A Wise Latina, racism, and white privilege

POLITICS-US-USA-COURT-NOMINEEJudge Sonia Sotomayor can’t really say what needs to be said with reference to her ‘wise Latina’ quote, because she’s trying to get herself confirmed by Democrats and Republicans alike.

But I want her to say it.

Here are her statements, in what I hope is some context, lifted from another blog:

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.

and a little later:

Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

The question she’s being asked, most pointedly yesterday by Sen. Lindsey Graham, is why it’s not racist for her to say that– to say that she would *hope* she might reach a better conclusion due to “the richness of her experience”– but it would be racist for him to say that he would make a better conclusion based on his being a white man.

First of all, kudos to Senator Graham for acknowledging that such a statement from his lips would be racist.

What I wish judge Sotomayor could point out is the simple, plain-as-the (color of the) nose-on-his-face reason there is a difference: he’s a white man. He has clearly benefited from the systems of racism and its companion, white privilege. He has grown up and come to wealth and power in a country that has, for more than 200 years, presumed that white men *do* reach better conclusions because they are white men. That’s why, up until six months ago, the country had never been led by anyone but a white man. The experience of white men like Lindsey Graham, and to a large extent of white women like Becca Clark, is not rich diversity but has for a long, long time been considered normative, with all other people being considered the exception to the rule. That does give a person coming from outside that presumed norm a different perspective, particularly on systems of power and justice, and give him or her if not a better sense of judgment, a different sense, a sense of how a system might be built to sustain itself and the ones who have always benefited from it, and an eye for the places where there may be a need for greater justice for those typically disenfranchised and disempowered.

It’s not fair, many white people claim, that a person of color can make and ‘get away with’ a comment which, coming from my lips, would be a career-ending racist statement. It’s not fair to extend more wiggle room or forgiveness to ‘them’ than I might get. We should ponder that unfairness, Senator Graham says.

You’re right; it’s not fair. But while you’re pondering that unfairness, ponder the years of institutional racism on which this great nation has unfortunately built its sucess. Ponder how many black and latino men fill our prison systems compared with white men when measured against the general population. Ponder how women still make a good $.15 less on the dollar than their male counterparts. Ponder slavery and the Trail of Tears and the interment camps and migrant workers. Ponder, my white sisters and brothers, how the priviledges you enjoy and take for granted might be different if the pigment of your skin was a few shades darker, how I might not be a pastor, or a seminary graduate, or a college graduate, how I might not be able to leave the signed bill on the restaurant table and walk away without suspicion had I been born with a different ethnic heritage. And then whine about fairness in the words we use to describe ourselves and others.

Some things aren’t fair. But in the vast scheme of things, Senator Graham (and Becca Clark), whether or not you have to watch your mouth when making generalities doesn’t enter into the larger picture of justice and fairness. We’ve been privileged enough; it’s okay if a teeny shred of unfairness comes our way.

That’s what I’d like her to say. And that’s why– that, and a complete lack of knowledge and experience concerning the Law– I’d never make a good Supreme Court nominee.


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