Poor Race/Gender-speak from Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee

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.
– Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor, in a speech as quoted by the New York Times

Freedom of speech… just watch what you say…
-Rapper Ice-T, “Freedom of Speech”, from the album The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say

So here you have a racist. You might want to soften that, and you might want to say a reverse racist. And the libs, of course, say that minorities cannot be racists because they don’t have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone, because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he’s appointed one.
Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, as quoted in Media Matters

Yes… watch what you say.

Right wing extremist and talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh is apparently using the above comments from Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to paint the narrative that the Judge is racist. I doubt that charge will stick, but this is a cautionary tale about watching what you say in matters concerning gender and ethnicity.

Judge Sotomayor, whose family is from Puerto Rico, made those comments while giving a speech about diversity in the Judiciary.

And certainly, there is value in having diversity in the American Judiciary, as with the rest of American society. That value was certainly a factor in her being selected by President Barack Obama to fill the Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice David Souter.

The sentiment in Judge Sotomayor’s comment was well-intentioned, and not at all vile or pernicious. But it does violate one of the rules of talking about ethnicity, gender, and race: never say one group is better at doing something than another. And as a corollary: never say that being in one group somehow makes you better at doing something than a person of another group.

Just imagine if a white person had said: “Being white, I feel that I can adjudicate lots of cases better than non-whites, who don’t have my breadth of experience.” That would set off some fireworks, and deservedly so.

Again, I doubt that the Sotomayor’s faux pas will derail her placement on the Supreme Court, Limbaugh’s comments notwithstanding. She has a solid resumé and more than enough experience. But it does show that if you’re a public official in any kind of setting, you need stay aware of the rules and etiquette associated with comments on gender or ethnicity. Failure to do creates grist for the mill of the haters, and that’s certainly not helpful for career advancement.
***

UPDATE: A story in the New York Times reports:

The White House said Friday (5/29/09) that Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, used a poor choice of words in a speech eight years ago when she suggested that a Latina judge would reach a better conclusion than a white male judge who doesn’t have the same life experiences.

“I think she’d say that her word choice in 2001 was poor, that she was simply making the point that personal experience are relevant for the process of the judging,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.

I think this is a good move from the White House. By admitting it was a bad choice of words, they’re no longer in the position of having to “defend” the comment. And it shows the White House has some sensitivity (empathy?) for the concerns that have been raised about the comment.

This won’t make the controversy go away, though. Her comments will be a point of contention until her confirmation, and maybe beyond.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s