Racial hypocrisy in the Sotomayor hearings

Thus far, there are no surprises in the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings.  Unfortunately, that is the problem.

Two things are abundantly clear: many people remain ignorant on the historical legacy of race and racism in the United States; and many people continue to cling to the privilege of white supremacy by absolving themselves of personal, racial ideologies and ways of knowing while exercising the same.

Republicans don’t seem to have much when it comes to actual legal decisions she has made. In sum, she’s hardly a flaming liberal in the record of the court and, on top of that, she practices what is considered to be a fair and impartial method by legal standards.

So what do they do?

They try to make her out to be a racist and an “activist” judge because she once suggested people working in the law might think differently because of their ethnic background and life experience.

To deny that is not only ahistorical, it is also perfectly produced by history.  It is a denial rooted in white supremacy.

What else is it when a bunch of white men attack a Latina judge for being racist when they never questioned once the bold suggestion that a white man was the most qualified in all the nation the previous TWO times an open seat on the court was filled?

What else is it when a bunch of white men assume the uncontroverted final word on what racism is–the overt recognition that race exists–rather than the one grounded in historical experience and forged out of antiracist struggle?

White supremacy rarely acknowledged “whiteness” except when it was confronted with its “opposite.”  One of the features of “whiteness” is the very denial of its existence.  “White people” don’t have race, that’s what those colored folks have. “Whiteness” is naturalized, the norm, simply what is.  All other racial constructions are the aberration, the difference, the problem.

Like the system it produces, white supremacy centers “white” people as the source of what is important and valued.

And that’s exactly what is happening here.


Feminism and the high court

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sonia Sotomayor’s statement about being a “wise Latina woman”:

I’m sure she meant no more than what I mean when I say: Yes, women bring a different life experience to the table. All of our differences make the conference better. That I’m a woman, that’s part of it, that I’m Jewish, that’s part of it, that I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks, all these things are part of me.

In an amazingly candid interview with the New York Times, Ginsburg spoke out being the only woman on the court, the Sotomayor nomination, and a host of other related issues. It is a rare and illuminating opportunity to hear such talk from a sitting Justice. Check it out.


The “Border Beat” (June 24, 2009)

Time for another run-down of some of the Latino-themed stories you might have missed in the last two weeks.  Damas y caballeros, the BORDER BEAT!

• “Sotomayor & Identity Politics” (The Nation)
Just a taste, really, of the buffet that is the blogosphere and the chatter about Sonia Sotomayor and “identity politics.” Along with the frequent discussions about Sotomayor and affirmative action, they generally help us to see the chronic ignorance of the mainstream on issues of race and power.  Here, we get some links to an alternative and the proof bearing pudding, so to speak.

• “Third year of fewer illegal immigrants caught” (Houston Chronicle)
For you “data queens” out there: some figures on the declination in the immigrant flow measured by border apprehensions. For you humanists, the comments offer proof that “border-militia radicals” are not “data queens.”

• “Border Companies Thrive on Mexican-Americans” (NY Times)
A rabid form of racial nationalism (like we have here in the U.S.) is not very compatible with free-market capitalism (like we have here in the U.S.).  Oh, irony!

• “Payments for Injuries to Workers Here Illegally” (NY Times)
Unauthorized immigrants face a host of legal barriers which discourage the protection of the rights they do have.  As workers, for example, they are more prone to abuse, physical injury, discrimination, and a violation of labor laws.  This story, from New York, describes the successful defense of the rights of “illegal” workers using the U.S. Courts as a tool for justice.

• “Utah Latinos learn details of new immigration law, SB81” (Salt Lake Tribune)
I’m prone to posting articles dealing with Latinos in Utah. Someday, when they takeover the state and overcome the minor theocracy they’ve established there, I want to be remembered as one of those visionaries who saw it coming. Right now, fodder for the future takeover as Utah decides to racially profile Latinos.

• “Sotomayor Shaped By Her ‘Nuyorican’ Roots” (NPR)
Well, it’s a bit strange to me, but a lot of people still don’t see Latinos as “people.” Stories like this background piece on Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor help with that, to be sure. Of course, I’m more interested in the word ‘Nuyorican’ becoming part of the mainstream.

• “Court backs LAPD immigration policy” (SF Chronicle)
A recent court decision defends the practices within local law enforcement agencies which do not comply with federal laws on immigration as part of their law enforcement duties. This has the potential to translate into precedent defending the right of cities to declare themselves “sanctuary cities.”


• “In the Coachella Valley, hope withers on the vine” (LA Times)

And the “can’t miss” story of the week comes from the Los Angeles Times and details the continued injustice in the fields of the Coachella Valley.


