Lamentably, the Boston Marathon bombing reopened some of the most poisonous arguments in American life. Specifically, are the Tsarnaev brothers “white?” It’s a meaningless question.
Some hotheads couldn’t wait to declare all Muslims suspect. Certain thinkers on the left (David Sirota, Salon) argued against collective guilt while oddly lamenting that “white male privilege means white men are not collectively denigrated” for the crimes of Caucasian psycho killers.
Should they be?
Anyway, I’d previously treated the theme of ethnicity as destiny in a column about which racial ID boxes President Obama should have checked on his 2010 census form.
Everybody knows Obama’s mother was a white woman from Kansas, his father an exchange student from Kenya. But there’s no box labeled “African-American.” So the president checked “black.” He could also have checked “white,” but chose not to.
This decision disappointed a unique student group at the University of Maryland, although most understood it. Recently profiled in the New York Times, the Multiracial and Biracial Student Association could with equal accuracy be called “Students Whose Mothers Were Asked Insulting Questions by Busybodies at the Supermarket.”
Questions like the one my sainted mother put to my wife’s mother at our wedding: “What nationality are you people, anyway?”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Maryland group strikes me as entirely benign. Asked which boxes she checks, vice-president Michelle López-Mullins, age 20, says “It depends on the day, and it depends on the options.”
López-Mullins, the Times reports, is a one-woman UN: “Chinese and Peruvian on one side, and white and American Indian on the other.” As a child, she says even friends asked hurtful questions, such as “What are you?” and “Where are you from?”
To lessen the sting, she and her friends play a “who’s what?” guessing game among themselves. “Now when people ask what I am, I say, ‘How much time do you have?’” Lopez-Mullins said. “Race will not automatically tell you my story.”