In Her Words
Sotomayor and the Race Card
From the eyes of another woman of color
-Carol Cain, nycitymama.com
I woke up one day this week to the intense buzz that President Obama had named a nominee for Supreme Court Justice. The position itself, important and prestigious, should and would cause a great deal of conversation, from both ends of the political spectrum. However, by the end of Day Two all the buzz seemed focused around a maliciously selected 32-word excerpt of a lecture that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor gave in 2001 at UC Berkley.
In essence, the argument that Sotomayor made was that, as a woman of color, she has a perspective and “diversity of thought and opinion” because of her ethnicity and culture. Sotomayor spoke proudly of her Latina heritage, even referencing the dietary choices that contribute to it. She stated that it was her hope that these experiences and the perspective gained from them, combined with wisdom, would lead to a more well-rounded conclusion in a particular instance than someone else might reach, someone such as a White man, who hasn’t gained from these experiences because he’s never had them. This has not only caused laughter and jokes, but the vicious attacks and comments that make it clear no one opposing Sotomayor has taken the time to examine fully, listen to, or even understand her original point. And as I read and hear all the buzz I am incredibly infuriated by the reality that those crying “racist” are in fact the very faces of racism themselves. It is rare public moments like these when we are reminded how far we have to go when it comes to race relation in this country.
As a woman of color, I have had this discussion among others as well. But I am not the only one to have courageously done so. It is true that as a mother, for example, I have many of the same stories as others, have taken many of the same paths, have shared many of the same emotions, and even have had many of the same questions and concerns as most other mothers, regardless of background.
However, as a woman of color, with biracial children to boot, my experiences are different than many others’ because of the diversity in my culture, ethnicity, and race. Thus, I have a voice that brings something different to the table. I have an insight lacking in those who are not seen as the world sees me. I am asked questions that no White person has ever had to answer; I have given explanations for things that no White person has ever had to give. And all this explaining, all this pondering, all these conversations have, in turn, given me something more to give back, something more to contribute to the discussion, different layers of knowledge, and definitely a lot more to refer to before making decisions than another person who has never had such experiences.
Yet, I can’t speak about my personal experiences as a woman of color, and any discrimination I may experience without being told to “get over it.” I can’t speak about how being a woman of color in this country affects me, or my children, or how I am at times treated, without being called a racist. I can’t express my frustration over the fact that my cultural and racial group is rarely reached out to in many areas of distinction and where important conversations take place, without causing a backlash from others. I can’t speak of any of these things, no matter how eloquently or intelligently, without being told I have issues of either anger, hostility, or insecurity.
And like Sotomayor, I can’t celebrate and embrace the things that I have learned and gained through the benefits and enrichment gained from my culture or ethnicity without stirring up discomfort and anger, or being accused of being biased.
Those arguing the case of Supreme Justice nominee Sotomayor outside of her expertise or qualifications are doing nothing more than trying to disguise their own racism, ignorance, insecurities, and blatant intolerance behind the argument of political disagreements.
Taking Sotomayor’s statement that: “For me, a very special part of my being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir – rice, beans and pork – that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events,” and insinuating that pigs’ feet with chickpeas would in some way influence her verdicts from the bench is racist. That is exactly what Curt Levey, the executive director of the Committee for Justice, a conservative-leaning advocacy group, implied when he said he “wasn’t certain whether Sotomayor had claimed her palate would color her view of legal facts.”
A few more examples of the race card being played by conservative pundits: Fox News host Megyn Kelly said that Sotomayor was claiming “that Latina judges are obviously better than white male judges.”
Glen Beck said Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comments “smacks of racism” and is “one of the most outrageous racist remarks I’ve heard.”
Lou Dobbs called Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comments “racist” and said of her nomination: “This is pure, pure absolute pandering to the Hispanics, and, you know, filling in the box on one more minority — that who is actually, you know, they are actually a majority — and that is women.”
All this boils down to one thing: Rather than seeing Sotomayer as expressing her pride in her heritage and pointing out the reality that we are influenced by the experiences of living and growing up in this country as people of color, as women; rather than acknowledging that of course Sotomayer sees herself as herself molded by her culture and gifted with a broader insight, she is labeled racist for speaking of it.
After Conservative pundits like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh came out and used incomplete and out of context quotes from Sotomayor’s 2001 lecture to label her as a “reverse racist”, Newt Gingrich joined the verbal lashing through Twitter and his blog saying, “Imagine a judicial nominee said ‘my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman’ wouldn’t they have to withdraw? New racism is no better than old racism. A white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.”
Except, when you stand in my shoes and have my experiences and point of view, it is clear that in her statements she hasn’t said anything like this at all, not even remotely as negative nor hateful. And right there Sotomayor’s point is proven because suddenly, I understand the situation and discussion better than the White man distorting it because of the lack of his own experiences.
Listening to these talking heads emphasizes that because they lack her perspective, and that of many people of color in this country, as well as the ability to comprehend where she is coming from, they hear and see what they want, select the few words that trigger self examination and run with it, setting on fire and destroying with their venomous ignorance any logic and opportunity to discuss in a positive manner the issues relating to race in this country.
And I wish I could say that the hostility and utter disregard for those things that they know nothing about and care very little to understand would stop there. I’ve seen those on Twitter celebrating the “exposure of Sotomayor” as “an out and proud racist to the Supreme Court,” and claiming that “Liberals are trying to make race and gender focal point of Sotomayor’s nomination,” when in fact it has been the Conservatives and bigots who have put the focus on race and incited the attacks on Sotomayor.
The fact that it is being stated that when we talk about and openly embrace our experiences and perceptions gained by our ethnicity, race, and culture, it simultaneously clouds our judgment and distorts our abilities, intentions, and purpose, as opposed to giving us better insight and a deeper perspective, is what makes the argument against Sotomayor so insidious and hateful. It proves that in fact any experiences I may have as a woman of color are not MY issues that I need to get over but rather those of the people unwilling to hear me, or Sonia Sotomayor, or others. This problem that many claim doesn’t exist anymore is alive and well in our country, obviously felt by some while being fiercely denied and discredited by others.
Carol Cain is a writer, blogger, mother, wife, Latina living in New York City.
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