July 10, 2009
A Question of Identity: Yours or Mine
On Monday, July 13th, the confirmation hearing for Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court will begin. If confirmed, she will be just the third woman and first Hispanic to ever sit on the nation’s highest court. Unfortunately, there are some who want us to dismiss the magnitude of her appointment and qualifications and myopically focus on a single sentence from a speech in 2001.
“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”
Critics claim that it is her use of the word ‘better’ that infuriates them the most. “How dare this Latina woman be so bold and arrogant?” they whisper. “The white male is the standard-bearer, nothing is superior to that” others reminisce of days gone by. Perhaps ‘different’ would have been a better choice than ‘better.’ But the sentiment remains true that identity – race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. – influences to different degrees whom each of us is and how we see the world. What is exactly is the problem?
Justice Scalia is a devout Catholic with nine kids. He doesn’t believe a woman has the right to choose an abortion and his rulings are consistent with that belief. Is it not obvious that his identity as a Catholic influences the conclusions he makes in his personal and professional life? Yet there are no cries when identity politics plays itself out in this scenario.
Is it possible that for some, it’s just a little too uncomfortable to imagine that the perspective of judgment is drifting further and further away from the white male as standard-bearer perspective? Is it possible that the real issue is not Sotomayor’s claim to a “better conclusion” but that the experiences as a Latina will supplant the experiences of a white male? Let’s be clear, folks. Identity politics is not the problem. It’s whose identity is the problem.