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Friday, May 29, 2009


Comments on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court:

She is described as "Hispanic" and Latina." She is in fact of Puerto Rican heritage, the second largest (after Mexican American) subcategory of "Hispanic" in the U.S. Interestingly, while Mexican ancestry is often a mixture of native American and Spanish/European blood (what used to be called "mestizo"), Puerto Ricans quite commonly have some black African ancestors. My simple visual scan of Sotomayor's photographs, however, gives little hint of either American Indian or African American features. Instead, she appears to have the slightly darker complexion and very dark hair common to Spain and other Mediterranean areas of South Europe. So can someone remind me why exactly "Hispanic" is so often talked about as if it were a distinct racial group in the U.S.? Mexican Americans, Puerto Rican Americans and Cuban Americans, as well as other "Hispanics," are held together by a common language and (although wide) geographic heritage, not by race.

Meanwhile, both supporters and opponents are walking on eggshells in talking about the nomination, fearful of making negatives headlines should they slip in their word choice, this being a nation uncomfortable talking about race/ethnicity and gender (We are "colormute" as Mica Pollock aptly put it, rather than colorblind). White House spokesman Robert Gibbs even issued a pre-emptive warning: "It is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they've decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation."

One quote getting a lot of attention is from a speech she gave in 2001: "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." And one critic who, not surprisingly, chose not to heed Gibbs advice is Newt Gingrich, who said of the above quote: "New racism is no better than old racism." I just gotta roll my eyes and say, "Give me a break!" Life experience informs wisdom in decision-making. Anglo-Saxon whites who have been sheltered by privilege don't have the experience to understand the underlying causes of hardships non-Anglo-Saxon whites deal with. That's all she was saying. But the so-called "playing the race card card" is an attempt to shut down the debate entirely. I on the other hand, say lets talk about race/ethnicity (and gender) head-on, and see if we can reach some higher level of mutual understanding than we brought to the conversation.

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