Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Let me jump right in on the topic of "bizarre things people believe about ethnicity, race, culture, and artifacts." Unless you’ve spent the last month in a nuclear submarine under the polar ice cap (or has it melted?), you know that Sonia Sotomayor has said, “a Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male,” and you know that Rush Limbaugh and others have labeled her a racist. Is the statement racist? Yes. Is Sotomayor a racist? I seriously doubt it. All of us occasionally make statements that don’t reflect exactly what we believe or that we later regret. I find it difficult to believe that someone with Sotomayor’s intelligence and education would be a racist. But the statement she made actually commits two acts of racism. First, it groups all white males together and judges them based solely on their race. Second – and equally specious – it groups all Latina women together and judges them solely by their race. The fact is that some Latina women with a richness of experience are drug addicts and some are federal judges. Some white males are felons and some are federal judges. Racism is attributing a trait to an individual based solely on his or her race. It is a pernicious way of thinking because it strips persons of their individuality. Stereotyping is a form of racism. Racial profiling is a form of racism. If Sonia Sotomayor makes better decisions as a Supreme Court Justice than her white male colleagues – and she may well do so – it will not be because she is Latina. Certainly her background has shaped her character, but that is true of everyone. Millions of white men grew up in poverty and struggled against prejudice because they came from the wrong side of the tracks and had names like Gryzbowski or Ghielmetti. And many people of all ethnicities who are born to privilege seek out challenges to develop their character. Yes, Sotomayor’s background is part of what molded her character, but her decisions should be based on her knowledge of the law which she obtained like every other Supreme Court Justice of whatever color or gender – by years of education, hard work, and dedication to the law.

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