Sotomayor IS a Wise Latina, and Our Court Needs Her

SotomayorI completely understand the “wise Latina” brouhaha. Older, privileged white males are evidently threatened. The world they know and understand is slipping away. Even so, America largely remains a straight, white, patriarchal society. If our nation is going to move forward and bring to all its people the promises of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, however, that needs to change.

Let’s face it. Anyone who isn’t a straight white Protestant male is a “minority.” Every minority has had to confront discrimination in one form or another, and much of it still goes on. Women couldn’t vote until 1920 and, to this day, are underpaid for doing work equal to what men do. President Kennedy’s Catholicism was a huge issue in the early 1960s. Gays still don’t have the same rights as straights and, in some circles, are considered inherently immoral beings. Jews remain the targets of hatred in many parts of our nation. Regardless of the fact that we have a part-black president for the first time, racism against blacks, Latinos, anyone of mixed race, and other minorities continues, in both blatant and subtle forms.

What Judge Sotomayor said about being a wise Latina and being able to make better decisions than a white male was a true statement. Her life experiences are more well-rounded than those of a typical white male who has not had the struggles she and other minorities have had. She has a much different and deeper perspective on the realities and challenges of life, because she’s lived them.

White males who have had advantages over others in society and who have lived relatively insulated lives have not lived or known these experiences, and many of these white males currently occupy Senate seats and serve on the Judiciary Committee. A stunningly imprudent joke invoking Ricky Ricardo proves my point.

The law is steadfast, but it is at the same time part of an evolutionary process. Unfairness in law has beleaguered our nation’s history and stood in the way of progress, and it has so in the hands of privileged, white male justices, as well as our founding fathers and former presidents.

Our Declaration of Independence stated that “all men are created equal,” but Thomas Jefferson had slaves. In spite of racial-equality progress after the Civil War, the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) erased that progress and codified overt racism, making Jim Crow the norm because, as privileged white males, the justices saw the world only through their own eyes and through their own experience. It took another 70 years of mostly privileged white male-populated Supreme Courts to change that, but the vestiges of Jim Crow are still being wrestled with in some areas of our society.

And, clueless elected officials are still making racist jokes on national television because, among some, this way of thinking is so ingrained.

Time heals all wounds, and time is what it takes for our laws to adjust to changes in societal attitudes. Being exposed to things new and different is what encourages and begets needed change. Exposure opens one’s eyes, and being educated about the realities and lives of others with whom one is unfamiliar is what makes change in that person’s attitude possible. Time also ensures that those intent on embracing injustices of the past eventually fade away.

Exposure to a wide range of life experiences and education are the keys to progress. Judge Sotomayor has had both the benefits of that exposure and the formal as well as practical education necessary to make her a wise Latina justice of the Supreme Court.

Joanne Turner

Joanne Turner has lived in the community of Eagle Rock in Northeast Los Angeles for 33 years and served as president of The Eagle Rock Association (TERA) from 1997 to 2003. In addition to her community activism, she has worked as a middle manager in a prominent law firm, as a storyboard colorist and illustrator, and as a freelance writer and editor.


  1. says


    My article expresses neither hypocrisy nor hatred, and I use no scapegoats. It is an honest account of where we currently stand in the PROCESS of reaching the goal of everyone having equal opportunity to be whom they want to be and to succeed how they want to in our society. When you say, “We should be against all forms of discrimination, bigotry and hypocrisy,” you’re right. I completely agree with you on this, but we just haven’t gotten to where we need to be. We can’t just flip a switch and have it be so.

    We are in the PROCESS of working it through and reaching our mutual objective. Change always takes time, and there are always bumps along the way. Change is a necessary PROCESS that is rarely an easy thing to go through.

    When you say, “A white male who said what [Sotomayor] did and claimed that he could do things better simply because of race or gender would be considered a bigot,” you’re correct. Is this situation fair? No. Does this need to happen in order to better work through the process to achieve the necessary goal? Yes. A certain amount of pain must be shared by EVERYONE in order for us ALL to move beyond it, because someone who doesn’t experience something will never truly understand it. It’s one of those bumps along the way, part of the PROCESS we must go through to reach our equally beneficial purpose.

