I love to partake in a lot of the forums and Web sites where people can comment on stories that are part of the current news. One of the hottest topics now is the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.
By now everyone has heard about the comment Sotomayor made in the past during one of her speeches. In case you haven’t heard, Sotomayor said, “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.”
Now for me the controversy isn’t in just what she said. What I have been watching with interest has been the reaction of white people to the comment.
Race has been a subject that for me, a child of black America, is always at the forefront of my life. I am reminded daily that I exist in a white majority population.
Whether it is commercials or advertisements, movies and television shows, the standard for those doing the production is to go with what is familiar to them. Everything is so automatically geared for white people that the average black person can become totally oblivious to advertisements that don’t include us.
Many of us dismiss those ads with a flick of the wrist and proclaim that the product isn’t meant for us anyway. Or we go out and buy it even though the manufacturer spends no money to woo us specifically to the product.
And since black hair and skin are 180 degrees opposite of white hair and skin, it is very easy for me to see the racial differences in terms of black and white.
I saw dramatically that idea being reinforced this past week as I watch the promos for the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. It was a quick lesson in how invisible black America can quickly become.
No longer is the band leader on the Tonight Show a black man. Nor were there any people of color in the guest lineup that I saw promoted for the premiere week. Rather we have a version of the Tonight Show that represents Conan O’Brien’s experiences. And I can’t be mad that he put together a show that basically reinforces his background. At the same time, what he is presenting also doesn’t interest me as a viewer.
But let those of us in ethnic America do and say the exact same things that reinforce our backgrounds. If it’s contrary to what white America expects, then white America reacts by tossing “the twins” into the ring. Those twins – racist and racism – are bandied about with ease when white America feels abused.
When and if white America becomes the minority population of this country by the year 2050, whites are already proving that they won’t be the silent minority on the subject.
As the nomination of Sotomayor is proving, whites are not going to easily allow themselves to become the scapegoats in commentaries made by ethnic America.
So when something like the statement Sotomayor made is printed, she is being judged and held to the same standards as those in white America would be held if that comment had come from a white man or woman.
As I read the comments that called her a racist or accused her of reverse racism, I paused for a second and took a good look at her. To my eyes, other than her last name being Sotomayor, besides Spanish, she looks like she could claim her family background to be Italian, Greek or Middle Eastern, etc.
And, truthfully, since being Puerto Rican is an ethnic identity and not a racial one, I wonder what makes her Latina and not a white woman who speaks Spanish?
Had Sotomayor been adopted into a family as a child, she would have appeared no different that any other white kid who would have been in her classroom.
Her hair is hair that any white beauty shop can style. Her skin color appears to have as much color in it as we would see in anyone born with darker hair. Yet because she identifies more with the country where her parents were born and not this country, she has placed herself into a special category as if to say there was something more unusual in her background than that of any other white person born here.
That has caused many to take issue with her. Being born poor and struggling to make a better life for oneself is the American Dream and is not the special privilege of any one group or person.
She is not the first individual to have had another language as her primary language. She is not the first to have had her personal aspirations challenged because of her sex.
In the end, we all need to take a look and see exactly where we stand as a country when it comes to our Horatio Alger stories. Those who have overcome the odds as well as those who rose from poverty to privilege do bring a unique perspective to the table. But unique is not necessarily better.