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.

The Radical Right vs. Sotomayor

And so it begins.

But a scant few hours after her name is made public, Sonia Sotomayor–Barack Obama’s pick to fill the vacancy left by Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court–is the target of the radical right in their campaign to obstruct, slander, and emerge victorious in the war of emotions as opposed to ideas.

The porcine Rush Limbaugh began his attack today on his radio show. Recycling the litany of arguments devised in backroom meetings where strategists hold firm to the belief that if you say it enough it becomes true, the bloated host declaring her dumb, emotional, anti-Constitutional, and a reverse racist. In defense of the rights of “white men,” Limbelch chortled:

So she’s not the brain that they’re portraying her to be, she’s not a constitutional jurist. She is an affirmative action case extraordinaire and she has put down white men in favor of Latina women.

You can read more of his comments here.  If you wonder how he could have possibly learned so much about her in a short amount of time, reading all hr court decisions and analyzing them down to a concise and informed position on the matter all in about one hour, well, then you’re probably not reading this now, are you?


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?


Race-blind Republicans on the Attack

You knew this was coming.  I mean, you knew, right?

From today’s Los Angeles Times comes this article discussing the ways Conservatives are continuing to attack the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the courts.

Conservative legal foundations and the Republican governor of Georgia, challenging key parts of the Voting Rights Act, filed briefs in the Supreme Court this month pointing to racial progress and a high black turnout in the fall election. They said Obama’s victory heralded the emergence of a colorblind society in which special legal safeguards for minorities are no longer required.

This is the latest phase of a continuing war Conservatives have been waging since, let me see…yes, since 1965! Sadly, it has been achieving success in small ways in recent years.  (As I have warned before, these small ways are exactly how these groups plan legal strategies, so, yes, you should be worried.)

The new and tragic element in today’s story is that they are now using the election of Barack Obama as proof that we have reached a colorblind society which no longer needs things like the Voting Rights Act. Ward Connerly–everybody’s favorite opportunist who uses his black face to give “moral authenticity” to organized attempts to undo the gains of the Civil Rights Era–said “If we can’t get rid of these laws now with Obama, I don’t know what yardstick we’re going to use.”

Hmmmm.  How about we use the yard stick that says race is no longer a factor in creating social, political, and economic inequality?  Yeah, that sounds good!

Mr. Connerly doesn’t read a lot, so maybe he doesn’t know, but the casual and everyday violence of racial segregation and discrimination remain very much alive.  Most Americans continue to live in racially-homogenous communities.1 Most of this nation’s children sit in classes almost entirely made up of children of their own race, learning in spaces even more segregated than they were a generation ago.2

Studies show a continuing gap in household income for Black and Latino families—with Blacks earning only 62% and Latinos only 72% of the average white family.  Household net worth is a better measure of the wealth disparity in our society, but that data is no better.  The median white household is more than 8 times as wealthy as the average Latino household and more than 17 times as wealthy as the average African American one.3 Black and brown poverty continue to outpace white poverty, in both cases by a factor of more than two to one.4

Of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, about 40% are Black and 20% are Latino, though both groups only represent about 15% of the general population.5 When contrasted with their rates of college enrollment, an African American or Latino young person is 3 times as likely to end up in prison as they are in college.

But these kinds of harsh realities really don’t matter to Conservatives. For some, they are indicators of laziness and criminality within communities of color, not of the persistence of white supremacy. For others, they just ignore this reality altogether.

Shannon Goessling, the director of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, one of the well-funded armies in this war, made the conservative case succinctly when she said: “The question now is, at what point do we as a society wipe the slate clean and accept that we are equals with equal rights, equal treatment and equal expectations, and special treatment shouldn’t be provided to anyone?” Interesting how they label laws designed to assure the condition of equal rights as “special treatment.”

Here’s a joke for you: What do these folks call it when “special treatment” is no longer law and the discriminatory practices which seem to have all the inertia in this political system find solace without opposition or recognition?  Answer? They call that “success!”


1 John Iceland and Daniel H. Weinberg, with Erika Steinmetz, “Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregation in the United States: 1980-2000,” Census 2000 Special Reports, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2002).
2 Gary Orfield, Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge (Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA, 2009).
3 Alfred O. Gottschalck, “Net Worth and the Assets of Households: 2002,” Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2008), 13. These figures exclude wealth derived from home equity.
4 Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007,” Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2008), 6 and 13.
5 U.S. Census Bureau, “Census Bureau Releases New Data on Residents of Adult Correctional Facilities, Nursing Homes and Other Group Quarters,” press release, September 27, 1007. Available from . Accessed on October 12, 2007.