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.