An appalling op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times, entitled “As Black As We Wish to Be” and written by someone named Thomas Chatterton Williams, instructs us that:
“mixed-race blacks have an ethical obligation to identify as black — and interracial couples share a similar moral imperative to inculcate certain ideas of black heritage and racial identity in their mixed-race children, regardless of how they look.”
Note the metaphysical certitude of the language: Mixed-race individuals (not the logically and linguistically clumsy “mixed-race blacks,” as Williams writes) are obligated by universal ethics to identify as black. The unstated corollary of this statement, of course, is that to identify as white would be, for these individuals, an immoral act.
Williams pre-empts criticism of this ridiculous position (which is, never forget, printed in our nation’s newspaper of record) by writing the following:
“My first encounter with my own blackness occurred in the checkout line at the grocery store. I was horsing around with my older brother, as bored children sometimes do. My blond-haired, blue-eyed mother, exasperated and trying hard to count out her cash and coupons in peace, wheeled around furiously and commanded us both to be still. When she finished scolding us, an older white woman standing nearby leaned over and whispered sympathetically: ‘It must be so tough adopting those kids from the ghetto.’”
On a personal note, my father’s first encounter with his “whiteness” (though he might not think of it in these terms) occurred when he was 16. While walking home from school, he was assaulted by two black teens, who without reason stabbed him several times in the upper thigh and stomach before hitting him across the head with a baseball bat. Do I offend? It would be difficult to imagine my father being so base as to think this incident grounds for self-righteous sermons to blacks about the virtues of “white heritage” and “white identity.” I don’t think those terms have ever passed his lips. And yet if they had, would Mr. Williams endorse them as viable counterparts to “black identity” and “black heritage”? After all, positing the existence of a distinct culture must mean at least the tacit recognition of other distinct cultures, no? If mixed-race people have an “ethical obligation” to “identify” as “black,” are they the only ones who are breaching the laws of ethics if they choose to be “white”? It is the mark of a pseudo-philosopher to rig questions so he can get pre-determined answers.