Sonia Sotomayor, Racism, and the Problems with Liberals and Conservatives in America

Sonia Sotomayor has unfairly become a rallying cry for race-related debate by liberals and conservatives.

Sonia Sotomayor has unfairly become a rallying cry for race-related debate by liberals and conservatives.

There’s that dreaded subject again. Race. Race, racism, racial progress, racial prejudice, racial tolerance, it all boils down to one thing: controversy.

Race is a painful, taboo topic of discussion that always seems to turn its ugly head again and again. Especially in these United States, with our long history of racial injustice, talking about race can be an activity that makes people either run away or hide under their desks. That was true fifty years ago, it’s still true today.

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency last fall seemed like a step in the right direction. America had finally elected its first African American president. A country with a long history of slavery, race-inspired lynching, and segregation can partially bury its demons from the past with this historic election. Race will still be a problem in this country, but one memorable election certainly couldn’t hurt.

But the recent nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court by President Obama has stirred race-related discussions that expose two hard hitting facts about race in America: Some people cannot let go of the past and some people cannot embrace a new future.

Supporters of Sotomayor argue it is important for the Supreme Court to have a Latino woman on the bench. The Supreme Court, historically dominated by old white men, is the highest court in the nation. They determine the supreme law of the land. They decide how Americans can and cannot live. This is indeed a big deal.

Most of the discussion surrounding Sotomayor has nothing to do with her judicial beliefs or legal philosophy. Seen by a few Constitutional law experts as a center-left justice cut from the same cloth as the soon-to-retire David Souter, if confirmed, she will most likely make decisions that appease Obama’s liberal base while occasionally deciding in favor of conservatives.

Instead, talk about Sotomayor in the media mostly revolves around her ethnicity and a controversial statement she made on a few occasions, but most famously at a 2001 speech to the University of California, Berkley, School of Law entitled “A Latina Judge’s Voice.” Her quote is as follows:

“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.”

Conservatives argue this line of thinking implies that her ethnicity and cultural background alone qualifies her to serve on the bench. They fear her rulings will be biased toward racial minorities and that she will marginalized Caucasians if a race-related case comes before the Court. They also argue this statement is “reverse racist” because she implies her race and background is superior to that of a white man.

Former Speaker of the House and possible 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and outspoken radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh both called this statement racist and called Sotomayor a racist. Interestingly, Gingrich has since apologized for his condemnation of Sotomayor while Limbaugh has said he may support her confirmation. This proves one’s gut reaction should not be said publicly until you’ve had time to talk about it.

Ideally, a judge should be impartial, unbiased, and completely fair toward all people in court. In Harper Lee’s famous 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch tells Scout that “The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow.” Liberals argue Sotomayor’s Latina background will give her a better perspective when dealing with cases involving the common people, minorities, and women. Conservatives argue that that’s the problem. Her perspective should be objective and removed from outside influences, not unapologetically formulated by it.

What this debate illustrates is that liberals, or at least politically-minded liberals, cannot let go of the past. To them, every sin of the past must be made up by progressives of the present and future. Remember segregation? We must elect a black man to the presidency to cleanse us of those sins. Remember how we denied women the right to vote, have an abortion, and get paid equally to men in the workplace? We need to support a woman to join the Supreme Court if we are to let go of that dreadful past.

This, of course, is not how all liberals feel. Just those who have this perception that they have some guilt to relieve. Liberal bloggers and political pundits see the negative reaction to Sotomayor’s statement as signs that racism still exists in this country. Indeed it does, but perhaps they are ignoring the larger picture of equality. The fact that Sotomayor’s past life is coming back to haunt her is proof that women, to a certain degree, have made huge strides in becoming equal to men.

All politicians have dirt on them. All lawyers have dirt on them (there are a million lawyer jokes to back me up on this). When John Roberts and Samuel Alito were being confirmed to the Court during the Bush era, liberals were harsh on them and grilled them for hours before a congressional confirmation panel. Every memo, every paper, every legal statement they made were put under a microscope and analyzed to death. This happens when you are deciding whether to confirm someone to a life long appointment on the nation’s highest bench.

Liberals should not be surprised that such a statement would be considered controversial. Even a few left-leaning political columnists agree that she may have been a tad unwise to say something so controversial. Saying anything about “a white male who hasn’t lived that life” is guaranteed to turn heads. If Sotomayor had known she would later in life to considered for the Supreme Court, it can be guaranteed that she would have said something different.

However, the anger pouring out against her is proof that even though she is a minority woman, she will not get a free pass at attaining high positions of power. She will have to earn it. And in order to earn it, she has to explain herself and justify her beliefs. Roberts and Alito had to justify their beliefs before a skeptical congressional panel. The fact that Sotomayor has to do the same thing proves a certain degree of equality has been attained.

