Justice Sotomayor: How Long Must Racial Recognition Persist?
How Long Must Racial Recognition Exist?
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For my first penned review, I figured I would tap into something that I am comfortable talking about; the controversial topic of race relations in the United States. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is being considered as a potential member of the Supreme Court. From its inception after the passage of the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court has been responsible for several key decisions including Marbury V. Madison, where it ascertained the right to execute judicial review, and Brown V. Board of Education which was the beginning of the end of racial segregation. These monumental decisions are issued from closed-door discussions and reviews by nine human beings draped in black robes. The amount of power and influence wielded by these select few is nearly incalculable, especially in the wake of persistent criticism that the court has morphed into a “second legislature,” as they have often exercised as a legislative body, passing laws such as Roe V. Wade which many believed impinged on the rights of legislatures and voices of the people. The Supreme Court has flexed its judicial muscle on many occasions, emboldened by the unchecked element in the purported “checks and balances” our country maintains. It has also had a mixed legacy of affirmative action and other matters of races, equivocating on the merits of past cases while legislating for future ones.
If Sonia Sotomayor is approved by Senate, she would become the first Hispanic on the bench and third female, behind O’Connor and Ginsburg, who recently suffered through surgery for pancreatic cancer. As a result, this “vetting” has been diminished as a pure show, as the Democratic Congress has acted as a rubber-stamp for Obama. On the other hand, Republicans have been scrambling to come up with a (take a breathe) unified platform on how to effectively weaken Sotomayor while avoiding alienation of Hispanic constituents.
I am neither a Hispanic nor profess to know the plight of minorities in this country, having little insight as a 3rd generation Italian-American. I have only heard stories passed down through my family about what my ancestors faced in coming to this country. Sotomayor’s membership in the Supreme Court would be a watershed moment for many Hispanics around the world. However, Republicans have been forced to walk one of the narrowest political tightropes in recent memory, as one outlandish or insensitive quote could send them hurling backwards and disintegrate the progress made with Hispanic citizens. They have been mocked by Democrats as racially “out-of-touch.” Still, Democrats continue to campaign for a time in which colors of all races bleed into red, white and blue and where we hold our brothers and sisters in universal patriotism. So why haven’t we moved on pass the race issue? Current Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative African-American, once wrote in an opinion concerning affirmative action that if race was not to be considered an issue, then it shouldn’t be one. Arguably, in order to undermine the importance of race, shouldn’t it be ignored?
Or is it possible to really ignore race? Should it still be a cause for celebration if some subgroup of a race has its first man or woman elected to a political position? Is it an accomplishment because the person is African-American or Hispanic, or is it simply a success story because the individual made it that far, regardless of his or her skin pigment? How prevalent is racism today? These questions continue to brew around corporate water coolers, dialogues by smarmy radio pundits, and through endless blogs written by ideologues with a particular, sometimes subtle agenda. I will be one of the first to concede that racism is one of the uglier parts of the human condition. It has been theorized that it is a defense mechanism genetically passed down from our ancestors that is no longer necessary. Our primal fear of others who do not look like us is no longer useful in civilized society. We are no longer the “noble savages” French philosopher Rousseau referred to in his writings. On the other hand, humans cannot help but notice people who are different colors as a result of being able to see light refract off of skin and interpreting that information into a particular color. We associate certain colors with moods, natural elements, and even judgments about the content of someone’s personality.
Racism has been exploited and capitalized on from both racists and activists, who have rallied minorities energized over fresh evidence of racism. Many are hoodwinked to believe racism is as prevalent as it was 20 or even 10 years ago. It even played a major role in the past election. Obama was accused of playing the race card when he stated that he didn’t look like the other men on the dollar bills and that he didn’t look like the typical president. Even Bill Clinton, once heralded as the first Black President for his fervent support for African Americans, was castigated for belittling Obama’s win in South Carolina during the Democratic Primary, pointing out that Jesse Jackson won the state during his unsuccessful 1984 bid for the Presidency. Unfortunately, it appears as though racism will never be fully eradicated from our society until our pigments blend into one unmistakable color.
Is there inherent racism in grouping a collection of people who look alike? As a potential candidate for law school, I have poured over countless applications asking for my race…should it matter? If so, what do I put down? My choices are often limited to “White/Caucasian,” but, to a degree, am I not a minority? As an Italian-American, I hardly see myself as a “WASP” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) who have been used as caricatures in order to typify European-American stereotypes. But I am a Caucasian. Luckily, I have the option of not putting it down, which I usually do. My scores and ability should be the sole dictation to my acceptance at a particular institute…right? Justice Clarence Thomas attempted to reconcile this issue in an opinion, citing it as something along the lines of a reverse racism. The more race is litigated and discussed, the more the law suffers from untangled entanglements and superfluous legal obstacles. How is it possible for us to see each other as the same when race has become a factor for nearly every facet of life? There is no way to calculate how much racism there is in the world, only to denote tangible swings or, in the United States, a significant decline.
If racism is a persistent, nefarious element of society, then it is not possible to eradicate it entirely. More practically, it is necessary to deal with it. Perhaps that’s what Sotomayor’s acceptance will mean. It may even alleviate some guilt that has ignited internal conflicts among many whites over how minorities have been treated in the past. Yet, given the trajectory of this country, the new (our) generation appears to be nearly colorblind. This gradual progression is a sign that it will be possible to get past racism. In one opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor set the timetable around 2020 for affirmative action stipulations to become void. Perhaps she possessed the foresight to see this. Or she may have just espoused wishful thinking. Many minorities continue to feel victimized and isolated in a country that has continued to perpetuate the image of the “Melting Pot.” The United States continues to benefit from immigrants and minorities who have given flavor, spice, and vigor to our culture. Without getting into the profile of Sotomayor, which will be gutted and analyzed in the coming weeks by overzealous media, her candidacy has brought up the tired racial platitudes of making progress.
Still, as long as there is evidence of racism in this country, no
matter how inconsistent, these matters will continue to rise up. I look
forward to the day when parades and celebrations are ended over race,
and that we can celebrate the individual for what he or she truly is;
another American success story. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his
most famous speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will
one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of
their skin but by the content of their character.” When will we learn
to do that for all races? Or will we be unable to stamp out racism’s
ugly head…or is it more like an unsightly bald-spot?
True racial progress will be achieved when it becomes an afterthought in political discourse and daily living. When it will no longer matter that the first German-American has become President or the first Ethiopian-American Jewish female has become the first Secretary of Treasury. These names and titles which are meant to denote differences contribute to the wedges that drive us apart. We are all guilty of embracing these names because we want to be distinguished from others. There are two competing factors here; one for acceptance and one for difference. A subgroup of people that come to mind are African-Americans. Spurred by the necessity to promote themselves as a culturally-rich people (thanks in part to hundreds of years of racism), they've established themselves as an integral part of American culture...or have they? One who proclaims that he or she is an African-American helps uphold the ancestral mantle, but at what price? All too often, racial and cultural allegiances form a barricade against general yet more substantive titles such as simply "American."
When will we be comfortable with ourselves enough to strip away brand names and subgroups, and just describe ourselves as Americans, or Albanians or Dominicans? Or, even, just as humans? Or, is it possible to call yourself an Italian-Chinese Jew AND avoid the stereotypes/racism typically attributed to that amalgam of nationalities? Let’s move towards removing them and instead of driving wedges drive love and compassion for each other to cushion us. To move past race and examine the color content of one’s soul. That should be the only color that matters.
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