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May 31, 2009 | By More

I loved this op-ed piece over at Huffpo by John Ridley – “Note to Newt . . . ” – regarding Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor’s supposedly racist comment about the perspective of a Latina woman in a 2001 speech.?? Ridley is right on target with his comparisons of “old racism” and “new racism” – as if a comparison can even be made. Mostly, Newt and his ilk just seem annoyed that “they” just don’t know their places these days. Not women, not minorities, not gays . . . life just isn’t as simple when everyone goes off and thinks they’re just as good as the good ol’ white guys.

Image by ajagendorf25 at Flickr (creative commons)

Image by ajagendorf25 at Flickr (creative commons)

Sotomayor’s point was essentially that anyone who has seen the system from the bottom up has a deeper experiential perspective from which to draw when discussing said system.? That doesn’t make her every thought on it correct or best, but overall, her perspective has more to draw on than that of a privileged white male who never had to fight for his place at any table, let alone on any bench.

I don’t discount white males, by any means, and neither did she.? Lots of them, present company included, are wonderful, open-minded, intelligent and fair people. By calling her comment “racist,” Gingrich has merely shown he has precious little understanding of what racism is really all about.


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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Civil Rights, Community, Current Events, hypocrisy, Language, Politics

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I am a writer and communication professional in St. Louis, Missouri, a crafter of jewelry, a disorganized optimist and most importantly, the adoptive mom of two China-born daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Danny says:

    I've wavered a bit on this matter. I don't think there's enough evidence yet to say "racist." I watched Meet the Press this morning and read the whole controversial quote in context, which did slightly alter the meaning to me (thought I'd reproduce it here since I haven't heard it quoted anywhere else in the media)…

    “Judge Cedarbaum… believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum's aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society.

    Whatever the reasons… we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning….

    Our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that—it's an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others….

    Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.

    Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases…. I am… not so sure that I agree with the statement. First… there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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.”

    She raises an interesting issue, namely that we all say justice is blind and expect this to be the case. But she seems to say that people don't do this in reality and everyone, whether they admit it or not, makes decisions based on their background and experiences.

    The only wiggle room I see her having is that in her comment, it is clear that the "a wise Latina woman" is in reference to her specifically and not Latinas in general, and likewise the "a white male" is in reference to the perceived status quo. She seems to be trying to tout the credentials of her experiences, and not her race.

    Not sure I agree with her premise that we need people of different races and ethnicities as judges in order to represent all of America's races and ethnicities. Race issues are human issues, so as long as someone can empathize with the range of human hardship and struggle, then that should meet the empathy requirement that people are talking about our judges having.

  2. The statement was more about life experience than race, but she did state it rather poorly, probably expecting everyone to know what she meant rather than worry over what she said.

    I'm not sure I agree with it, either, but it's a fixable problem—before graduation from law school, every potential jurist should serve a year or two in a community utterly different than the one he or she grew up in. That would go for minorities, as well—you can make flawed assumptions in the other direction just as easily based on lack of experience. Not every privileged white male is unworthy of empathy.

  3. Mindy Carney says:

    Agreed, Mark, absolutely. I think that is an excellent idea – a sort of "residency" for lawyers.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    David Brooks (whom I usually consider to be nothing more than a right-wing tool with an occasional worthwhile thought) had a good editorial this week about this issue. In it, he pointed out that, indeed, we are all (judges included) biased and that our biases often reveal themselves not in outright bigotry, but rather in how each of us prioritizes the available facts. Give two people the same set of facts — say a litigation between a big corporation and a former employee who claims racial discrimination — and each person will weight the facts differently. One person might give more weight to facts showing that the corporation isn't responsible for the centuries of discrimination that has produced the current socioeconomic disparities among the races, while the other might give more weight to facts showing that corporations are prominent members of their communities and, as such, should try hard to benefit all citizens of those communities. Each person's biases will thus guide how he or she sifts through the facts of the case for what they believe is most important. I found his approach useful, because it helps to get away from the unfortunate tendency of calling someone a bigot and, instead, keeping the discussion on a more even-tempered foundation. Not that there aren't bigots in this world, but there are also many people who, for apparently other reasons, do not seem to look at things from any perspective other than their own.

  5. Mindy Carney says:

    So today Mr. Gingrich has apologized for his use of the term "racist." He didn't like what she said, but he acknowledges overstating when he used the word.

    I wonder if this may be a glimpse of the (perhaps) one positive to come out of the discussion surrounding George Tiller and the fact that emotionally-charged rhetoric, broadcast repeatedly, can and does incite the fringe unhinged to violence. I'm not saying there is no personal culpability on the part of Tiller's alleged killer, but I have to believe that even Bill O'Reilly, when faced with that video of his 25+ references to "the baby killer, death mill, etc.," has to be able to see that someone on the edge could be spurred to action by his words.

    I'm just wondering if Gingrich sat back and thought (or an adviser posed the scenario), "What if some crazy goes after this woman and then insists he was trying to protect the Supreme Court from racists?" Better to take that back than be blamed, even indirectly, for something like that.

    I do not advocate mincing words, but I do believe some words and labels that tend to be bandied around in the press rather regularly should be used much more sparingly. Maybe, just maybe, this was a wake-up call for those whose brains still function on a rational level. Meaning, of course, that I hold out little hope for the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck.