My buddy often watches the news on the TV he has in his office while he eats his lunch, which means that I am apt to get hot and bothered phone calls from him right when I am trying to enjoy reading the paper in peace while eating my own midday meal.
"Hey man" he yelled into the phone yesterday, "can you believe this? They're calling Sotomayor a racist!"
He caught me before I'd read the New York Times, but it just so happened that I had perused a USA TODAY with breakfast, so I had an idea of what he was talking about. "Now you get to see what all those think tanks are really there for - to manufacture ideas and talking points and buzzwords to sway the political discourse."
"But a racist?" he said. "I thought black people - I mean, minorities - can't be racist."
"If you're looking for a definition," I said, "in my mind a racist person has to have power, or access to power. So, if you have an Attorney General who is black, what he says starts to mean something different than if he is just a guy in the public. Or the president. It used to be that we could count on being powerless to shield us, but now that things are changing, I don't think we can automatically say "black people can't be racist" anymore.
My buddy mused over that one for a minute before going to another topic. And just like that, I saw that the changes in the political landscape these past few months was starting to trickle down to our everyday lives.
What did Sonia Sotomayor say that has conservative talking heads calling her a racist?
"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 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."
From the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture in 2001, delivered by Sonia Sotomayor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law
It is this sentence - "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" - that has sparked the latest debate over our first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee. Within the context of the entire speech she gave, one could argue that she was simply trying to explain why her Latina identity is important. Professional spinmeisters who reside deep in the bowels of the Democratic Party machinery are hard at work right now trying to recast this statement in a way that makes its message more palatable.
I think she said what she meant, and she meant what she said - given that all other things are equal, the experiences gleaned from the perspective of being a minority in this country provide minorities with a broader knowledge base than that of a mainstream American. Almost every Downtown Brown I know feels that they have seen more of life than their white counterparts, even if they have essentially had the same upbringing.
When there was no way in hell any minority could be a state governor, or U. S. senator, or Attorney General, or Supreme Court justice, or the president of the United States, we could say things like Sonia Sotomayor said with impunity in our efforts to balance our own mental scales. Even though the reality is that most of us will never sit on the Supreme Court, or command the nation's military, or control the country's federal prosecutors, we are still as minorities going to have to begin to manufacture new ideas and talking points and buzzwords of our own in order to more accurately define our relationship to today's America.