Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stealing the language of anti-racism or Why there aren't more Republicans of color

With the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, certain Republicans are pretending to have found religion on the evils of racism:

White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw. --former Rep. Newt Gingrich

[Former Rep. Tom] TANCREDO: If you belong to an orginization, called La Raza in this case, which is from my point of view anyway, just nothing more than a Latino, it's a counterpart, it's a Latino KKK without the hoods ...

SCHUSTER: A Latino KKK -- would you like to take this opportunity to apologize?

TANCREDO: (Laughs) No.

[Convicted felon G. Gordon] LIDDY: I understand that they found out today that Miss Sotomayor is a member of La Raza, which means in illegal alien, "the race." And that should not surprise anyone because she's already on record with a number of racist comments.

"My criticism about her comment and the speech that she gave wasn't that I think this lady is a racist," Graham said, later continuing: "There is no evidence of that, but this statement is troubling and I did tell her this, 'If I said it, it would be over for me. No matter how well-intentioned I was and no matter how much I tried to put it in context, that would be it.' And you all know that."

He added, "being an average, every-day white guy ... that does not exactly make me feel good hearing a sitting judge say that."

"... She needs to explain herself and she needs to understand she offended some people," Graham said." -- Sen. Lindsay Graham


This co-opting of the language of anti-racism and trivializing the inequities that people of color face, offends me. It offends me as a daughter and granddaughter of the Jim Crow South and as a black woman who, though spared the naked hatred and inequity that my forefathers and mothers faced, still knows exactly what real racism looks like. Equating La Raza with the KKK, pretending that "everyday white guys" are under the thumb of Latinas and other minorities is to willfully ignore our country's past and present. To hear Newt Gingrich tossing about the word "racism" in this context is an affront to anyone who once was denied the right to vote, or drank from colored water fountains, or who survived "re-education" in Indian boarding schools or internment in Japanese camps during WW II. or has ever been passed over for promotion or hire because of race, or has ever been stopped by police repeatedly merely for driving while black or Latino or Arab, or has ever worried about being caught on the side of the road in the wrong "sundown town" at night. It is an affront to the families of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and Medgar Evers and Emmitt Till and James Byrd.

[On a related note, some conservatives also like to toss around "lynching" to describe justified reactions to outrageous behavior like that of Republican politico Marcus Epstein (an employee of Bay Buchanan and a former speechwriter for Tom Tancredo who branded Sotomayor a racist) who was arrested for karate chopping a black woman on the streets of D.C. and calling her "nigger." Professor Tracey at Aunt Jemima's Revenge put the lie to that madness.]

The irony of all this sturm und drang on the right about Sotomayor, is that the litmus test for racial egalitarianism that is applied so forcefully to her is rarely applied to white, male candidates for positions of power. Despite this country's long and ugly history with sexism and racism, the right castigates the left for merely implying that a body overstacked with white, Protestant, hetereosexual males might not produce the best results for an increasingly diverse country. Sotomayor's is the lot of any cultural "first."

Let us look at this quote, for example, courtesy of Senator John Cornyn. "We need to know ... whether she's going to be a justice for all of us or a justice for a few of us." This is actually one of the more innocuous comments, nonetheless, it is telling for two reasons. First, it evokes the same type of bigotry that comes along every time a "first" is nominated, elected or appointed. Can John Kennedy be both Catholic and POTUS, or will his policies be dictated by the Pope? Can Keith Ellison uphold the Constitution and follow the Koran? And I remember questions about what Joe Lieberman would do if an emergency popped up during Shabbat. Now, it is can a Latina justice be fair to everyone, or just Latinas?

Second, the fact that these questions are not asked of white, male justices simply evidences the subtle racism (and probably sexism) of our society. Roberts and Alito were never questioned as to whether they could be fair to anyone but other white men. They were never asked how their ethnicity impacts their judicial decision-making. What I take from the previews of the Republican attacks on Sotomayor is an unstated belief that white men are neutral, while any minority is pre-disposed to favoring their own sub-group and therefore can't be trusted to be a neutral justice. Just to be clear. White people can be color-blind justices, Latinas cannot. Read more...


