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If She is Racist, Why Isn't He?...Race, Gender, & Class Conflicts

Recently I wrote an In My Opinion (IMO) in the Press Republican (PR) on April 28 about a local politician who recently made statements that were consistent with what men who were against the women’s suffrage movement might have said, or what racists against the abolitionist’s movement might have said. When I expressed disbelief that she could have made these statements, I was called intolerant by an ex-student of mine in another PR IMO (May 9). This ex-student attempted to take me to task for being intolerant simply because I challenged the politician's alleged statements. Aside from the student’s ignorance of the often painful plight of gays and lesbians and political agenda as a proclaimed Republican leader (the politician I challenged is also Republican), what many people wouldn’t know is that the student who challenged me is the son of a prominent community leader who actually wrote a PR IMO back in September 2008 challenging me for my attempt at satire in an August 2008 PR IMO about the potential of the Obama’s ascending to the White House.

These correspondences further framed for me the problematic way of seeing that arises when we are challenged because of how different our perspectives are from those of others. While I understand this, and challenge other's views often, I believe that I do it when I see clear disconnects. However, I am not so out of touch that I don’t recognize that others are probably operating from the same motivation. With this in mind I decided to enlist some assistance with the following scenario as a case study we could work from.

On “Meet the Press” there was a conversation between David Gregory, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont regarding the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina, to the Supreme Court. In the process of this conversation concern was expressed over Rush Limbaugh identifying her as a racist. Additionally he made these comments:

MR. LIMBAUGH: She brings a form of bigotry or racism to the court. I don't care, we're not supposed to say it, we're supposed to pretend it didn't happen. We're supposed to look at, at other things. But it's the elephant in the room. The real question here that needs to be asked, and nobody on our side, from a columnist to a TV commentator to anybody in our party has the guts to ask: How can a president nominate such a candidate, and how can a party get behind such a candidate? That's what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke or pick somebody even less offensive.

With Limbaugh's comments in mind, here is what nominee Sotomayor said:

"I...accept that 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. ... Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that wise old men and wise old--and a wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am...not so sure that I agree with the statement. ... 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 wasn't lived that life. ... 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 the difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

In contrast, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito made similar comments that were not taken to task by Limbaugh or anyone else. Those comments are below:

(Videotape, January 11, 2006)
JUDGE SAMUEL ALITO: When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who, who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or, or because of gender. And, and I do take that into account.

Why would Sotomayor’s comments be held to a different standard than Alito’s? What is really going on here? Is this indicative of something larger in our society? How might race, gender, and/or class be playing a part in the ways any of these scenarios are playing out?

Oh, and for those of you who actually read the ongoing exchange between me and the father-son combo, was I unfair or intolerant for taking our local politician to task for her comments? If so, why?

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If judge Sotomayor had simply acknowledged that her life experiences as a woman of Latino decent influence her decisions, I don't think there would be any hub-bub. In fact, I think she would win high praise for stating the obvious - no matter what a judge's background, that background must inform their decisions. They can no more deny that than they can deny their own personalilties. (Justice O'Connor is flat wrong). But when she says "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" even I have a problem with that. By using the phrase "better conclusion" she seems to imply that the experiences of a "wise Latina woman" are somehow necessarily and always superior to those of a white male. Or at least, that those experiences better prepare her to be a judge than the experiences of a white male prepare that white male to be a judge. Now I don't know if that's racism or not but if someone expressed that sentiment in reverse, we would all certainly call it racism. And in fact, if I remember the video tapes of the statement, even the judge herself expressed some reservations about saying what she said...one of those moments where you wish you could somehow pull the words back into your mouth as you were speaking them.

Contrast her comments with Alito's. Alito simply states that he would have to take into account his own experiences and the experiences of his family. But he doesn't single out anyone from any other ethnic background and say that his experiences would cause him to reach a "better decision" than those of someone "who had not lived that life." He simply acknowledges that his life experiences influence his decisions. That's a no-brainer for me.

