Judge Sotomayer once said, “our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions.”
Yes, indeed. People experience life differently. And no matter how empathetic one is, it’s tough to understand how different people experience life differently. Sure I’m aware of racism. I’ve listened to my Latino and Black colleagues. I’ve read the books and watched the news. But I still don’t know what it’s like to be directed towards the back of the bus. I cannot know that because I’m white.
Years ago, Governor Donald Carcieri here in RI had the opportunity and obligation to make 5 judicial appointments in his first few months in office. 5 opportunities. And he picked 5 white men.
The Governor told us how wonderful they all were. And he told us he selected these appointees based on merit and experience and intelligence and and and …
But really. There were no people of color with sufficient merit? There were no women?
Justice isn’t blind. Nothing is truly “blind.” We are the sum of our education and our family and our friends and our life experience. Our life experience depends upon things out of our control, like race /ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and gender, and class.
The May 25 issue of The Nation collected thoughts about possible candidates President Obama might nominate. Ian Haney Lopez (John H. Boalt Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley) recommended Judge Sotomayor. Dr. Lopez comments on those who dismiss “identify candidates,” you know, people from a minority or marginalized group.
He goes on to say that it’s good to repudiate stereotypes. And it’s great to demonstrate achievement of the American Dream. You know this, too. Electing a black man as President. Confirming a Latina woman to the Supreme Court.
But Dr. Lopez agrees that “far and away the most important criterion for selecting among various technically superb candidates must be intellectual and moral vision.” And that, he tells us, is precisely why identity matters. Here’s what struck me so powerfully in Dr. Lopez’s comments:
“The central point is not to provide diverse role models, and it’s certainly not to maximize differences of every stripe. The essential thrust of identity politics is to accord special consideration to race, gender, and class (plus sexual orientation and disability) — because these constitute core, persistent, unjust hierarchies. Biography is not intellectual destiny; group membership is not epistemological fate. Nevertheless, ties to the central marginalized identifies in American life surely encourage sustained engagement with inequality. Judge Sotomayor deserves our support not because of who she is but because of what she thinks – especially about the most injurious forms of structural injustice in the united States: race, gender and class.”
The most hurtful, harmful, and egregious forms of STRUCTURAL INJUSTICE in the USA: race, gender, and class. And I would add sexual orientation.
Structural injustice. Systemic. System wide. In all of our systems, hidden and sometimes still blatant. In our social systems. Everywhere. INJUSTICE. And we need more people — Judge Sotomayor and many more — who recognize this structural and systemic injustice; who talk about it; who fight against it; and who demand that we confront injustice as a society.