Sotomayor & Reverse Racism
Rush Limbaugh has accused Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor of being a reverse racist. He bases his claim primarily on a quote from speech she gave in 2001 at Berkeley. She said that a “wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
While I generally consider Rush to be a reliable indicator of the false, he does raise a legitimate concern here. After all, imagine if a white male nominated by Bush had said “a wise white man with the richness of his experience would more often that not reach a better conclusion than a Latina women who hasn’t lived that life.” That would have certainly created something of a frenzy on the left-just as Sotomayor’s remark is stirring up the more right wing folks.
Of course, I do take issue with Rush’s use of the term “reverse racism.” The reversal of racism would be, of course, its opposite. What people like Rush seem to mean by the term is racism by non-whites against whites. However, that is not reverse racism, but simply racism. Interestingly, the term “reverse racism” seems to be most often used by folks on the right, almost as if racism is something that is supposed to go from white to non-white rather than from non-white to white. So, I’ll just use the terms “racism” and “racist” without the term “reverse.”
While the quote needs to taken in its proper context, it is still well worth examining on its own. I have no dispute or worry about two aspects of her claim. First, she puts an emphasis on being wise. Second, she makes a point of the richness of life experience. It is reasonable to accept that a wise person with rich experience would tend to make better conclusions that someone lacking those traits.
However, she brings in both gender and race. Now, I’d grant that a wise Latina women with rich experience would tend to reach better conclusions than an unwise, inexperienced white man. But this is not because of the race or gender differences. Rather, it is because of (as noted above) the differences in wisdom and experience.
It is in the reference to gender and race that the racism and sexism seem to come into play. After all, she can be seen as indicating that a Latina woman would reach better conclusions than a white man because she is a a Latina and a woman. She does, of course, say “a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” But does she mean a white male who lacks experience or a white male who has not lived the live of a Latina woman? if she means the former, then this would not seem to be a racist remark but a simple truism: more experienced people tend to reach better conclusions. If she means the latter,then that might be taken as racist.
Perhaps Sotomayor’s remark is intended to reply to the racist view that a white man would reach better conclusions than even a wise and experienced Latina woman simply because he is a white man. If so, then her remark need not be racist.
In any case, she will need to defuse this remark. Given that the Democrats control Congress, she should have no problems.
Continuing the discussion, I did see a piece on CNN in which Roland Martin went after Rush’s remarks. While I agree with his general view of Rush, Martin’s main attacks were just fallacies, specifically ad hominems. He attacked Rush for his own racist remarks and also took a shot at Rush’s past drug abuse. While these claims are true, they are not relevant to the truth of Rush’s claim. Of course, being logical is not really an effective approach for a political pundit/commentator either on the left or the right.
Finally, Rush also accused Obama of being a racist. While that seems untrue, it is reasonable to consider Rush’s claim that Sotomayor is the nominee because she is a Latina woman. To select someone because of race and gender would certainly seem to be a racist and sexist action. Of course, racism and sexism are normally taken to occur when it is a white male being selected based on race and gender. But, it is using race and gender as deciding factors that make it racism-not the specific race or gender.
I think Rush is right in his claim that she is the nominee in part because she is a Latina woman. Of course, Obama’s actual motivation need not be what might be considered standard racism and sexism. Standard racism and sexism is seeing a race or gender as superior or inferior based on how one thinks or feels about that race and gender.
Obama has also been accused of picking her so as to pander to voters and also to pay them back. To be specific, Hispanics helped him get elected and some have argued that this means he owes them something. Nominating Sotomayor could thus be a classic case of political pay back and a move calculated to keep and bolster Hispanic and female support for the administration. If Obama picked her for this reason, he need not be racist and sexist at all-he just needs to be a politician. The folks who think that as Hispanics and women they are owed something, well they would seem to be thinking in race and gender terms.
A final thought on the nomination, race and gender. Some folks on the left like to say how they want to get rid of racism and sexism. However, to do so they place a great deal of emphasis on race and gender. For example, some folks push hard to get a person elected or nominated because she is a woman or a minority. But, of course, the more that someone focuses on race and gender, the less likely it is that race and gender will not matter. This might be seen as something of a paradox: to make racism and sexism go away, people have to behave in ways that seem racist and sexist. For example, to make race and sex not matter on the Supreme court, people of diverse races and both sexes have to serve on the bench until it seems perfectly normal for that to happen. Of course, to make this happen, nominees have to be picked, in part, because they are a certain race or gender. This would, of course, seem to be racism and sexism justified by trying to get rid of racism and sexism.