I consider myself part of the Progressive Left, JW, and this stuff makes my hair curl. Some in my camp have this superiority complex that is no different than that of religious fundamentalists. We have no corner on the "wise" market or the "experience" market. And as soon as we think we do, we've lost. I don't think it's necessarily a deal-breaker for her nomination but JEEZE!

If we are to have a responsible debate about race we must - must - MUST move beyond these sorts of statements. We must recognize that people, by their very nature, will always more easily identify with those with whom they have some sort of obvious commonalities. From there, we can talk about ways to overcome the large and small predjudices we all have against those with whom we may not so obviously share things in common. To continue to frame the debate in terms of one person's experiences being "richer" or "better" than another's simply because of race or gender is counterproductive. In some ways, this goes back to your last post and subsequent conversations...If I choose NOT to have certain experiences, or even if I escape having certain negative experiences forced upon me, does that mean my life is somehow less rich, less fullfilling, or even inferior to someone who chose to do what I chose NOT to do? Or, who was forced to experience things I was NOT forced to experience?

*** Card Buddy, I agree with you that 'some in "our" camp have a superiority complex that is no different than that of religious fundamentalists.' [Yes, I am outing myself as part of the progressive left, though if pressed to define it I don't know how adequate I would do it and who would be judging my definition]. Once people acquire any level of expertise it is easy to succumb to notions of superiority regarding discourse on what someone believes she/he has mastered. I work hard to avoid that, and it truly is a never ending effort. Judge Sotomayor needed to be more judicious in her articulation of the differences she could/would bring to bear, if confirmed. Granted men have been able to outright insinuate, if not outright imply their superiority, but if 2 wrongs don't make a right, then just because men have done it doesn't justify women doing it.

Philosophically we are in agreement on most of your post, except (you knew there would be an exception, didn't you) where you make the point that

"If I choose NOT to have certain experiences, or even if I escape having certain negative experiences forced upon me, does that mean my life is somehow less rich, less fullfilling, or even inferior to someone who chose to do what I chose NOT to do?."

We all evaluate one another from our vantage point, which is heavily influenced by our world views, our indoctrination. So, on so many levels our choices are not our own, or not as much as we want to think they are, and become less ours if we don't ask ourselves tough questions, like "why am I seeing this situation the way I see it?" When we have spent time considering ways of seeing we start to understand the many ways we see. Your believing that your choices to not have certain experiences doesn't preclude you from a richer life will always be judged by someone. That is inescapable, though if we are lucky, we don't necessarily have to hear others' judgments too often. For many of us those judgments immobilize us. I understand your point about being firm in your convictions and transcending public sentiment to "be you" and "do you." But if you choose to stay in a room everyday the rest of your life from this point forward, doing nothing, while there may be some rhyme or reason why you chose to do so, that benefits others, most people would view your life as less rich than theirs, less fulfilling, perhaps even inferior. If I chose that life all of a sudden, would you not see mine as less than?

Always a pleasure, my Buddy who loves those One Eyed Jacks and their crew.*** -- J.W.

Card Buddy, raises an important point in his(?) comparison of Alito and Sotomayor's responses to similar nomination questions. Alito seems to have answered it from a more generic, objective perspective while Sotomayor's answer is from an individual, personal perspective. Card Buddy implies that the former is more socially palatable; the latter is, or borders on,being racist. I was struck by how the different responses from Alito and Sotomayor reminded me of the point Anthony Kronman makes early in his book, Education's End, about the difference between answering questions from an impersonal versus personal perspective. That is, answering such a question "looks different to me because I see if from the angle of my own distinctive constitution." I realize that Sotomayor, as it relates to her nomination process, does not have the luxury of answering such questions from a totally personal perspective without criticism But it seems to me she has answered truthfully. Just as Alito provided a truthful answer. And, ultimately, is it not the commitment to truth that we expect all Supreme Court justices to adhere.

*** TL, yes, it is the "commitment to truth" in which we expect all Supreme Court Justices to adhere. At least, truth in "conscious" articulation, if not in deed. The problem is that many of us don't take the time to really think about what it is we are saying. If we did, ou would think that we would be more "judicious" in what we say.

Welcome to our ongoing exercise in engagement, TL. *** -- J.W.