Assuming every attack on Sotomayor, or even skeptical remark, is fueled by racism is a way to silence critics and assure her confirmation. Not everything is related to race. Maybe I am less perceptive than other people, but most white Americans in 21st century America don’t look at a minority as just a minority. That might be part of their internal social mental description, but that is certainly not everything. Not everything is about race.

Conservatives become defensive about race because they feel liberals hark on them about it all the time. Conservatives and Republicans definitely did not help in ending slavery or Jim Crow laws. Ultra-right winged radicals were the ones who lynched blacks in the South and most recently murdered abortionist doctor George Tiller. While this is all true, conservatives fear threatened that every time they criticize someone of color, they will automatically be branded a racist. This is why Republicans are cautious to criticize Obama’s policies. They don’t want to be known as a “hater” and be voted out in the next election.

One of the reasons why racism still exists is because there are people who refuse to let it go. They dwell in the past instead of living in the present. I believe that every schoolchild should learn about America’s horrific past with racism. The history of slavery, abolitionism, segregation, and the Civil Rights movement should be taught to every child in the United States. But after that, we should learn from the past so that we don’t commit the same crimes in the future. Continuously returning to the past and unburying the skeletons in the closet will only further alienate people from the discussion and make them bitter. Real progress cannot happen if people insist on dwelling on the sins of those long gone.

Conservatives, on the other hand, fear for the future. They are guilty of fearing what a diverse and egalitarian America will look like. They fear that having women in positions of power will strip down the “old boys club” and make it that their wives, girlfriends, mothers, and daughters can have authority over them. Such a horrible thought.

It is no mystery that conservatives value tradition and keeping things the way they are. Hence, they want to “conserve” the status quo. But if that means maintaining a system where rich white men have all the control, then we have a problem. Women and minorities deserve a chance at making it big. They deserve to have their voices heard and their needs considered. That is why we live in a democratic system. We are government of the people, for the people, and by the people. And women and minorities are people.

Perhaps conservatives fear that a pseudo “melting pot” America will destroy what it means to be “American.” Instead of having a clean cut white Christian family be the face of America, it might be a black Muslim family. Or a Buddhist Chinese family. Or an atheistic Latino family. Or a gay family. Such thoughts keep conservatives up at night.

Once again, I say “conservatives” to mean those who are far to the right, like a Rush Limbaugh or a Bill O’Reilly. Most normal or moderate conservatives have no fear of white men sharing power. They just fear Big Government and socialized healthcare. But that is a whole other sack of potatoes.

For conservatives, talking about “race” is all about how evil conservatism is and how Big Government should be authorized to tell people how to live, work, and interact. What they don’t understand is that most moderate liberals think of race in terms of improving society, not demonizing the white man. Only the radicals are bent on destroying the system. Moderates/pragmatists just want to live in peace.

In short, this is the conclusions one can make regarding how race is discussed and viewed in America. One can go on for hours about the little nuances of race-related issues, but that is for later. What Sonia Sotomayor represents is a larger discussion about how women and minorities are treated in this country. And that is not fair to her. She is an individual who should be treated as an individual. She is smart, independent, and her own woman. Framing her as “a sign of progress” dehumanizes her and makes her a symbol of “equality.”

If I can fault both liberals and conservatives about one thing, it’s that most of this discussion should be about Sotomayor’s qualifications as a judge, not her race or gender. For liberals to make her a rallying point for egalitarianism and for conservatives to make her an example of “reverse racial discrimination” devalues her as a human being and forces her to be a battleground for an age old war that she does not deserve to be a part of.

Please, those on the left and right, focus on her judicial philosophy and not your own race-related social agenda. This should be about deciding who gets to determine our country’s laws, not about your own personal biases. Sonia Sotomayor, though she is a Latina woman, should be treated as a human being, not a political symbol.

If you cannot do that, then you should take a long look at yourself in the mirror and reconsider what you really value in life.

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3 Comments on “Sonia Sotomayor, Racism, and the Problems with Liberals and Conservatives in America”

  1. p of v Says:

    Rather cryptic advice, as I value a lot of different things. But more to the point: You’re wrong.
    Judge Sotomayor has come down, more often than not, to the Right of Center on most right/left issues. You’d know that if you looked at her record, instead of worrying about your own agenda. Whatever that might be…

  2. timtakechi Says:

    Thanks for commenting and reading my blog. And as for my “agenda,” what agenda? I’m not a talking head on television. I’m just someone who writes a blog. If I’m trying to change the world, this is not the way to do it.

    And, if I may add, what exactly am I “wrong” about?

    • you'll never guess Says:

      your agenda, sir, is strikingly clear: you intend to have things in the world happen, then blatently write about them, using current events and politics as some sort of fodder for this ‘blogging’ of yours. well, my good man, we are on to you, and don’t think you’re getting away wih opining and making your view known!


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