Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sotomayor Hearings, Day 1

The Sotomayor confirmation hearings are a sorry reminder of the continuing hegemony of white male privilege. Racisms and sexisms of all stripes -- liberal, as well as reactionary -- so tightly cramp our discourse about inequality that if we don't all pray to the sameness/symmetry/colorblind god, we must be racists/sexists/UnAmerican.

Since the late 1980s, the Supreme Court itself has led the political suffocation of common sense and social justice, with its increasingly harsh insistence that race-sensitive policies of all kinds are evil, whether the policies are geared toward rectifying the marginalization of people of color or toward shoring up the power of white people. Where the Court in Brown v. Board saw marginalization and subordination of people of color as the evil, current jurisprudence holds that power and powerlessness are irrelevant aspects of inequality. Race-neutrality, color-blindness, "treating everybody the same" are the power-blind standards of the controlling discourse.

Gender jurisprudence for the most part has supported this cramped, power-preserving view of equality, with its preeminent concern for winning for women the same treatment/privileges men enjoy -- in sports, military academies, employment and the like. Winning sameness is an important goal where sameness promotes equality, but our singular focus on Constitutional equivalence between men and women has choked off claims and articulations for gender-sensitive remediations and provisions that also are necessary for equality.

In any event, we are stuck in the mid-1970s, circa Bakke, when vast numbers of women of all races and men and men of color could not say out loud what we all recognized as true: that the desegregation of American life entails more than peppering schools, workforces, and politics with a few colored or female faces just for the sake of visual variety; and that desegregation isn't merely about allowing isolated individuals to maximize opportunities and fulfill dreams. Desegregation, whether through bars on race or sex exclusions or through affirmative action, is also important because marginalized groups have something significant and distinctive to offer public discourse and the life of the polity -- because of their social, economic, and cultural experiences.

But if we say that out loud in mainstream political processes, we are called racists (or sexists) by white men who believe they own "neutrality." Jeff Sessions!!! and Lindsay Graham. And the white-dominated media doesn't interrogate their assumptions. Instead, they say things like "strong cross-examination by Senator Graham," or "Sotomayor didn't put the racism charge to rest."

The idea that ignoring race is good (even if to do so exacerbates racial disparities) so grips official consciousness that the obvious response to Lindsay Graham's assertion ("If I said that a wise white man would reach better conclusions than a wise Latino woman, I would lose my job." [sic]) -- cannot even be uttered. Equality is not just about exchanging modifiers in sentences; it's not just about flipping phrases. The reason inequality is still a problem and the reason we struggle over the path to equality is because the standpoint and power of a white man who claims superior wisdom is in no way comparable to the standpoint and relative powerlessness/outsiderness of the woman of color who claims a different wisdom that would improve an outcome.

More later.