Living in Washington DC, I guess Im kind of out of the loop in terms of the PR IMO that youre talking about. However, its provided me front row seats for the spectacle that has become Ms. Sotomayors nomination.

Race and gender are absolutely playing a role in the spectacle. It is exemplified by the fact that whenever a discussion is held regarding Ms. Sotomayor, it is always mentioned that she will be the first Hispanic woman in the Supreme Court. Consequently, any discourse regarding her will at some point make some kind of mention of this.

As for why she is being held to a different standard than Mr. Alito, that gets a bit foggy. I believe that part of it stems from her being a woman. When Mr. Alito made these comments it's conceivable that possibly people were a bit wary that he would factor ethnicity, gender, and religion into decisions; but since hes a man, conceivably most of these (male) critics placed faith in him since they all shared the same male privilege. However, I believe the real underlying cause for the discrepancy between the two relies strictly on politics.

The bottom line for why she is being held to a different standard than Mr. Alito is the fact that she was appointed by Barack Obama a Democrat. Here in Washington, the bottom line is always politics. Right-wing pundits (such as Mr. Limbaugh) will pull up whatever arguments they have to tarnish this womans reputation. Perhaps because the extreme conservatives are so intent on keeping a liberal out of the Supreme Court and continually trying to prove that President Obama is failing, (remember it was Mr. Limbaugh who clearly stated I hope he fails) that this allows for these pundits to reveal their own racism, sexism, classism. The scrutiny of Ms. Sotomayor gives a national pedestal to the critics, which has revealed some underlying (and problematic) feelings.

I truly believe though that these right-wing pundits are ignoring/overlooking the same ideas within their own party (remember, Mr. Alito is a conservative judge appointed by George W. Bush) because at the end of the day here in Washington, its all about politics.

Another example of Ms. Sotomayor possibly being held to a different standard because of her gender is the story of her divorce or the fact that this is even a story. Throughout the city here, Ive heard discussions everywhere regarding every detail of this womans life. Her divorce is one Ive seen on televisions and in newspapers and it honestly boggles my mind how this issue is even garnering so much attention. People are using her divorce to question her religious values/integrity; to question her ability as a wife; or to sensationalize the idea that she will be the first Supreme Court bachelorette. It is an issue that likely would hardly contain any excitement if it were a man.

Some of the far right-wing critics almost make it sound as though she isnt a good candidate without a husband because now she wont have a man to help her. She will be a rogue woman in the courthouse and maybe that scares some people.

It is particularly interesting that her being divorced is such a big deal when the aforementioned Mr. Limbaugh has three divorces. Although, it is true that he is merely a political pundit. However, male Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been divorced but hardly such a big deal was made of that news. The point is, Ms. Sotomayors legal history and position on issues are certainly fair game for discussion and debate but her personal life and marital history is merely tabloid fodder. Ms. Sotomayor isnt competing to be on The Bachelorette, she has been nominated to be a part of the most influential and powerful court in our nation and the process should focus on corresponding topics.

And by the way, we have even had a president (James Buchanan) who was a bachelor so clearly it shouldnt be a big deal.

As a last note, one a bit happier, my good friend Kathy recently left DC and returned home to Texas. She is a highly successful MIT law student graduate who spent a semester here in DC to intern in the court system. She has been offered jobs from Apple and been published for her work on patent law. Kathy is an extraordinarily smart and inspiring 25-year-old woman. Kathy is also Latina. My reasoning for bringing that up? When I first met her and she told me she was in DC doing work with the courts, I told her that she should stay here and get on the Supreme Court (since that was the only court I knew by name, I suppose a testament to my lack of knowledge of the court system here). She said that would never happen. Kathy told me women are unlikely to be chosen, much less a Hispanic woman. So I know how much the nomination of Ms. Sotomayor meant to Kathy and hopefully she will pave the way so that someday my friend Kathy can serve on the court too. Although hopefully then without the frivolous scrutiny that Ms. Sotomayor is facing as the first.

*** Drew, man, come on, we go way back and I am never bought your intimation that Judge Sotomayor's being held to a different standard than Judge Alito is a bit foggy for you. Why would you pretend to not have a theory, and then drop one on us. Don't play us like that!

