For some time, we’ve only known the elusive creator of Bitcoin by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. The last few weeks (well, years, really, but the last few weeks especially) have been rife with speculation about Nakamoto’s true identity. Today, Nakamoto apparently revealed himself to a trio of news organizations — the BBC, the Economist, and GQ — as Dr. Craig Wright, an Australian computer scientist and entrepreneur. Wright also threw up an “outing” blog post for good measure.
The question of whether Wright, who is not Japanese, made a harmless choice in pseudonyms versus one tinged with racism is a fraught one. Is it racist to steer people into assuming you have a racial identity that in reality you do not? Especially when the person in question is someone white “posing” as someone non-white? Did Wright gain any sort of credibility or competitive advantage by leading people to assume he was Japanese? It would be difficult to believe that the name was chosen arbitrarily, with no weight given to its ethnic implications. But could this have been just a harmless character that Wright developed, like a stage persona, without any real racial weight because people already figured everything about the identity was fake?
In September 2015, (white) poet Michael Derrick Hudson enjoyed much greater professional success after adopting the pen name Yi-Fen Chou. Aspiring college students have attempted to counter the “bamboo ceiling” — stricter quotas for Asian American students — by Westernizing their last names so as to appear “less Asian.”
I’m a firm believer that when it comes to deciding whether or not something is offensive, the people who get to make that call are the ones would be potentially offended and absolutely no one else. The Japanese American Citizens League declined to comment for this story, and, besides, it’s not really fair to assume that any single organization speaks for an entire demographic of people.
So that just leaves us with a handful of facts. We already knew that Craig Wright didn’t just use the name Satoshi Nakamoto in a vacuum — he also claimed that Nakamoto was living in Japan. His identity was widely theorized to be a Commonwealth one, based on colloquialisms in his online communication. He told the Economist — which remains agnostic about his claims to Bitcoin — the following about his choice:
He says he called himself “Nakamoto” after a 17th-century Japanese philosopher and merchant, Tominaga Nakamoto, who was highly critical of the normative thought of his time and favoured free trade. (He doesn’t want to say why he picked “Satoshi”: Some things should remain secret.)
But Wright added nothing about the ethics of adopting a new racial identity. It’s too soon to tell what fallout he may face for the choice, whether people will perceive it as a crass play for greater prestige based on racial stereotypes or as a harmless mask, the pretense of which was assumed by everyone from the beginning. As always, the internet will be the final judge.