Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination brings out subtle racism everywhere

May 26, 2009

President Obama announced his appointment of Sonia Sotomayor for the ninth seat on the Supreme Court bench yesterday morning, setting the interwebs and the cable news pundits on fire with something big to talk about all day.

Stuart Taylor at the National Journal is right in pointing out that this nomination is extremely shrewd because it puts the Republican Party in a tight spot. If they criticize Sotomayor for the things they most want to attack her for, they risk further branding themselves as the party of old white men. If they don’t attack her aggressively, they risk giving a victory to Obama and further weakening the party.

After Obama’s announcement, what followed was almost boringly predictable: all the news today has been dominated by talk about her race and gender. And though she was only nominated about 12 hours ago, her nomination has already brought race to the forefront of the public discourse — a topic we all normally like to avoid for the sake of our own comfort levels. Better to pretend race doesn’t exist, right? Right. Except now, it suddenly exists, more than ever. The fact that she grew up in the Bronx projects but graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and Yale Law School doesn’t exist, but the fact that she’s a Latina woman definitely does exist.

For instance:

–Glenn Beck says Sotomayor is a racist! (Does anyone else besides me see the irony in the fact that a panel of three white men are discussing whether Sotomayor is racist towards white men?)

–Senator James Inhofe thinks Sotomayor might allow ‘undue influence because of her own personal race and gender‘! (Oh my god, you’re right, because she’s a LATINA WOMAN and her opinions might be different from those of WHITE MEN, she’s automatically a bad judge) 

–Mike Huckabee calls her Maria  Sotomayor. Well, you know, all those brown people have such similar names. 

–Even Politico, however inadvertent, falls prey to some good old-fashioned racial stereotypes.

–The conservative Judicial Confirmation Network whines that “in Sotomayor’s court, the content of your character is not as important as the colour of your skin.”  That’s not a hypocritical statement to make about a minority judge at ALL…

The underlying assertion in all these subtle, or not so subtle, criticisms Sotomayor is that her race and gender make her less qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, because her race and gender might affect her decisions. Thus, following that logic, we should only pick jurists who don’t have any race or gender to cloud their decisions.

You mean to tell me white men are raceless and genderless and completely neutral? Why didn’t someone tell me that before?!



  1. After all the republican bloviating, it would seem the only jurist they might approve of would be a HAL 9000 computer…

  2. I think it’s fascinating how “we” (because I think it extends beyond media) assume the white Christian male experience to be so heteronormative that we define anyone who doesnt fit all three of those social categories to be “different”. All of a sudden, only Sotomayor has had an “experience” related to her gender and experience. You know, because none of the other justices in the court have.

    I’m fascinated by all of this (well, disgusted mostly, but also fascinated) because of how comfortable the media was to immediately start talking about her race and gender directly. While they’re using that fact as something to discount her legitimacy, I still think its interesting that they’re being so, well, blatant about it. My interest in politics hasn’t been around long enough for me to see if this happened with other Supreme Court Justices in post-Reagan America, but I wonder if the way the media grew comfortable with talking about Obama’s race made it the “natural” thing to talk about right away here…

    Also, it interesting how it is the combination of being Latina AND a woman that discounts her. Ugh.

  3. Like you said…..boringly predictive. But as long as it sells, it stays.

    One unrelated thought: it’s interesting to me that we’re called latinos, when we actually consider ourselves white people. She would be white in Argentina. Cultural differences, gotta love ’em.

  4. […] 2. Politicoholic: Sonia Sotomayor’s Nomination Brings Out Subtle Racism Everywhere […]

  5. I’m not sure I agree completely, because I heard a lot about her upbringing in the Bronx and in the projects. It seemed like pretty much every article I read talked about her life story, and she talked about it herself in her speech. So I don’t think the problem is that.

    I was, however, irritated that they didn’t mention anything about her policies. I understand that she’d occupy essentially the same ideological position as Souter, but I was annoyed that the news never mentioned her rulings, instead choosing to emphasize her race…

  6. You’re just a little off Nisha. It’s only crusty old white men that are able to see past race and gender. Everyone else must prove that circumstance, upbringing, emotion, or political preference has no bearing on any decision they might make. Crusty old white men are exempt from such presentation.

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