take such a job if offered it, but the headaches probably won’t be worth it until this society moves past the current “woke” madness.

    Rest assured, Name Withheld, your personal wokeness and Asian heritage won’t save you when a mediocre writer with more Intersectional Victim Points than you decides that he or she wants that job, and brings the wrath of the “cultural appropriation” mob down on you to get it.

  3. So, let me get this straight, Name Withheld. I’m a white heterosexual male, raised Roman Catholic in South Florida. As a result, I can’t have the lead characters in my stories be a woman molested by her uncle, a young kid from New Jersey, a woman college administrator from Champagne/Urbana, a Ukrainian-born Jewish music critic and WWII veteran (Free French Army), a teenaged girl who’s pregnant, not to mention a concert pianist, a paranoid schizophrenic, a nuclear physicist and a young cop. Wish I’d known that before I’d spent years writing those stories. Hmmm. This leaves me with what, White Supremacists as characters?

  4. “As an Asian (and a woman), I’ve definitely experienced my fair share of racism and discrimination, and I can write authentically about that experience.“

    Because that’s all you need when writing about blacks. That’s their entire existence don’cha know. Nothing else! They’re chased by dogs all day until they pass the night in a hollow tree but without sleep because of the searchlights from the helicopters. Every black, everywhere at any time! That’s why Obama never stopped the rising sea levels, all the whippings! Man can’t get nuttin’ done that way.

  5. If you’re worried you’d be taking a job from a black writer (whom you assume would be next in line for the project) because of racism, and not because you’re a better writer, I don’t think turning the position down is going to result in them getting the position. If racism resulted in you being offered the project first, why would the black writer be considered in the first place?

    If people reach out to you to develop projects with leads of color, then you’d be in a good position to make sure they aren’t tools of white supremacy, wouldn’t you?

    If you feel you can do the character justice, go for it. If you don’t, don’t. Writing is like acting. You have to be able to write people who aren’t you. This is why I don’t spend more time on writing fiction: I don’t want people making assumptions about what I think about different groups of people based on the characters I write, and I don’t yet have the time to study the variation within different cultures to portray them with sufficient nuance. If you can do that, then don’t let your own ethnicity hold you back.

    Take the job, use it to build opportunities for more people. Don’t just leave opportunities lying around assuming they’ll go to someone deserving. Take them and pay them forward to the deserving yourself. …This is one of those times that I’m realizing advice as I write it. I tend towards austerity rather than investment, so it’s a wake up call for me as well.

  6. Let’s look at it another way. Once ‘given permission’ by The Ethicist to act on her Woke instincts, Asian TV Writer can magnanimously bestow opportunities that she deserves on the more deserving AND publicly take credit for so doing! (e.g. social media, resumes/CVs, etc). Now THAT’s how you do Woke!

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