I don’t listen to conservative talk radio all that often. Over the past two days I have listened quite a bit, as I was interested in the reactions to the nomination of Judge Sotomayor. The reaction is about what one would expect. The conservative talking heads are all against her. Rush Limbaugh called her a racist yesterday. Rush did this knowing that the AP was streaming his show for his reaction. My initial reaction was that it was a very strong charge and we shouldn’t prejudge based on one quote and one court case. I detest the word racist being thrown about without real thought or proof. It is dangerous and very damaging. Just remember the shameful behavior when Justice Alito was going through the confirmation process.
I am still not comfortable with that term being used to describe the Judge, but I think this may be an opportunity to further the discussion in this country. After all, the Attorney General feels we are cowards on this subject. So, let us have the uncomfortable conversation. There is apparently a theory that states that people of color have basic differences in reasoning and logic based on inherently physiological and cultural differences. Reportedly, the judge feels that this may be valid theory. Based on her quote it seems like that is a fair assessment of her beliefs.
But let us talk about biases that are based on more than just race. Let us talk about the bias based on political beliefs. In 1948, a black child was born in a very small poor town in rural Georgia. The father left the family when he was only 2, and at one point his family became homeless. He moved in with his grandparents who had him working on the family farm. This boy grew up to become Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Yet, another feel good story about someone overcoming all the odds and reaching the pinnacle of his chosen profession. Yet, yesterday President Obama said that the Supreme Court is full of people of privilege. Judge Sotomayor would be the first “real” person to sit on the bench. What about the early life of Justice Thomas is privileged? Is this about the fact that he is a minority who happens to be a conservative? That bias does exist in this country, and that must be part of the conversation. Not all conservatives are old white men.
Another uncomfortable part of the conversation also needs to be the brilliance of the pick of Judge Sotomayor itself. The choice of a minority woman lends itself to the fact that anyone going after her aggressively can and will be called a racist. A cynic could easily say this was part of the thought process that went into the pick itself. “If there is the perception that somehow she is being treated unfairly or they are distorting her record or comments, I think there will be a backlash in the Latino community. All we want is for the process to be respectful and fair. There could be a great resentment within the Latino community if it is seen somehow that she is not being treated with the respect due to a Supreme Court nominee”. This is a statement from the President of National Council of La Raza. If we are truly to live up to the ideal of Dr. King and we judge people based on the content of their character, it would only be fair to ask the same questions that were asked of Sam Alito. He was made out to be a racist during his confirmation hearings solely based on some college clubs and some well chosen cases. At one point his wife ran out of the Senate chamber in tears. President Obama himself wanted to filibuster to stop the floor vote. This statement came after admitting that he was well qualified for the position, his objection was only based on his constructionist views of the role of the Supreme Court.
The question about what the reaction would be if a white man made the statement that he would come to a better conclusion than a Latino woman is a fair one. If we are truly to become the nation that Dr. King envisioned, we must be able to ask the same questions of everyone without fear of recrimination. Discrimination is discrimination no matter who the person is. Men, women, black, white, hispanic, gay, and straight, we are all capable of discrimination. This is why the conversation is so uncomfortable.