I agree with you that the real underlying cause for the discrepancy between the two judges lies in politics, albeit cloaked as a reaction to what she was saying. It brings to mind for me that scene from the film we used in the diversity class, The Contender. Your assertion that Sotomayor's personal history should not be a factor is a direct correlation to the essence of that film.

Thanks for the James Buchanan eligibility update. Since you went there, what was his story? Was he ever married, divorced, living with someone? Perhaps he was our first day president but put up at a time where it was necessary to stay closeted. For that matter, he could have been in a long line of gay presidents who all suppressed their sexual orientation. After all, think of how many women have had to act as if they knew less than they do because of the moment in history in which they lived (which still occurs even today).

Lastly, your friend Kathy, and my two daughters as well. That is a large reason why I was such an avid Hillary supporter. Yes (for those prepared to criticize me for my gendered support of our now Secretary of State's previous presidential run) she wqs as viable a candidate as any other in the last election, but her femininity and the influence it would have on my daughter's confidence was huge for me. Just keeping it real!!! *** -- J.W..

Privilege at its Finest

It might be understandable why pundits are scrutinizing Ms. Sotomayor's statements. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to shame any one with political, or in this case judicial, influence who dares to share the personal, especially a subjective experience directly connected to oppression. Yes, I said it. Our public discourse sweeps the private under the rug in the name of holy objectivity. But is is it possible that this objectivity is symbolic of, partially of course, the cloaking of whiteness, and its constant connection to the norm, the rational, the mainstream and the universal? (This questions might require a whole new blog)

Essentially, Ms. Sotomayor does not have the luxury of putting her identity as a Latina and a women in the back burner. She understands the layers upon layers of experiences that interact to create limitations for many people who struggle. Her comments might have been problematic as she suggested arriving at a "better conclusion," but her attempts to bring forth the many dimensions of her personal experience reveal how human she is. At the same time, are we that sexist or racist that the thought of a female Latina reaching a "better conclusion" than a white male is unfathomable? What if she can? Does that debunk any notions of superiority in our public and private constructions of whiteness or maleness?

Straight up, Rush Limbaugh is trippin! His first name even suggests his inability to patiently and critically question the dogmas that make their way out of his mouth. Hey Rush, why don't you rush to arriving at a perspective the considers the plight of underrepresented populations before your white and male privilege numb you even further?

JW-

To answer your question, I think Card Buddy detailed the distinction between Sotomayor's and Alito's comments quite well.

But was this some kind of test? Isn't it obvious that Sotomayor crossed the line by saying that BECAUSE of her gender and Latina heritage she would make a better decision than a white man?

Yes, her rich background may help her (will help her) view situations with a different framework than others. That type of diversity can only add to the depth of interpretation of the law. But to say that you can do it better because you're a woman...or because you're not white...is inflammatory at best, and at it's worst, may expose a deep bias in her thinking.

Did you frame your question this way to have us (your audience) make this distinction, or do you not see it?

[And as for your recent comments in the Press...I enjoyed your challenge of our local politician, and feel it was certainly a fair criticism (and one I feel SHE should respond to). And even further...I've really enjoyed your back and forth with the father-son combo. While I understand that they likely represent a majority of the thinking in this area on the topics you discuss, I think they come across as naive and (dare I say) ignorant. Keep pushing...it's entertaining reading...and it's keeping us talking at the break table. :) ]

*** Whaler, I have really enjoyed you and Card Buddy inadvertently uniting to set the record straight for all of those bloggers that didn't quite get it. However, when you ask me "Isn't it obvious that Sotomayor crossed the line..." are you being serious? For years white men in general and men within their own racial group have crossed the line and it hasn't been so obvious to most, so why should I assume it was so obvious to everyone. Yes, I concur with you that it exposed a deep bias in her thinking. It still nevertheless was worthy of our discourse.

What is most surprising/disappointing to me is your question as to whether or not I saw it. Come on Whaler my man, after two years of doing this dance together you should know me by now. *** -- J.W.

Enigma,

"Privilege at it's finest."