    Contrary to what you claim, not “everyone” has felt discrimination of some sort. As a group, privileged white males have not felt the discrimination other groups have. The wealth is there, the connections are there, the open doors are there, and the opportunities abound. Little or nothing has stood in their way. That is a fact, because they have always been in charge and made all decisions for everyone else, to the ultimate benefit of themselves. Luckily, this has begun to change.

    Nevertheless, privileged white males haven’t been made to occupy any lower-tiered societal place, a place which has always “felt” discrimination in one form or another. It’s not a statement reflective of hatred, or hypocrisy, and it’s definitely not a scapegoat — it’s just what is.

    Of course, there are exceptions, as there are to any situation. Some of these privileged white males might have, at least intellectually, “occupied” another societal tier by choice, but only because they endeavor to educate themselves about people in groups and situations less secure than their own. As a whole, however, privileged white males know no other world but their own. In fact, no one in any group knows anything except only what they know and have been surrounded by. It takes reaching outside of one’s self and experience to understand the different worlds and situations that are out there, like, as the saying goes, walking around in someone else’s shoes — the necessary exposure and education I spoke of in my article.

    It’s also called empathy, and the definition of empathy is “the ability to identify with and understand another person’s feelings or difficulties.” The operative word here is “feelings” (another form of your word — “felt”). As an example, it’s why convicted slumlords, as part of their punishment, are often made to occupy the dilapidated buildings they have neglected to the benefit of themselves while at the dire expense of their tenants. Aside from just paying a fine and/or serving jail time, they will KNOW and FEEL what it’s like to live in such appalling conditions. The goal is to CHANGE their attitudes as well as their behavior. In other words, they need to experience some real pain felt by others, to walk around in someone else’s shoes.

    Furthermore, as a group, so-called “liberals” don’t want to “create hate,” as you claim. (I say “as a group” because, as I stated previously, there are exceptions.) They just want social tolerance and equal rights and opportunity for all, and that’s not a “difficult” position to take because it is a worthy and realistic position to take, falling squarely in line with the intent of our founders. So, it is by no means “difficult to be a liberal in this country,” as you further claim.

    The difficulty lies in getting to our ultimate goal of equality for all, and we’re still working on it. Human nature being what it is, we’ll likely always be working on it, but progress and moving forward are at the least an incremental success. If you want to take on the real hate mongers in our society, go after the hard-right extremists and small-minded religious zealots, who subscribe to their way or no way at all. They make a point of resisting and standing in the way of progress, and someone else’s shoes simply don’t exist for them.

    The real scapegoat here is in your taking the easy way out by using the blanket term “liberal hypocrisy” in a feeble attempt to give cover to your hollow argument.

    Joanne Turner

  2. says

    The idea that personal background can provide insight into the facts of a case has not been controversial in the past. It was raised during confirmation hearing by Justices Thomas and Alito without conservative outrage.

    However, I do see a problem with Judge Sotomayor’s nomination that would put Democrats on the spot. But conservative Republicans cannot bring themselves to raise the issue.

  3. Benjamin says

    One more example of liberal hypocrisy. Everyone has felt discrimination of some sort. Sotomayor just legitimizes a particular form. We should ALL be against ANY FORM of discrimination. A white male who said what she did and claimed that he could do things better simply because of race or gender would be considered a bigot. All goes to show the hypocrisy of the liberal left once again. It think if we all took the time we would actually see that discrimination is a problem that affects EVERYONE. If we seek to have truly a great country where EVERYONE has opportunities then WE SHOULD BE AGAINST ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION, BIGOTRY AND HYPOCRISY. This is why it is beginning to be very difficult to be a liberal in this country. It seems that we only want to create hate — apparently to solve a problem we must produce scapegoats. When will we learn hate doesn’t solve hate — it begets even more hate.

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