Is There a Right to Forget? 537
could be taken as evidence by Hill that the group enforced a predetermined uniform identity. However, passing is also evidence that black communities live(d) in conditions circumscribed by racism. Thus, it is an expression of the desire to live without the constraints placed on black people by a racist society rather than an expression of autonomy and the desire to not be considered black. Being light skinned enough to pass simply makes it possible to act on this desire. In other words, the choice of passing is indicative of the restricted range of choices and freedoms with which the group lives. There is also literature that suggests a degree of self-hatred inherent in passing. If this is the case, it is also evidence that individuals might internalize the negative stereotypes ascribed to them by a racist society, even as most within black communities resist and reject these stereotypes.49
A discussion of passing is important because applying the right to forget only to individuals would allow some individuals to escape and forget, while doing little or nothing about the myriad inequalities between white and black Americans that makes passing so politically controversial.50 I share Hill’s goal of carving out spaces for individual liberty and self-denition. But this is only half the battle. Individual choices and freedoms exist within and are shaped by social structures, and if these structures reect and reinforce unjustiable group-based social inequities, then these choices and freedoms are enhanced, restricted, or distorted by these structures. We can either see the resulting ranges of choices and liberties as something to be accepted as natural, or, as I am arguing, as reections of social structures that can be changed.
Again, King’s observations about segregation, and the different ways it damages both white and black people, are instructive:
Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human
personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of
superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.51
Similarly, the social inequalities we have inherited from the past affect our self-perceptions and our perceptions of others.
Let us now compare passing to the rejection of “white privilege” as evi- denced by those who write in the journal Race Traitor. Here we see a realization that social-economic structures produce a degree of privilege for white people
49 Werner Sollors, Neither Black Nor White Yet Both (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999). See Chapter 9 in which he discusses how passing is politically different than simple u p w a r d s o c i a l m o b i l i t y . 5 0 Indeed, recall the reaction to Tiger Woods’ claim that he is “cablanasian.” If Woods’ strategy is to claim he is a little bit of everything, another strategy is evident in the emerging Hollywood star Vin Diesel. Diesel claims that he is racially neutral both in order not to be pegged into “black” roles but also to allow audience members to project onto him whatever identity they want to in order to identify with him. As such, Diesel’s claim to be nonracial (nothing) and Woods’ claim to be multiracial (a bit of everything) are variations on the desire to be seen as something other than black. In another interview, Diesel states that he wants to represent a new multiracial identity that has heretofore been invisible. As long as whiteness is the nonracialized norm and as long as anything other than white is denigrated in the US, the choices of Woods and Diesel will reect a tension between exercising a u t o n o m y a n d e s c a p i n g b l a c k n e s s . 5 1 King, op. cit., p. 82, emphasis added.