This inequity is not one that the right is likely to notice. They only seem to recognize perceived and manufactured slights against the status quo, the prevailing power structure that looks an awful lot like them.

Many black Americans hold conservative fiscal and social beliefs. So, during the 2008 elections, there was some debate within the black blogosphere about why African Americans are overwhelmingly Democrats when it would seem that increasing our presence in the other major party might buy us some power. Did LBJ buy our undying support for his party when he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Are we addicted to the government teat? Do we think that only white Republicans can be biased against racial minorities? No. Like other marginalized groups with a fealty to the left, we realize that no party that continually and vocally fights to preserve racial and cultural priviledge will ever really adequately address the needs of marginalized and oppressed people. Oh, the Dems certainly do have their problems and their "isms," but I have yet to see a mainstream Democratic political figure (save Geraldine Ferraro) make proud and public mockery of the racial history and present of millions of Americans, ignore the nuances of race and prejudice in American, and twist power on its ear so that the oppressors are the oppressed. As long as mainstream, conservative leaders voice beliefs like those above, most people of color will be leary of the party's warm embrace.

If Newt Gingrich and his compatriots cannot understand what Sonia Sotomayor meant when she said:

In our private conversations, Judge [Miriam] Cedarbaum has pointed out to me that seminal decisions in race and sex discrimination cases have come from Supreme Courts composed exclusively of white males. I agree that this is significant but I also choose to emphasize that the people who argued those cases before the Supreme Court which changed the legal landscape ultimately were largely people of color and women. I recall that Justice Thurgood Marshall, Judge Connie Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench, and others of the NAACP argued Brown v. Board of Education. Similarly, Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, with other women attorneys, was instrumental in advocating and convincing the Court that equality of work required equality in terms and conditions of employment.

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice [Benjamin] Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. Read more...


...then it is highly unlikely that they will ever understand me.

8 comments:

Monica Roberts said...

Since 1964 the Republicans have done more to ensure I'll NEVER vote for a GOP candidate than they have done to EARN my vote.

MacDaddy said...

Speak on it1 Great post...puts the entire sorry episode of right-wing Republicans stealing the language of racism to further racism AND sexism in perspective. Blessings.

shaunee said...

When Republicans (or anyone for that matter) co opt words like 'racist' or 'discrimination', taking them out of context to describe the treatment of privileged people or those in power, it trivializes the meanings of these words and reduces their impact when they are used to describe ACTUAL instances of injustice. I think it's a form of continued cultural oppression in that it denies marginalized groups the opportunity to name their situation.

Also, the fact that Sotomayor (and other POC) are often challenged to prove their impartiality demonstrates the extend to which white, male, christian, heterosexual is the norm in our society. Of course Scalia and others who fit that demographic would not be asked to defend themselves because their values are assumed to coincide with those of the dominant culture.

Anonymous said...

The whole point of ring conservatives is to confuse the meaning of words. All they do is appropriate, and I have never heard white men held accountable for their default white male rulings.

How on earth I am supposed to expect anyone who has NO experience with my group or position to rule fairly? Men ruling on abortion when they have never been pregnant, for example.

It is the white male fear that minorities will do to them what they have always done to us. This is what they fear.

PureGracefulTree said...

I so appreciate your voice in all this, Tami. These ridiculous claims of reverse racism by privileged white men are triggering me all over the place and I'm so angry I can't express myself clearly. Thank you for speaking for us.

"It is the white male fear that minorities will do to them what they have always done to us. This is what they fear."

Very well said, Anonymous.

S said...

"I think it's a form of continued cultural oppression in that it denies marginalized groups the opportunity to name their situation." Well said.

Yes, yes, and yes to everyone else. The white man is not "neutral".

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone has done it, but I have yet to hear a white man call out other white men for their obvious LACK of neutrality about anything in the law. The law is written from the point of view of the people in power. Just as a novelist writes from her own cultural perspective.

This is so obvious, but no one says this in the malestream. I wonder why? Hmmm.

-Satsuma

RMJ said...

Terrific post! I really appreciate the extended quote too. Will be following this blog!

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