Posts tagged ‘Supreme Court’

The Sotomayor Hearings and White Male Condescension

Picture Courtesy of the New York Times

Picture Courtesy of the New York Times

By the way: For those of you who missed the hearings or just want to see a good rundown of who’s who in all of this: Check out Adam Serwer’s post over at the American Prospect.

Okay, I’ll admit it.

I really did watch all 4 days of the Sotomayor hearings.  I didn’t watch so much to hear what the Republicans were going to say. I was pretty sure that they were going to harp on her speeches and the “wise latina” comment in particular, and do some failed race-baiting. I really did it to hear Sonia Sotomayor speak, and to watch her play hardball in the face of all of that racist and sexist adversity.

But what I wasn’t counting on was how offensive the tone of Republican’s questioning was going to be. I was more offended by the condescending and bullying tone peole like Tom Coburn used than the words themselves. They spoke to Sotomayor for 4 days as if she was a 12 year old on the street. Jessica Faye Carter talks more about this in her column at True Slant:

There’s another way to describe how certain Committee members have spoken to Judge Sotomayor: microaggressively.

The term “racial microaggressions” was originally coined in 1970 by Dr. Chester Pierce, a psychiatrist, to describe the (sometimes unconscious) mistreatment and humiliation of Blacks by Whites. But the definition has evolved over time to include behavior exhibited towards women and all people of color.  According to Dr. Derald Wing Sue of Columbia University, microaggresions are subtle behaviors that communicate slights, hostility, insults, or disrespect toward a specific person or group. In other words, they are put-downs that don’t really seem like put-downs—making them all the more challenging to identify and address.

Microaggressions generally fall into three categories: microassaults, an overtly racist act or communication, microinsults, which are demeaning or insensitive behaviors, and microinvalidations, or the negation and invalidation of a person’s life experiences.  The more subtle microaggressions were not only present in Judge Sotomayor’s hearing, but seem to have gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media.

Still don’t believe me or Jessica? Look at this example:

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed unconvinced that Judge Sotomayor, a sitting appellate judge, understood specific legal doctrines. So he questioned her on them, praising her when she answered correctly—as if he were her instructor—and consistently interrupting her as she attempted to respond:

SEN. GRAHAM: When Judge Rehnquist says he was a strict constructionist, did you know what eh (sic/he) was talking about?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: I think I understood what he was referencing, but his use is not how I go about looking at –

SEN. GRAHAM: What does strict constructionism mean to you?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Well, it means that you look at the Constitution as its written or statutes as they are written and you apply them exactly by the words.

SEN. GRAHAM: Right. Would you be an originalist?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Again, I don’t use labels. And — because –

SEN. GRAHAM: What is an originalist?

via Transcript – Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings, Day 2 – Text – NYTimes.com.

It is wholly appropriate for Mr. Graham to ask Judge Sotomayor what a specific legal term means to her, or whether she considers herself to fit into a certain legal category. But the questions testing her legal knowledge are a microinsult.

This is just another example of sexist and racist overtones to the treatment of Sotomayor at the hearings and in the press.  Moreover, they went back to Sotomayor’s background, saying that it would influence decisions she’d make as a Supreme Court Justice.  Right, as if their white male backgrounds wouldn’t. Perhaps if I got the feeling that the Republicans not supporting Sotomayor held themselves to the same standard, I wouldn’t be so bothered by this particular concern, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they do not.

Let’s face it, most of the white people–mostly males–who are coming forward as being so strongly against Sotomayor’s confirmation are doing so because they are deathly afraid of  smart woman of color who has truly gotten to where she is on her own merit and ability. They are afraid of the idea that she may very well do a better job than a white male and could quite possibly be smarter than them.

With that said, I am so very proud of Sonia Sotomayor and the intelligence, grace, and humility she showed during the course of this 4-day hearing. She makes me so proud to be a woman of color at this particular moment in our nation’s history. That wise Latina really knows how to shake them haters off.

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Sonia Sotomayor named to the US Supreme Court

Most of you by now have heard about this story, but I can’t tell you how excited and happy that a woman of color has been nominated for the supreme court. I am intentional with saying woman of color and not just Latina. I think Liza Sabater from Culture Kitchen said it best:

Sonia Sotomayor considers herself a woman of color, not just a “Hispanic”. She’s a proud puertorriqueña and a Latina, not some form of white-washed eurocentric spanish-speaking acceptable version of a WASP.

As a Black American woman, I’m happy and proud of Obama’s choice for the supreme court. When I was younger I thought I could only really relate to and act on behalf of Black women. As I get older, though, I have become an advocate for all women of color, as in some ways we all share a collective experience.

Most of the racist and sexist attacks on Sotomayor aren’t surprising to me. I knew people would claim she was loud, “ghetto”, and unfit for the Supreme Court. I knew conservatives would say she is a token. None of it surprises me.

The truth is that in Sonia Sotomayor we have a wise, intelligent, powerful woman of color who understands the plight of working class people. We have someone who I believe will bring a new level of experience and also dignity to the Supreme Court.