Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Rush Limbaugh's Wrong, Sonia Sotomayor's Not Racist

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I'm sure anyone black or white can relate to this because it's a common conversation:

White person to me: "I as a white person don't know what it's like to be in your shoes as someone black.

Me to the white person: "Well, you can do it; I don't mean to be insulting but it's called empathy. I have a lot of white friends who get the experience just by having black friends."

I've had that episode replayed over and over again in my life, though less so today than in the past. I've never thought the white person who was in the conversation - and they have been many people - was racist. Indeed, I did think they were race-concious and that's a very good thing.

Why? Simple. Because that person's not being colorblind and for that moment at least recognizes that it's really impossible and a total joke to be "colorblind". We make choices positively or negatively who we want to associate with regarding a person's skin color every day. In my case, having a diverse set of friends is extremely important because it shapes and keeps in check my "world view". A racially complex set of friends keeps you're mind sharp and makes life fun.

It's for that reason I assert Supreme Court Justice Designate Sonia Sotomayor's not racist. She's certainly as race-concious as the white persons who've made the statement I opened with, but that's not being racist. To be racist is to put another person down because of their skin. Period. Moreover Sotomayor's 2001 comment in a very long speech given at U.C. Berkeley (and called "A Latina Judge's Voice) reads like this:

"First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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."

Think about that, and combine it with the statement I presented and made to me many times by someone white. It's the flip-side of the white person's statement. Think about it. Think again. Sotomayor's 2001 comment essentially confirms what has been said to me many times and some of the white persons who said this were, drumroll please, conservative and all male come to think of it.

So what's the real problem? Well, there isn't one; it's manufactured by a conservative PR machine led by radio yeller Rush Limbaugh, always feeding the minders of his $400 million broadcast contract, and repeated by television producers seeking ratings to maintain a level of post-election political interest. Gotta have something to get your blood going and this is red meat for some folks, especially Limbaugh.

But Rush, in his zeal to pin Sotomayor as racist, has started telling lies. He said on his show today, Wednesday,...

"I mean, when she says that she'd do a better job than a white guy, what is it? It's racism. It's reverse racism, whatever but it's still racism. She would bring a form of racism, bigotry to the court."

But she didn't say that.

The comment I presented by Sotomayor above was made in a remark about how judges have responded to civil rights cases over our history. Since that has impacted people of color, Sotomayor was simply saying a wise person of color -- in this case a Latina woman judge - with experience would hopefully make a better decision in that context than someone white and male who did not have the experience.

We have to pay attention to what is said here in specific. Indeed, if I were to challenge Rush in person he'd have to admit he was wrong, if he was honest with me, of course. The bottom line is because we as a World don't know how to talk about race, the door's open for folks like Rush to confuse the discourse.

We Need To Learn How To Talk About Race

The real problem is some people, regardless of color, don't know how to talk about race. Too often conversations focus just on their personal perception of a racial issue rather than a broad read of what people do. (I'm not discounting the value of a personal perception, just the application of it. Ok? Really stop and think about what I'm explaining before you react here. Thanks.)

For example, I tried to explain to a friend why her friend, who was making and selling a product like the terrible "Obama Waffles", was doing a bad thing, very racist in that it took a black stereotype and used it to make fun of President Obama. I further explained that her friend's product would be roundly panned in the blogsphere and give her friend a bad name.

My friend, who's white and not involved with the product, reacted defensively and then launched into an explaination of why she's not racist, which wasn't my assertion at all as I was talking about her friend's product not her. I explained that we're not talking about her or her experiences and I know she's not racist, but she's got to understand how society around her is changing and what's acceptable and what's not. After a time of a lot of frank and a bit rought talk, she understood what I was saying and said she'd talk to her friend. Oh, and we're still the best of friends.

But episodes like that mean we need to take stock of what's happening beyond our personal experience. It's good to get a constant statistical and content read on how society is changing (Marketers are you paying attention?) so you're not caught in the backwash of social change.

The GOP's fighting this problem right now and Limbaugh - as the GOP's standard bearer - by calling Sotomayor racist, has once again revealed its own racism.

The reality is, even with people like former Rep. Tom Tancredo's (R-Colo.) staffer, conservative writer, and activist Marcus Epstein pleading guilty to the hate crime of calling an innocent black woman the N-word and striking her with a karate chop in 2007 (he says he wants a second chance and accepts that he behaved terribly, which is an understatement.), we've still come a long way in America. You don't have to be black to understand the black experience or Latino to "get" the latino experience, or Asian to feel the Asian experience, or white to get the white experience, but all of us try, accept our physical limitations, and listen.

A lot. With love.

Yeah, that word again.