Sean Hannity Celebrates White Supremacy

FOX News talking head Sean Hannity aired a video clip of Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court nominee, wherein she states “I am a product of affirmative action. I am the perfect affirmative action baby.” He introduced the clip by saying:

Apparently being the beneficiary of reverse discrimination is a matter of pride for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Included in some of the materials recently submitted to Congress for the confirmation process is a tape of Judge Sotomayor singing the praises of affirmative action.

The title of this blog post may not be sincere, but it’s not too far off the mark either.  You see, when Hannity takes a complicated issue like race and opportunity, and then reduces it down to a trite form of rhetorical spin by calling it “reverse discrimination,” well, he has to live with the equally rational consequences.  Sean Hannity thinks white people should get opportunities because they are white.  That is “white supremacy” in its practical (and most frequent) application.


Because that’s what affirmative action sought to do.  It sought to undo what had been a centuries-long policy of affirmative action for “white” folks by trying to identify qualified or potentially qualified people of color and provide for them an opportunity to achieve.  It is vital to note, that opportunity was a mere slice of the government-funded opportunities afforded to “white” people.

Even if we only consider that period in US history from the 1930s to the 1970s–when new programs of “white” affirmative action were instituted and, later, new programs for people of color followed–this case becomes clear.  We can list the government-protected benefits which were both formally and informally denied to nonwhites: Social Security; job training in the Armed Forces; the full use of the GI Bill; unemployment benefits; FHA home loans; government incentives for home ownership; union rights; minimum wage and overtime rights; and the list goes on and on. This doesn’t even substantially include the day-to-day forms of discrimination people of color formally encountered.  This doesn’t include the other systemic forms of marginalization they faced (lack of protected voting rights and the like).

Affirmative action is often seen as a creation of the 1960s or 1970s, but that policy was crafted from the government-sponsored incentives and benefit structures of an earlier part of the century.  Calling it “reverse discrimination” separates it from its historical context and tries to analyze it as only a discrete practice–discrimination in the literal sense.  But it’s a hollow metaphor.  It’s the equivalent of calling a cup of water an ocean.

The failure of affirmative action was not in the Sonia Sotomayors of this world, people who have proven their distinction of being recipients of affirmative action policies.  Its failure isn’t in the way it discriminated against “whites,” a class of people whose status within the benefit structures of US society continues to reign supreme.  It is in the way affirmative action policies turned “racial justice” into “racial representation.”

Even when it opened up the spigot to people of color, it never turned it off for “whites.”  More importantly, it never forced “whites” to even consider why it was they were soaking wet.  Dripping all over the floor, it continued to allow an entire society of people to pretend that they were bone dry and thirsty.

Affirmative action was flawed, yes.  But it sought to address a real problem, one Sean Hannity won’t even acknowledge exists, because it is one that benefits him to this day.

Top Ten Surprising Facts About Sonia Sotomayor

Since most were watching Conan’s debut last night, you may have missed this on Letterman.

Top Ten Surprising Facts About Sonia Sotomayor

10. Last name is spanish for “mayor of soto”

9. Got her start as a WWE wrestling referee

8. In spare time, she enjoys stealing neighbor’s mail

7. Once stayed up for five straight nights to win NASCAR tickets

6. Impressed Obama by putting gavel in her mouth

5. From 1983 to 1987, was married to motor city madman Ted Nugent

4. Been known to bust the glass and steal Twix bars from courthouse vending machines

3. Chambers are decorated to look like helm of the starship Enterprise

2. Has already asked not to be seated next to Clarence Thomas

1. Demonstrated impeccable judgment by watching Conan

Same-Sex Marriage and a Latina on the Supreme Court

Today has been a big day in legal news, though not an entirely surprising one.

In a move everyone expected, the California State Supreme Court upheld the legality of Proposition 8, the anti-same-sex marriage act passed by voters in November 2008.  As they declared the legality of the measure and the manner of it passage into Constitutional law, they also upheld the legaility of the more than 18000 marriages which took place between the time the same court made same-sex unions legal and the voters disagreed.  You can read the story here.

This is a sad day for the cause of equal rights, but there have been many such days in the history of this nation.  Progressive movement forward has never been a foregone conclusion, it has always come from the deliberate and focused action of groups of people engaged in movement.  For this issue, there was no broad-based and collective movement before November 8, 2008.  There is now.  I doubt my 3-year old son will reach kindergarten before there is a voter-mandated change in the Golden State.


Today also marks a moment of tentative success of movements past with the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States of America.  If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate this fall, Sotomayor will become the first Latina to serve on the highest court of the land.

There is a long road ahead of the successful nomination of the Bronx-born, Nuyorican to the Court.  But it is a reflection of the success of generations of people who actively fought for recognition, representation, and a chance to participate as full members of a society.  It is the product of movements for change, ones that desired Latinos or Latinas in positions of power and ones that fought for bigger and more systemic changes.

One step backward, a small shuffle forward?