Take a look at this list:

Princeton Grad

Yale Law School Grad

Editor of Yale Law Journal

Law School Professor

Nominated to Lower Court Seat by George H.W. Bush

Catholic


Who am I talking about? Judge Sotomayor, of course. But wait! I'm also talking about Justice Alito. Surprised? Probably not...because all you seem to be concerned with is that BECAUSE Sotomayor is a woman, and Latina...and that BECAUSE Alito is male, and white...that the privilege discussion HAS to rear it's ugly head.

Now erase the names again, as I did with their backgrounds above, and take the two statements JW referenced. What would you have said if Alito had said, "because I'm a white, male, I would more often than not come to a better decision than a female Latina"?

It's laughable to even consider.

You also state, "her attempts to bring forth the many dimensions of her personal experience reveal how human she is."

Is that not exactly what Alito said? But without the devisive gender/racial references? People are responsible for what they say. They can mispeak...and should be able to clarify what they say. However...should you be able to stand by a statement for 20 years, and only feel the need to ammend it when you fear losing a job?

Statements like hers reflect the difference between an Exceptional Judge and an Elite Judge. Not being able to see that distinction is EXACTLY the kind of criteria that should keep a PERSON off the Supreme Court.

*** Whaler, Judge Sotomayor statement was one made by a human, which immediately eliminates any aspect of expected perfection. While she sounded rather "elitist" in her statement about the benefits of her insights as a Latina, it doesn't necessarily imply any less possibility of her being "exceptional" than any statement by any human on any given day, including some of the ones made by you and I throughout this blog. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, nor dismiss the judge with the jury simply because she didn't deliberate long enough before she spoke. *** -- J.W.

Drew,

I agree with the general idea that what happens in Washington nearly always is political in some way.

However, you state, "The bottom line for why she is being held to a different standard than Mr. Alito is the fact that she was appointed by Barack Obama a Democrat".

Two points. One, how is she being held to a different standard? Give me one example. And JW's quotes are not an example of being held to a different statement. Card Buddy accurately showed that.

And Two...and more importantly...do you not remember the Alito hearings? Do you not remember John Kerry's attempt to filibuster? Or the vote along party lines? Do you not recall the personal, vitriolic attacks on Alito single handedly thrown forth by the Democrats in Congress?

Politics is a two way street. From what I've seen. Judge Sotomayor is a very impressive candidate. She's someone I feel would be a good role model for Kids in our country...all kids. However...when she's questioned...and questioned hard...look back at what happened to Alito. Let's hope the Republicans stick to her record and statements and not her gender or birthright. Some of the offensive personal attacks on Alito from those confirmation hearings still leave a sour taste in my mouth. I don't want to experience that distaste all over again with another confirmation process.

*** Whaler, we have got to stop meeting like this.

I am feeling you on the hope that the confirmation process doesn't become distasteful. In the words of that not-so-great street philosopher, Rodney King, "can't we all just get along." *** -- J.W.

Dear Whaler,

I really enjoyed reading your analysis. I have some points for you to consider. You mentioned how I was too preoccupied with Ms. Sotomayor's gender and race in my response. Did you ever wonder why? Maybe you did or maybe you didn't. There are some scars that run too deep for me to articulate in this moment that have been caused by the patriarchy and racial supremacy in American culture. Is it possible that as an Latino male, the point of departure for my response were the wounds left behind by a culture that, to certain degree, still treats us like second-class citizens? Is it possible that this disposition puts me on an edge of paranoia, making me think that the high scrutiny on Ms. Sotomayor isn't fair? If so, is this paranoia valid or justifiable? Whether it is or not, it is not something I can't hold under the microscope and consider.

Nonetheless, I responded to Rush Limbaugh's comment's calling Ms. Sotomayor a racist. That needs to be clear. I wasn't qualifying which statement sounded more human between Alito's or Sotomayor's. Their comments both ring truth, one just sounds a bit problematic. I was simply combating the slanderous attempt by Limbaugh to curtail Sotomayor's nomination. Her comments should definitely be analyzed in order to inspire a rich discussion about language, race, gender, and the future of our Supreme Court. I think this discussion is a great example.

