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Progressive Revival

Wise Latina Power! Judge Sotomayor and the Senate Confirmation Hearings

I’m sick of the constant harping on Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s ‘Wise Latina’ comment.  Jeff Sessions, the Senator from the great state of Alabama (‘everybody knows about Alabama’ -Nina Simone) made reference to it again in his opening/opposing statement at Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings today. 

The sentence, for those of you who haven’t been following the obsession, goes like this: 
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.
Judge Sotomayer said these words to a conference called Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation.  The context makes a difference. The context was a symposium meant to give encouragement to other Latina and Latino lawyers – a minority group that has traditionally been under represented in the legal tradition, especially as judges.
For those who have always enjoyed the privilege of assuming they could be the best at something it seems odd to say that you might actually be better at it than another group – that fact is taken for granted.  For instance, nobody is questioning my ability as a man to be a good lawyer, a good judge, a good voter, a good landowner, a good bank account holder – because it was presumed by society that I would be good at those things by the very nature of my gender. 
Not so for a women.  
There was a time when for a women to make the case that she should be allowed to be a lawyer, judge, voter, landowner, bank account holder (let alone claim she might be a good one) was extraordinary, as all of these things were forbidden to women.  So at a conference encouraging women it would not surprise one to hear a woman say that she might even be better at these things than a man because she is forced to compensate for an entire society that has legally and normatively insisted that she is not only not equal – she is inferior.   
So maybe in the context of the symposium supporting the idea that Latina women and Latino men could be judges (shock!) Judge Sotomayor was compensating a little.  Maybe she also was right and that the particular rich experience that a wise Latina women would be bring would be a valuable addition to the court (for more on that question see my earlier post Racist or Representative).
I, for one, am not intimidated or threatened by her comments. I do not believe that 
Judge Sotomayor’s is a racist.  She is proud of the abilities and wisdom that she and other  Latina women are offering to the bench.  She is qualified and I welcome her confirmation.  
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Grant Turner

posted July 14, 2009 at 12:45 am

The problem is that she said one group was better than another group, period. You don’t say that under the current rules of political correctness and have your career survive–unless you are a liberal. Then you can argue context. A conservative would have been ruined regardless of the context.
You may be tired of that, too. But it is true nonetheless. This racial and political double standard must be dynamited out of existence. It’s corrosive; breeds resentment. And it should be discussed in these confirmation hearings.
I hope the Republicans can use this opportunity to get that discussion started and really dissect the issue;establish what is acceptable language for all people regardless of their race or credentials.
You’re tired of hearing about it. So let’s handle it, put it away, and you won’t have to hear about it anymore. Otherwise it will come up again and again in this context and in future situations, both public and private.
We are becoming more divided as a country and this double standard is a major reason. One rule for minorities and one for whites. One rule for conservative and another standard for liberals. It’s simple and simply wrong.
It hurts public discourse and our ability to govern ourselves as a result. We’ve got enough problems with our mania for distractions and the superficiality of what serves as information and what serves as thinking.
If Sotomayor’s thinking and language are attitudes are sound, then you should welcome the debate. It’s worth having. Her nomination could be fortuitous, not just for Latina women, but for the republic.

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