As expected, Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise latina” comment has been one of the many major issues brought up at her confirmation hearing. As expected, Sotomayor has said everything other than retract the statement or apologize for it. In practical terms, this means that she has only said that it was a poor choice of words and misunderstood, not that the words were offensive, racist, bigoted or a reflection on her opinion about white men. Her position that the words were taken out of context fell flat because her explanation that she was attempting to inspire Hispanic women lawyers implied that she meant exactly what she said.
This has not, however, stopped many on the left from trying to defend Sotomayor’s words. Let us be clear on this: the issue is not that those criticizing Sotomayor’s words are scared or intimidated by non-white people, nor does it appear to be an issue of those people whining over the loss of white man = default. The issue is the notion that being non-white and female inherently makes one better than white men. While this is a popular view among many people (as a result of political correctness), the view is in and of itself racist, sexist and bigoted. Nevertheless, Sotomayor’s statement is still hypocritical.
Her statement is the reversal of past and sometimes current views about non-white groups. There are plenty of people who have been subjected to that kind of bias and bigotry and watched in awe as it went on unrestrained. Yet those same people seem unable — or rather unwilling — to realize that Sotomayor’s comments do to white people, particularly white men, the very thing they do not want done to them.
Daily Kos blogger Vita Brevis demonstrated this in her recent post:
You don’t understand how someone’s experience other than being a white male, which in your view is the norm…the baseline…the yardstick by which all is measured, is relevant to anything. You see the world through false equivalencies and rear projected ideals that don’t and have never existed.
I know you well. I knew you from the time I was a black girl in the 5th grade who won the school spelling bee, and the white boy I defeated hid out after school one day to challenge me to a fist fight. (I weighed about 48 lbs…he at least 20lbs more) His dad, a grown white man, asked him how he could have lost to a nigger. What he would have asked him had he lost to any of the other finalists, all of whom were white, several of whom were female, I’ll never know.
I’ve known you in my professional life, when I’ve heard the whispers and the outright accusations of promotions, awards, recognition, being solely due to my gender or race.
I’ve known you in my personal life when you’ve shown up to do work at my home and are visibly taken aback that I live in my home. Or when I hear you comment behind my back about the car I drive, and how I must have an affirmative action job in order to afford it, and how it “must be nice”, suggesting I haven’t earned it.
I’m sorry you’re scared. I’m sorry for you that you are that insecure. I’m also glad to know that you are a shrinking minority. That there are more white men like my High School teacher and some of my Professors in college. Strong, confident, white men who aren’t afraid to share the playing field they’ve dominated throughout history. Men like we saw today in Senators Whitehouse, Schumer, Feingold. I’m glad I’m married to a white guy, who like them, isn’t afraid.
Even as Brevis shares her experiences of racism, she fails to understand that many white people, particularly white men, have been subjected to the same kind of sentiments, particularly as it relates to job and educational opportunities. There is a perception that white men in those positions have not actually earned them. They did not work for them. They simply showed up — uneducated, uncredited, undeservingly — and were simply given the job because they were white and male.
The difference is that the latter sentiment is considered fair.
That makes Brevis’ statement “I’ve known you in my professional life, when I’ve heard the whispers and the outright accusations of promotions, awards, recognition, being solely due to my gender or race” all the more ironic because that is exactly what she thinks of white men.
Yet even more ironically, Brevis misses the point that the Senators were making, which is best exemplified by Lindsey Graham’s comment:
If Lindsey Graham said that ‘I will make a better senator than X because of my experience as a Caucasian male makes me better able to represent the people of South Carolina,’ and my opponent was a minority, it would make national news, and it should. Having said that, I am not going to judge you by that one statement. I just hope you’ll appreciate the world in which we live in, that you can say those things meaning to inspire somebody and still have a chance to get on the Supreme Court. Others could not remotely come close to that statement and survive. Whether that’s right or wrong, I think that’s the fact.
Unfortunately, it is a fact, and it is one that someone with Brevis’ experiences should understand. No one likes being judges by their race or their gender, yet it appears acceptable to do to white people, particularly white men. The argument that historically other white men have harmed other people is not a valid excuse for subjecting all white men to open bias and prejudice, nor is it a valid excuse for claiming that non-white women are better than white men.
The point is to treat people equally, not favor one group over another. The way that the prejudices began in our society started with the types of comments Sotomayor and Brevis made. It begins with the presumption that one’s own biases are fair, it is perpetuated by framing anyone who criticizes those objections as selfish, scared and insecure, and rationalized by comparing valid criticism with horrible, egregious actions (whether existent or fictitious).
We are all guided by our experiences, and sometimes the horrible experiences have a much greater impact. One would hope that people with similar experiences would be more vigilant against all forms of prejudice and discrimination. Reality, unfortunately, demonstrates that is not always the case.