Lastly, in the back of your mind you might be asking why does it have to be about race, gender or privilege. You stated in your response to me "that the privilege discussion HAS to rear it's ugly head." Why do you consider the privilege conversation ugly? Why can't we talk about privilege? Is it a useless discussion? I wonder why you find it so? Does it call into question some of the earned or unearned privilege and status that many individuals have access to in this country? Why does people's skin crawl each time privilege is mentioned? Is the examination of privilege that repulsive that you would even call it ugly? Regardless, I respect your perspective and think you added a great take. This is just my response to you. Be well.

*** Enigma AA, from everyone's reaction, more than one of the comments sound problematic. I guess it just depends on what side of the political fence you sit on, or how you straddle that fence. I do agree with you though that Sotomayor's comments did inspire a rich discussion about language, race, gender, and the future of our Supreme Court." The more we discuss topics like race, gender, and privilege (a topic you mentioned earlier, but left off your list in this response to Whaler) the more we are able to associate ourselves as dominant or oppressed, depending upon the context.

Oh, and I am feeling you on your question to Whaler. Why can't we talk about "privilege?" Like you I imagine, I can't wait to see what our blogbuddy Whaler has to say to that question. Whaler, are you out there? *** -- J.W.

whaler,

I absolutely agree that politics is a two way street. I was definitely not trying to infer that it is not. And for the record, I am not a Democrat. I was simply referring to the current debate over Ms. Sotomayor. The conservative backlash currently against her appointment is at least partially due to the Democrat’s control (especially since the election of President Obama) in our political system. There is no question that Mr. Alito had to face scrutiny as well. I feel that then it was still partially a reflection of former President Bush’s second term and the attempts of the Democratic Party to get whatever power they could (as the Republican Party is doing now).

I still believe that Ms. Sotomayor is being held to a different standard because of the fact that she is a woman. When Mr. Alito was nominated, nowhere was his gender a possible reason for him to be criticized/praised. Whenever a story is told/written regarding Ms. Sotomayor, it begins the same way – listing her biographical credits as a woman and her Puerto Rican heritage. I don’t recall all of the stories of Mr. Alito’s nomination beginning with, “Samuel Alito, a man, has been nominated…” Yes, he faced attacks and opposition from the Democrats but that doesn’t disregard that Ms. Sotomayor is being held to a different standard than him – her gender. As I mentioned before, her gender has people discussing her “role as a woman” and has brought up frivolous discussions about her divorce. She is being held to a different standard for the simple fact that while in this nomination process, questions and discussions are being held by pundits all around regarding issues that Mr. Alito did not have to face because of her gender. Also, as I previously mentioned, hopefully more pertinent topics regarding her nomination will be discussed (as they should have been with Mr. Alito) because I don’t believe that Ms. Sotomayor’s gender will tell us as much about what kind of Supreme Court justice she will be as her voting history. Hopefully these unnecessary biographical notes will be relegated to a secondary status so that focus can remain on her history as a judge. Because a Democratic president nominated her, the conservatives feel the need to oppose this nomination using whatever credentials they deem applicable – one of them apparently being her gender.

*** Drew, your point about "Whenever a story is told/written regarding [Judge] Sotomayor, it begins the same way listing her biographical credits as a woman and her Puerto Rican heritage..." is an extremely important one. Frankly I am in the camp of critics that don't have a problem with this type of prefacing of a story as long as it is done consistently to everyone. For far too long, we have profiled some while letting others off the hook, when in some form or fashion, most people alternate between riding dirty and riding clean depending upon the last time they had time to stop and get their car washed. *** -- J.W.

Enigma,

I appreciate the life experience you bring to your response. With it comes passion...and passion is something I admire in a person...regardless of whether I agree or disagree with them. I think it's a large part of why JW's blog rings so true...there are a lot of passionate people reading/posting here.

I don't necessarily think "privilege" discussions are ugly, or pointless. And maybe I took a little liberty reading into your response, as I picked up a definite vibe. However...unless the people talking are objective, I don't feel a discussion on privilege is valuable. That's why I made the attempt to point out the large similarities between Alito and Sotomayor. In terms of being judges in the small, esteemed pool of those considered for the high court, they were both privileged in many of the same ways. Does a judge from Albany Law have the same opportunities as the Alitos and Sotomayors of the world?

