Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Race To The Bottom

There was a lot about Barack Obama's campaign--and his eventual election--that made me proud to be an American. Here we were, seriously considering a black man for president a mere 44 years after legally elevating blacks out of second-class citizenship.

But that's not part of what made me proud. What made me proud was how little that fact was a part of the overall conversation we had as a country leading up to Obama's election. So much so that no one but the most far-gone right-wingers--and the most self-congratulatory lefties--felt a need to make an issue of it. The overwhelming majority, even among those who opposed his candidacy, were concerned solely with the content of his character.

Which is what makes both Sonia Sotomayor's SCOTUS confirmation hearings and the general discussion of those hearings so thoroughly depressing. The continued hubbub is over a line she often included in her speeches, regarding the role her background as a woman and a Latina has played in shaping her life decisions: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion."

The "better" in that formulation relates to an ending she began to omit: "than a white male who hasn't lived that life." How dastardly to think that a double minority might have a more worldly view on the way law impacts people's lives than members of America's elite, rich ruling class! Racist!

Much has already been said about this, most amusingly on the hypocrisy of the GOP's handwringing considering that Samuel Alito made remarkably similar statements concerning the impact of his personal history on his judicial compass: "when I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account."

Translation: "As a wise person of an ethnic background, I hope I would reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Admittedly, Justice Alito is Italian-American--an ethnicity recently upgraded from the socially questionable "swarthy" to plain ol' Country Club-grade white--so his statement about "discrimination" might, at worst, confuse his pale, conservative brethren or, at best, make them think his battle with discrimination happens to put him on equal footing with the new victim par excellence.

Still, with Alito's wise (and I do mean that) sentiment fresh in mind, all I'll toss into the dark waters of the internet is this: there are many things we as a nation refuse to admit to ourselves, even though almost everyone (or close enough to everyone to make the exceptions freaky-deeky outliers) understands that these unspoken things are actually true.

To wit: a great majority of women, no matter their political stripe, want access to abortion if or when it's necessary; liberals are not actually planning to take your handguns and rifles away (enough of us enjoy owning and shooting them ourselves); and that yes, aside from the phenomenon that is Barack Obama, both a citizen's race and class still play a major role in his or her life experience in this country. This includes white people. Just in case you didn't catch that.

Now, can we please get back to making a ruckus over which box a potential Justice would check in a redo of Roe v. Wade, and not which boxes she checks on her Census form?

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