Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 May 2009

A Wise Latina

So Judge Sotomayor said "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

And people have a problem with this? I heard that Newt Gingrich twittered that she is a "racist" and Rush Limbaugh has accused her of "reverse racism."

I have some thoughts on this.

First of all, I do not know what reverse racism is. The idea seems absurd to me.
The playing field is not level. People of color discriminating against white people is nowhere near the same thing as white people discriminating against people of color. White people, who have the majority of power in this country, discriminate with impunity against people of color all the time, every day, in the United States and in many other countries of the world. The painful and shameful history of racism in this country and in others is simply not comparable with some kind of imagined reversal of this trend where white people (for the first time) feel their power being limited. The placement of limits on the powers and privileges granted to white people--particularly males--may be inequitable: I will buy that (I don't necessarily buy that it is somehow wrong, but I will grant that it is not fair). But let us not even use the word Racism to describe inequities that favor people of color over white people. To do so is to pretend that we already possess equality in the United States, that people of color already have access to all the privileges that white people have. Such an idea is laughable.

And so a bunch of wealthy white males have a problem with the notion that "a wise Latina"--and this next phrase is very important--"with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male"--let me draw your attention again to the qualifier she uses--"who hasn't lived that life."

I have heard commentators say that she shouldn't have chosen those particular words, and I guess the Obama administration is calling it "poorly phrased" or some such business. But can we go back and pause? Why is this poorly phrased. I think it is delightfully phrased. And I think she is correct. Sotomayor is saying that white men--who are born into power structures and privilege--lack access to something to which people of color and women have access. She is saying that there are definitive benefits to growing up as part of a minoritized group and being forced to struggle against white male privilege. She is saying that these struggles give her a perspective on life and the law that differs profoundly from the perspective of a white man.

Is she wrong about this? Certainly not. What, it seems to me, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Limbaugh take issue with so vehemently, is the notion that there is any difference at all in their positions: for what Justice Sotomayor has drawn our attention to is that white men have the greater access to power that they actually do have. Misters Gingrich and Limbaugh would understandably prefer to continue to assert that everyone has the same access to power, that the majority of lawmakers is not white men, that the majority of justices on the Supreme Court is not white men. This insistence that we all have the same access to power is purely ideological, designed precisely to cover over the fact that white men have a majority of the juridical power in the United States. If it is true that everyone has equal access but white men possess a majority of the important positions in the United States government, then the goal of this ideological project is clearly to state that these white men deserve the power they have, and have earned that power because Latinas and other people of color like Justice Sotomayor are less qualified than white men.

Now that's racism.