And while most are willing to talk about how unfair the world is to certain groups (which I know it can be), many are unwilling to even broach the idea that people in Sotomayor's position likely get some benefit simply because they are women...and/or Latina.

*** Whaler, I like your rhetorical question about a judge from Albany having the privileges of Judges Alito and Sotomayor.

Also, your point about women benefitting simply because they are women is real. However, I'm cool with that level of privilege bestowed upon women, or other groups as well, as long as they own the fact that in some strange sense, it is both earned and unearned privilege. The earned part I liken to the never fulfilled promise to once-called Negroes of 40 Acres and a mule. Call it racist, and perhaps it is, but when something positive occurs to a Black person in our society that appears to be fortuitous, I reconcile it as a down payment on that debt. Women as the bearers of life deserve an unquestioned break from time to time.

It brings to mind a quote by Angel Acosta at the end of one of our diversity classes. The theme we were engaging was privilege and he looked at Deb Light (my teaching colleague) and Dana Lutters (an exceptional TA), both white women, and said about their dual identity, with that alternating angelic-devilish smile of his "look at them, swimming in privilege, yet drowning in oppression." Like so many of our realities, he couldn't have framed it better!

Lastly, you couldn't be serious when you said that "unless the people talking are objective, I don't feel a discussion on privilege is valuable." Has there ever been a discussion that was totally objective? Even if I attempted to imagine your answer as yes, to what extent can anyone assert a point that doesn't start to bring in their subjectivity? The whole point of this type of discourse is to challenge people to own their subjectivity and not fall prey to any inclination that they can ever be achieve objectivity. I would think you meant to say "striving to be objective." With that in mind my brother, did you just slip into elitist blogger status in your own mind at the expense of no longer being an exceptional blogger? Not in my books, my fellow human! *** --J.W.

JW
I had an idea you (or someone) might go there - that is, take the "...choose not to have certain experiences" section of my response and take it to the extreme. If someone were to lock themselves in their room and never come out again, I might indeed, judge their life to be inferior to mine due to the lack of experiences they might have, interaction with others, etc. That doesn't mean I SHOULD judge them that way. We can recognize the reality while still striving for the ideal, can we not?
And thinking a little more about it, who's to say that a monk who choses to spend his time meditating, reflecting on all things everywhere, reading, studying, but never leaving his monestary isn't actually living a RICHER life for his isolation and dedication to thought and study than I am with all my worldliness?

I want to speak a little bit to Enigma's question to Whaler about privlege. There is nothing wrong with discussing privlege as long as one recognizes that, depending on the context, we are all privledged or we are all oppressed. In reading other posts in this blog, I think where Whaler (and myself, if I'm being honest) have a problem is when we paint certain groups as ALWAYS privledged, or ALWAYS oppressed. I want to comment on Enigma's lines "There are some scars that run too deep for me to articulate in this moment that have been caused by the patriarchy and racial supremacy in American culture. Is it possible that as an Latino male, the point of departure for my response were the wounds left behind by a culture that, to certain degree, still treats us like second-class citizens? Is it possible that this disposition puts me on an edge of paranoia, making me think that the high scrutiny on Ms. Sotomayor isn't fair? If so, is this paranoia valid or justifiable?" ...
I believe people use past and present descrimination of a group to which they belong as a sort of "trump card" when discussing race and privilege. That opression is sometimes used as an excuse as to why a person might be particularly sensative to a certain comment or preocupied with all things that might even have the potential to have some sort of racial context or overtone. A friend of mine who happens to be African American was describing an unpleasent encounter he had once at the DMV. When he first moved to town, he wanted to convert his driver's license from another state to NY state. Short story - he thought he caught an undue amount of flack, suspicion and surliness from the person at the DMV because he was black. I asked him, "why does it have to be like that? Maybe the person behind the counter was just having a bad day? Why does it have to be about race? His response, looking me dead in the eye, serious as a heart-attack "It's always about race." If my friend is right, then there is no context where I can challenge a person of a different race or gender as to whether or not that person was oppressed or discriminated against. According to my friend, if you feel oppressed, then I have oppressed you. If you feel discriminated against, then, I have discriminated against you. My intentions count for nothing. Only your perception of them matters.
Now - we can't have THAT, can we?

