Smile Politely


Earlier this week, as I was being lulled into a C-SPAN induced coma by the soporific parlay of Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing, it occurred to me how ridiculous the media’s treatment of her “Wise Latina” comment has become. At first, it didn’t really seem like it would be all that big of a deal. I mean, sure — Newt Gingrich was all pissy about it (first calling Sotomayor a racist, then recanting), Rush Limbaugh had spun himself into a self-important huff over it and Sean Hannity used it as yet another excuse to praise an unnamed number of his callers as “Great Americans!,” so really, it was just business as usual.

But gradually, as the process has ground on, 24-hour news media, as well as a particular subset of white male-dom has worked itself up into a wide-eyed frenzy over the idea that a judge’s racial upbringing might be actually be beneficial. So hey, now that we’re all offended or encouraged or nonplussed by the nominee’s comments, why not actually look at what she 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.”

Catch that? Notice how she doesn’t say, as Fox Newsdrone Megyn Kelly falsely reported, “that Latina judges are obviously better than white male judges?” Notice how she situates her comment in terms of what she would hope and not what she believes to be implacably true? How she doesn’t comment on the inherent value of one type of person over another?

I’d just like to point this out, because it seems that, as problematic as her statement may be for some, it has been portrayed by the media as being racist — which it is not. Such a portrayal serves only to uphold the hegemonic authority of white-male privilege. They have nothing to do with reality. In truth, her statement is just not simple enough to suggest some easily reguritatable platitude. Problematic, I’ll give you. Racially provocative? Perhaps. But racist? I don’t think so.

Diversity: Not just for your investment portfolio anymore!

Sotomayor’s statement is a commentary on the need for judicial diversity (she made it specifically with regards to decisions that involve civil rights violations and crimes against women). You know, the idea that all of us, even judges, are in possession of ideological blind spots, and that these blind spots should in some way be balanced… especially when important decisions that may affect our country as a whole are being made? Well, Sotomayor’s statement completely jibes with this. It’s benign, almost.

That is, as members of the dominant culture, it is axiomatic that we, as white men, cannot fully benefit from the experience of being a racially marginalized. We may be able to understand it on a conceptual level, we may even be able to experience things similar to it, but no matter what, we’ll never completely get it. So, if you buy into the idea that those who are at the margins of a society occupy a superior vantage point from which to critically analyze that society (especially the way that it deals with race and gender) shouldn’t a “wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences,” you know, make a better choice than a white dude?

Like I said, benign. So why is it that the right is making such a big deal about this?

Trickle Down Hedgemonics

Unfortunately, the mainstream sentiment of Sotomayor’s comments have been railroaded by the echo chamber of Cable News Channels and Talk Radio. Both of which don’t seem to have a problem with widely disseminating the blunt and uncritical neo-con talking points that they are being fed. And what’s scary is that, this dumbness seems to be spreading. Giving form to an otherwise amorphous sense of racial paranoia that preserves the status quo while further marginalizing cultures that are already at a disadvantage. I mean, I can’t even get a cup of coffee without being confronted by this: just the other day, at a certain downtown diner, I couldn’t help but overhear a couple of very well dressed white dudes talking about how upset they were at the prospect of being discriminated against by some “crazy empathetic judge.” What!? How does that make any sense at all!?

Well, it doesn’t, and that’s the point. Clearly, the point is to go beyond politics all together and tap into the greater cultural conflicts that we, as a nation, are currently facing. We all know that in the end, Sotomayor will be confirmed. More importantly, Rush Limbaugh and the Senate Republicans know this, and when all is said and done, they will have succeeded in their goal: not of blocking Sotomayor’s nomination, but of fallaciously generating another bit of evidence that points away from our need to overturn the paradigm of white privilege. It’s not about keeping her off the court, it’s about trying to control the way in which her words are perceived by distorting them so as to chafe the very thin skin of insecure white dudes who don’t care to consider the greater implications of cultural identity in America today.

The pundit-driven media’s distortion of Sotomayor’s comments, (or any of their other absurd implications of “reverse racism”) is a transparent sleight-of-hand-style reversal of victim and victimizer designed to inculcate the Hanitized masses with simplistic and dogmatic ideology: to relegate the mainstream ideas of judicial empathy and diversity to the uber-simplistic realm of overwrought liberalism, instead of considering how such concepts represent the discernible benefits of diversity, and not just the sloganism of political correctness…which people seem to be eating up. And hell, who can blame them? Thinking is hard, and the words liberal propaganda role off the tongue so nicely, so quickly. It is almost as if one can have an opinion without having thought at all.

In the end, it’s all about rhetoric…

…and if you’re not sold on that, just think about how Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (who had previously questioned the idea that a nominee’s experience, feelings or their sense of empathy should ever be considered) very eloquently informed Judge Sotomayor during his questioning, “what American people want to see is inside and what your gut says. And part of that’s why we’re having this hearing.” Really Senator? What your gut says? Because it sounds to me like you’ve just found a more masculine, more Republicanny way of saying feelings or emotions. But hey, I guess a man’s just gotta call em like he sees em — which is kind of the problem, isn’t it?

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