Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Sotomayor backs off ‘wise Latina’ quote - The Boston Globe
Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, deflecting tough questioning by Republicans on the second day of her confirmation hearings, said yesterday that in 17 years as a judge she has never let her own life experiences or opinions influence her decisions. Sotomayor said her now-famous remark that she would hope a “wise Latina’’ would make better decisions because of her life experiences than a white male was a regrettable “rhetorical flourish that fell flat,’’ and does not reflect her views.
I once remarked that I didn't think that being a woman gave me any special perspective on teaching logic and that the philosophy department at my university would do just as good a job if it consisted entirely of white males.
I got slammed. This was something one wasn't supposed to say because, it was held, people of good will should promote the noble lie that members of disadvantaged groups, women and ethnic minorties, had something special to offer. As far as I understand there are two reasons for telling this lie: (1) it is supposed to be encouraging to members of disadvantaged groups and, more importantly, (2) it is supposed to persuade employers and others in positions of power to stop discriminating against women and minorities.
Since around 1970 women and minorities have been expected to make identity politics noises. So, Obama as a rising black politician was expected to do ethnic, join a black church and talk about black liberation. And Sotomayor was supposed to make noises about the special wisdom of Latinas. Neither of them, of course, believed it, and I doubt that their critics believe that they believed it: these are just the noises you're supposed to make to be a good mainstream liberal who happens to be a member of a minority group.
What a pity Sotomayor couldn't just tell the unvarnished truth. These are just the noises we minorities are supposed to make. We're supposed to take pride in our ethnic heritage--we certainly don't dare say that we feel no connection to it or consider it irrelevant. We're supposed to utter platitudes about the importance of diversity, about the special contributions (whatever they are) that members of different ethnic groups make.
Of course it's walking a tightrope because while making these noises we have to signal that we don't really mean it--that ethnicity is just a little hobby for us, as it is for the descendants of European immigrants. But everyone has always known what the game is so it's hardly dishonest--certainly not as dishonest as the behavior of Republican interrogators feigning shock at one conventional little feel-good remark about wise Latinas, pretending that they believe that I or anyone else ever took this bullshit seriously.