JW-

So many comments to respond to. Now this is what I've been waiting for...

I guess I'll jump right into the meatiest of your replies...that of the value of "privilige" discussions and objectivity/subjectivity.

You stated, "The whole point of this type of discourse is to challenge people to own their subjectivity and not fall prey to any inclination that they can ever be achieve objectivity. I would think you meant to say "striving to be objective.""

I think I agree with this point whole-heartedly. And while you gently chided me (prior) for not recognizing your motives and understanding of Sotomayor's remarks, I think I might do the same back at you for not realizing that I know what the privilige discussion is all about. It's the WAY the privilige discussion is carried out that has always bothered me.

Privilige discussions, when boiled right down, are really about how well an INDIVIDUAL really knows themself. It's about how introspective they are. It's about their ability to see their life, and fit it into the world around them. It's about understanding where they are in relation to others...and how they got there. It's about recognizing which doors were left open and which others were locked shut. And most importantly it's about understanding the fact that every other person out is doing the same sort of self searching. (or should be)

JW...do you really think that I don't know how lucky I am to have parents that love me? Or that I don't know how fortunate I am to have been able to get an education without an overly burdensome amount of debt? Or that I don't recognize the benefits of growing up in a relatively tolerant, small, quiet area like Plattsburgh?

You're right...technically...about objectivity...as much as you'd be right about a definition of justice, or honesty, or reliability. But isn't that knit-picking? Of course everyone comes from a perspective...THEIR perspective...but the process of being able to put that aside and look at things globally...as best as one can...is what this is all about.

But here's where my difficulty with "privilige discussions" comes in. The conversation is always framed in the context of one group getting/not getting something AS A RESULT OF another groups actions. It's a devisive tone. It says, "I can't get where I want to go because you've put me here...or you're in my way." The discussion always has a good guy and a bad guy. I just don't like the implications of being lumped into a group. And that's exactly what "privilige discussions" do...it segregates into groups.

Now one might say that's exactly the point. That this is what happens...it is the way it is. It's not that I don't want to talk about hard things...it's just that I think there's a better way to do it. For example...if a 4 year old boy takes a toy from a 2 year old girl, you wouldn't only say to him that he shouldn't have done that just because he was bigger and tougher. You'd explain that it's not appropriate to take things without asking. In other words...you'd teach the correct behavior.

Now...you know me well enough to know I'm not just a complainer...I've also showed over the years my alternative to the discussion. I've always espoused the philosophy of individual responsibility. If there is an injustice...fix it. In terms of the tangible things...we CAN do that.

It's the intangibles that are the problem. It's changing people's hearts and minds on long standing issues.

I think you and I agree...and see things from much more the same perspective on this than might appear on paper. I think we both have a good sense of what's fair and right...but I think our method of getting there is different.

Look at it this way. I'm here...engaging nearly daily (I at least check in daily)...and I'm more than comfortable with anyone looking back at years worth of posts for consistency and soundness of thought. However... after all this time...and all the interactive discussions...I STILL get the feeling that all that matters is that I'm white and male and always will be. I still get the feeling (and not necessarily from you , JW) that people consider ME the "student" rather than another peer.

I have learned alot here, JW...and I like to think you've likely grown through our discussions too. But my frustration comes out when I point our the hypocrisy of thought in the priviliege discussion in terms of how we treat INDIVIDUALS...regardless of who or what they are.

The bottom line with your original discussion on the Judge's comments was that they were inflammatory. However, for the most part, she's been given a pass. Others with a different background saying the same words would CLEARLY result in a different result. A white male would be run out of town for saying the same. You seem to be comfortable with a little bit of "well that's OK, it makes up for many past injustices". But where does it end?

Giving Judge Sotomayor a pass for her comments is just as offensive as giving all the rich, educated, white, males prior to her a pass for what they did. Why is that so hard to see?


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