I 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 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.