Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Playing with Identity Politics

Eugene Robinson in today’s Washington Post gives a scathing analysis of Republicans such as Rep. Sessions and his cohorts attempting to rattle or cause the “meltdown” of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. After reading twitter, Red State, and hearing the wasted rhetoric of hypocrisy of Hatch and Sessions, I couldn’t agree more, the Republicans approach is to pretend “that white men haven’t enjoyed a privileged position in this society.” Robinson gives the major truthiness; in Wingnuttia, playing pretend is better than reality.

Robinson goes further and points out the “if it’s white it’s right complex”:

Republicans' outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor's musings about how her identity as a "wise Latina" might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any "identity" -- black, brown, female, gay, whatever -- has to be judged against this supposedly "objective" standard.

Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings -- as he did at his confirmation hearings -- but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work. Thus it is possible for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to say with a straight face that heritage and experience can have no bearing on a judge's work, as he posited in his opening remarks yesterday, apparently believing that the white male justices he has voted to confirm were somehow devoid of heritage and bereft of experience
The whole point of Sotomayor's much-maligned "wise Latina" speech was that everyone has a unique personal history -- and that this history has to be acknowledged before it can be overcome. Denying the fact of identity makes us vulnerable to its most pernicious effects. This seems self-evident. I don't see how a political party that refuses to accept this basic principle of diversity can hope to prosper, given that soon there will be no racial or ethnic majority in this country.

Yet the Republican Party line assumes a white male neutrality against which Sotomayor's "difference" will be judged. Sessions was accusatory in quoting Sotomayor as saying, in a speech years ago, that "I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage, but attempt . . . continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate."
This is supposed to be a controversial statement? Only, I suppose, if you assume that there are judges who have no opinions, sympathies or prejudices -- or, perhaps, that the opinions, sympathies and prejudices of the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court are somehow especially problematic.

The Republican Party is running into the hole and if they continue to push or alienate certain minority groups it will be so far dug they won’t be able to get out. It is a common misconception that minorities won’t get fed up, there is a reason an Asian Pacific Americans for Progress organization was just founded last year. The old thought that certain minorities “just want to be left alone” is no longer applicable. With a party that is continually attacking and belittling the aspect of race in this nation and with their temper tantrums during this confirmation it becomes more apparent how out of touch their leaders truly are.

Robinson hits the nail on the head:

… women and minorities are acutely aware of how our view of justice has evolved, or been forced to evolve. Women and minorities are also key Democratic Party constituencies, and if the Republican Party is going to be competitive, it can't be seen as the party of white male grievance -- especially in what is almost certainly a lost cause. Democrats, after all, have the votes to confirm Sotomayor.
"Unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed," Graham told the nominee. He was right -- Republicans probably can't damage her. They can only damage themselves.

Red State is calling this hearing and confirmation a “test” of Republicans currently holding office. A “who is with us and who is against us”, a sort of Real Republicans vs. Pseudo-Republicans Round 1... let’s hope they play it that way. When 20 or so Republicans do not confirm Sotomayor on the basis of her being a “racist” it will be one foot deeper into the hole.

I am Frank Chow and I approved this message.

Update: h/t Pandagon

"Please click the link and rate the video. The comments at YouTube are swarming with people who are trying to turn the word “racist” into a slur that you apply to people who don’t think that white people are better than everyone else."

1 comment:

Suzan said...

I guess Italian is now white?


Thanks for your fine reporting!