TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ETHICIST
It is ironic that Kwame Anthony Appiah is “the ethicist” for the New York Times. An ethicist is a person who specializes in or writes on ethics or who is devoted to ethical principals. Appiah is “the ethicist” for the NY Times and wrote a column last week titled “I’m Jewish and Don’t Identify as White. Why Must I Check that Box?” The particularly important first fact is that the writer doesn’t have to check the White box at all. He/she needs someone to let them know the real facts, not a person who is busy being unethical by steering the discussion elsewhere.
His next faux pas is the fact that White is a race and Jewish is a religion. Two vastly different things. Appiah does not even address it. When he writes about White people, it is mostly to give himself the space to write about white supremacy.
In 1997, the multiracial advocates won a decision from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in Washington that was a win for everyone: we can all self-identify, effective with the 2000 Census and affecting all governmental agency forms. That made its way to school, medical, and corporate forms, just to name a few. I would certainly have asked the letter writer what type of form he/she was using and when. We used to call it “eyeballing” when an administrator or census enumerator looked at someone and guessed their race. Now we have the right to check the boxes that we choose.
Appiah gives us a long history lesson supposedly on race, but it only goes to show how much he thinks of his often-misplaced knowledge. He quotes people from the 1700s and 1800s. Where was he in the 1990s? I was in Washington with other advocates fighting for civil rights for people based on race. Yes, history is important, but racial identity has changed often in our country and it is important to keep up with the most current information. Racial terminology is fluid. We should know this from the group that was colored, then Negro, then Black, then African American.
I think the person who asked the question deserves an honest, straight-forward answer and Kwame Appiah should stop giving racial advice to families.
Susan Graham is president of Project RACE, the national advocacy organization for the multiracial community. She is the author of Born Biracial: How One Mother Took on Race in America.