Thursday, June 4, 2009

Judge Sonia Sotomayor & The New Racism

Last week President Barack Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. What has transpired in the wake of this have been ceaseless attacks by right-wing politicians like Tom Tancredo and Newt Gingrich, along with the likes of Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and more. What are these conservative luminaries charging the Latina with?


Say what?!?

I applaud the appointment of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court. It is a historic moment for the under represented and Judge Sotomayor seems amply qualified for the position. I'm not exactly ecstatic however. At first glance Judge Sotomayor doesn't appear to shift the court in any new direction. She seems an apt replacement for Justice David Souter, although where she stands on key issues is still unknown. Judge Sotomayor isn't close to a liberal/left answer to the likes of Thomas, Scalia or Alito. At best, her past rulings have indicated she's a liberal-leaning centrist. This all makes the right-wing rabid attack on her just that much more bizarre. Issues of immigration have seeped into the criticism directed her way, even though she's of Puerto Rican descent--and hence a legal U.S. citizen. And, in yet another indication that we've officially entered the Twilight Zone, some of the most offensive and rabidly intolerant right-wing commentators and politicians have dared to call the first female Latina Supreme Court nominee racist--all for stating something that should be plain common sense. If this were say, Marjorie Cohen, a dream pick were we playing Fantasy SCOTUS, I'd certainly see why the GOP would cringe. But the attacks so far from the Republican right have been so flimsy and personal, it only serves to make their issues with race, ethnicity and gender even more glaringly transparent.

Journalist William Rivers Pitt has defined this bizarre behavior as "Sotomayor Derangement Syndrome." But English and Cultural Studies professor Henry Giroux sees it as part of something more interwoven into the American fabric--what he calls the new racism, in which those who practice intolerance attempt to wrap themselves in victimhood while crying out against "reverse" discrimination. Giroux writes:

While many liberals suggest that with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency the United States has become a post-racial society, many conservatives have now taken the opposition position, prompted by the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, that racism is alive and well in the republic.

Indeed what we are seeing with Sotomayor, as we have seen since the name Barack Obama was entered into the public discourse alongside the word "President," is American racism reinventing itself, adapting to current challenges and employing new tactics. By defining Sotomayor, or Obama, as the dangerous, irrational, unqualified "other," it is "whiteness" that is allowed to act as if it is under seige, even as it seeks to remain normalized. These new tricks by an old foe may be crude and untested, but rest assured they will continue. Because thus far, American history has shown that sooner or later they will strike the right chord.

The rest of Professor Giroux's article can be read here.


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