The Audacity of Privileged White Men

Racist attacks against Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor

By Alvaro Huerta
Published on LatinoLA: June 15, 2009

The Audacity of Privileged White Men

In deconstructing the conservative's recent rhetoric on key issues of the day, we can forget about Cuba's Fidel Castro or Valenzuela's Hugo Chavez, since America faces a bigger national "threat": the Bronx's Sonia Sotomayor. Following a long tradition of Latin American leaders who allegedly pose eminent danger to this country, the "wise Latina" Supreme Court nominee must be prevented from joining the highest court, in the eyes of the dwindling conservatives, or else American democracy as we know it will seize to exist.

If Sotomayor succeeds, the conservatives' greatest nightmare might come true: not only will America's democratic traditions and values be at risk--the same ones that brought us slavery, Jim Crow and inner-city segregation, let's not forget--but also the nation's "most" vulnerable group will be in jeopardy: privileged White men.

While minority leaders and liberals often decry America's racist and brutal history against African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, in the absence of George W. Bush, who will defend the interests of the Fortune 500 CEO's, super rich and powerful politicians, should soon-to-be Justice Sotomayor decide to "impose" her wisdom on the Supreme Court and "construct" policy from the bench? Leave it to the conservatives' fearless leaders--Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove--to "save" the day and lead the GOP in a vicious campaign against a highly qualified candidate who just happens to be Latina from the Bronx.

In their aim to derail the first Latina candidate to the nation's highest court and further alienate Latino voters to their own detriment, the conservatives have painted an unfavorable portrait of Sotomayor as being unqualified and biased. Sotomayor has also been characterized as a radical and racist.

Speaking of the racist claim, former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo had the audacity--to use Obama's term in a perverse way--to assert that Sotomayor's association with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) correlates to being a member of the KKK. If this is indeed the case, maybe Mr. Tancredo can provide some evidence linking the NCLR to recent (or past) hate mongering, lynching or cross-burning acts in America's exclusive suburbs?

Apart from the slanderous racist accusations, the idea that Sotomayor is intellectually unqualified for the Supreme Court only makes a mockery of America's elite, Ivy League universities: Princeton University and Yale Law School. This is not George W. Bush we're talking about, a self-admitted "C" student who attended Yale as a legacy kid--children of alumni who get preferential admissions treatment, i.e., affirmative action for the rich. Sotomayor excelled both as an undergrad and law student. Not an easy task for someone who grew up in the Bronx's housing projects and whose late father only had a grade-school level education.

In the view of conservatives, unless you're a loyal Republican and token minority, such as Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzalez, racial minorities don't meet their expectations. In a way, racial minorities face a major contraction in this country: if we excel in society, it's because of preferential treatment and if we fail, then we lack the so-called Protestant work ethnic. In other words, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't.

The idea that Sotomayor is a radical represents another lie from the conservatives. For instance, radicals don't usually work as prosecutors for the district attorney's office or represent corporate interests in private law firms. Prosecutors typically represent law-and-order individuals who want to "clean" the streets of crime. Who knows, maybe Sotomayor put away some shady individuals from the same housing projects where she grew up? To look for so-called radical attorneys, we can more commonly expect to find them working as public defenders or non-profit, legal aid attorneys.

Also, the conservative's argument that Sotomayor is biased and can't be trusted because she has boasted about her Puerto Rican heritage in numerous speeches represents another fabrication. What's the big deal with being proud of your ethnic or religious heritage? What about John F. Kennedy (Irish American), Joe Lieberman (Jewish American) and Antonin Scalia (Italian American), just to name a few prominent Americans? If there's something wrong with ethnic pride, then why do we have Chinatown's and Little Italy's in this country? Why do we celebrate Saint Patrick's Day or the numerous annual parades in honor of the various ethnic groups taking place throughout the U.S.? If this is truly a free country where free speech is cherished and promoted, there's nothing wrong with Sotomayor being proud of her ethnic background and humble beginnings. And, if the conservatives want to identify the real racially biased individuals, they should only look in the mirror.

Finally, I must say that as an ethnic minority myself (Chicano) who also grew up in housing projects (E.L.A.'s turbulent Ramona Gardens housing project) and attended elite universities (UCLA and now UC Berkeley), I don't see Sotomayor as a natural ally who will risk her career when it comes to controversial issues, such as the death penalty, police abuse, inhumane treatment of immigrants or the marginalization of working class people in this country.

I do see, however, the hypocritical and racist attacks by conservatives of a highly qualified Latina who not only played by the rules all her life, but has also excelled by the same rules and elite institutions--originally set up by privileged White men--that have denied countless racial minorities and working class people from fulfilling the American Dream.

About Alvaro Huerta:
Alvaro is a visiting fellow at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center and doctoral student at UC Berkeley's Dept. of City and Regional Planning. He's married to wife of 17 years, Antonia. They have a 9-year-old son, Joaquin.

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