Not only is Kwame Anthony Appiah the most trustworthy and competent of all those who have authored the New York Times Magazine’s “The Ethicist” advice column, he’s also the only one who could be called a true ethicist, as he teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. Thus it is with great disappointment and sadness that I must report that “The Ethicist” has fallen victim to the dreaded Woke Virus, which, has, in the Times’ own lexicon, been “raging” through the paper for quite some time, poisoning its judgment, and as bias does, making its employees stupid.
Given Appiah’s assignment, which is to hand out ethical advice regarding various dilemmas and conflicts posed by correspondents, I would have thought that both he and the Times would have insisted that he practice social distancing and wear a Hazmat suit when visiting the office—maybe even eschew reading the paper. I guess not.
In this week’s column, a reader presented her problem thusly:
A friend’s daughter has sent my family an invitation to her upcoming “Plantation Wedding” in a Southern city. I had been looking forward to attending until I became aware of the appalling and tragic history of this estate and gardens. I am deeply troubled by the thought of celebrating on the grounds where hundreds of men, women and children were bought and sold, enslaved and tortured, so that white people can enjoy the privilege of a fairy-tale wedding….
I doubt I would be able to avoid speaking out during the wedding reception. Should I explain to the bride and groom the reason for my absence? She surely knows the estate’s history already. I foresee that all this will cause a rift in our families for some time. Would a donation to a historically Black college, in lieu of a wedding gift be appropriate?
Everyone in this scenario is white, raised in the Northeast and college-educated, and I’m astonished that they don’t realize this is a terrible idea. I want to act in good conscience and not create more disturbance. Do you have any thoughts?
Instead of his usual detached analysis, The Ethicist opted for compliant virtue signaling. He wrote,
In choosing a plantation wedding, this couple would appear to be idealizing lifestyles built directly on the unpaid labor of Black people who were treated as property and regularly abused. You regard that history with repugnance, and no doubt your friends would say they share that sentiment. But two decades into the 21st century, a couple planning a wedding would almost have to have gone out of their way not to see the connection. Evidently, they’ve tuned out a vigorous national discussion about the legacy of slavery; ignored much of what comes up if you simply type “plantation wedding” into Google; and achieved a serene obliviousness that normally requires the sort of monastic seclusion not associated with marriage.
Of course, there are all sorts of reasons that couples may choose a plantation setting for their wedding, but it doesn’t sound as if (like certain Black couples) they are seeking to subvert a racial hierarchy or to spend time amid the slave dwellings as a foray toward repair or education. Possibly, the couple haven’t given thought to how their Black guests would feel about the destination; possibly, there are no such guests. Either way, you can’t happily attend an event that takes place in what you understand to be an architectural adjunct to slavery.
You’re thinking about making a donation to a historically Black college in lieu of a gift. Perhaps the gesture is meant to assuage your guilt — akin to buying a carbon offset. It might be a good thing to make such a donation, but not for this reason. Or perhaps the donation is meant to send a message. But then you might as well tell them the truth: You’re pained you won’t be able to join them, but you can’t reconcile yourself to a celebration on these haunted grounds.
You rightly don’t want to find yourself bemoaning the venue of a wedding while you’re attending it and spoiling the special day for the couple. If you offer some innocuous excuse for your absence, however, you’ll only be protecting your own sense of moral purity. That’s why the braver, better path is to explain, well in advance, why you won’t be there. The exchange will be uncomfortable. But if our country is going to get out from under four centuries of racism, uncomfortable moments can’t be avoided. You may be accused of getting on a high horse. So be it. Those saddled on high horses sometimes see the fields more clearly than others.
Say it ain’t so, Appiah!
What an unprofessional mess of clichés, emotionalism, bad logic and pandering that answer was. I give him credit for one good moment: Appiah identified the woman’s idea of a compensatory contribution to a black college (which practices the racial discrimination that the writer supposedly feels so deeply opposed to and which artificially cleanses its current hypocrisy by appealing to “history”) as the Ruddigore Fallacy, which it most definitely would be if there was really anything wrong with holding an event on a former plantation—which there isn’t.
My own brief but memorable honeymoon took place at a former plantation : Prospect Hill, a country inn and bed-and-breakfast near Charlottesville, Virginia. We stayed in what had originally been the overseers quarters, now beautifully remodeled. We’re going back there eventually to celebrate what has been a long and eventful marriage. Did we feel guilty then about what the place had once been? Nope. Will we feel like we are endorsing racism when we return, despite the “vigorous national discussion about the legacy of slavery” that has been weaponized for political gain and racial spoils? No again, just as I am not wracked with remorse when I visit Mount Vernon, just up the road a bit, which was also a plantation, because, you see, it is beautiful, it was the home of our first President, and it isn’t a plantation any more.
The flawed logic The Ethicist has let burn holes in his brain is the same emotional delereium that makes some people avoid buying a home where someone has died (like my house!). There is no such thing as “haunted grounds” except when weak minds convince themselves of them, or when manipulative people exploit that description for their own agendas.
Surprisingly, many of the letters that followed the exchange about the wedding called out the woke questioner and the stumbling ethicist for this lunacy. One commenter wrote,
You Americans really have a monomaniacal obsession with race. Some people in the comments compared a wedding at a plantation to having a wedding at Auschwitz. If Auschwitz were a beautiful setting (which it’s not), I imagine there are many people who wouldn’t be troubled at the thought of holding a wedding there. Some people would be bothered by the atrocities that happened there and unable to enjoy the event while others would recognize their actions cannot influence the past and view treating a place where tragedy happened as hallowed as nothing more than superstition. If you don’t want to go, don’t go, but it’s hard to imagine how expressing your moral indignation will have any effect beyond ruining your friendship.
Another nailed the foolishness of the Ethicist’s reasoning, and is among the most highly rated:
Bingo. The Ethicist is parroting the same ultra-woke hysteria that has led to statue toppling, school-renaming, trigger warning on founding documents and worse. I have often wondered how long it will be before the majority black residents of Washington, D.C. start petitioning to change the name of the city, because living—and getting married!—in a place named after a slave-holder, thus “idealizing lifestyles built directly on the unpaid labor of Black people who were treated as property and regularly abused” is just too much to bear.
How does boycotting a wedding based on what was done at its locale more than a century ago help the country “get out from under four centuries of racism”? It doesn’t, of course, and those who keep finding racial grievances under every rug and in every corner, nook and cranny don’t want to “get out from under” it. Surely Appiah is astute enough to see that. The race-hucksters want to use the shadow of slavery to gain and hold power, and, if possible, impose compensatory racial burdens on white Americans, as long as their victims can be shamed and conned into accepting it.