Wednesday, July 15, 2009
"A wise Latina woman...."
"A wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not know that a gaggle of white Republican men afraid of extinction are out to trip her up." - Maureen Dowd
Perhaps the most cringe-inducing moment of the first day of hearings in the confirmation process of Sonia Sotomayor was when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked the judge to recite her now famous words, "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 has not lived that life."
Forget for a moment that this is thirty-three words in a lifetime of rulings and written comments that Republicans are clinging to with the tenacity that a flood victim brings to a tree branch. Let's get back to the question that caused Newt Gingrich to label Sotomayor a "racist", i.e., would the same phrase be racist if spoken by a white male judge?
Here's the answer, you might want to write it down: It's all about the context.
Imagine if you can, a white male judge invited to speak to a room full of white male lawyers and law school students.
Imagine that the event that draws them all together is a celebration.
Imagine that the reason for celebration is that, after a couple hundred years of systematic oppression that denied white men the right to even apply to law schools or gain admission to good universities; decades after decades during which white men were blocked from the practice of law at every turn and the very notion of a white male judge would seem so utterly absurd that it would cause most people to laugh out loud... after all of that, strides had been made, progress, though slow, had been steady, obstacles removed, attitudes changed and today we're here to celebrate the fact that white men have made significant inroads into the legal profession in the United States.
Imagine that a few white men have even been appointed to the bench.
If the white male judge, to a room full of white male lawyers, in that context had given a speech and in that speech had said "I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a black or Hispanic male who has not lived that life," and said it to encourage and empower his audience, then no; I don't believe it would be a racist remark.
People, white people in particular, have tried to take the word "racism" and change its meaning so that it is reduced to nothing more than a synonym for "prejudice" and "bigotry." This does the word serious injury.
Put simply, "bigotry" and "prejudice" are individual characteristics, where "racism" describes a struggle among groups on the greater terrains of culture and society. By altering the definition we, in effect, remove the word from its political context and neuter the power of the word.
Sonia Sotomayor brings a depth of experience and a powerful intellect to the court and is a perfect first pick for President Obama. I hope he gets an opportunity to select two or three more.