Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reverse racism

The right-wing TV and radio commentators who called Justice Sotomayor a "racist" were clearly more interested in their ratings than in initiating a thoughtful conversation about race and ethnicity in this country. Still, they may well have expressed the anxieties of some white Americans who might not otherwise agree with the Limbaughs, Becks and Dobbses of the world.

The charge of "reverse racism" against people of color who call attention to the legal and economic inequalities between their communities and the white middle-class is an old one. It goes back at least into the 1970s when governments sought to address those inequalities with affirmative action programs. Even now, when most of those programs have been dismantled, the charge is still leveled against those of us who advocate for racial and ethnic diversity in, for example, the legal profession and the judiciary.

I have given these subjects considerable thought over the years and drawn some tentative conclusions; tentative because I, like you, continue to mull these matters over.

First, the idea of "white" like the idea of "Latino" is, I completely recognize, a statistical generalization. "White" people are not a monolithic group from the same cultural background who share a single point of view. They are my brother and sister humans whose unique backgrounds, life experiences, perspective and values help make American the vibrant society that it is. On a personal level, the many loving hands that helped me achieve an education and a place in the world from which I can help others were white hands; teachers, mentors, friends, lovers -- people I love very deeply and who have loved me.

Second, I am fully aware that class and economics can play as big a part in access to opportunity as race and ethnicity. The daughter of a poor white family in the central valley and the son of a poor Latino family in the same town are likely to encounter the same obstacles in trying to make a better life for themselves. That is why my notion of diversity also includes making a place for that girl and that boy, as a place was made for me, also a child of the poor.

But all that having been said, it is still fair to point out the fact that, in our society as a whole, certain racial and ethnic groups are disproportiontely poorer, live in worse and more dangerous neighborhoods and send their kids to overcrowded and inadequate schools from which they are more likely to drop out and end up unemployed, in dead-end jobs or in the the criminal system. Given all these obstacles, they are also likely to be significantly underrepesented in the positions of power in this society -- like the judiciary.

To point out that, for example, Latinos as a group have less access to the necessities of life and opportunities toward advancement in this society than whites as a group is not a racist statement, but a verifiable fact.

To advocate for the greater inclusion of people of color in position of power is not attack on whites who occupy those positions. It is an argument about representative government. Representative government -- which includes the courts -- proceeds from the premise that people are more likely to respect and obey the laws if they a voice in deciding who makes and enforces those laws. Therefore, representative government must include meaningful representation from all groups, which is not the case among California's judges.

Diversity includes everyone, it does not exclude anyone, and its purpose is not to displace one group with another, but to bring every groups' perspectives and experiences into the process of governing.

If the people elect me judge I will continue to proudly identify as a gay man, a Latino, a child of the poor, but no one, regardless of his or her background, would ever step into my courtroom and be treated any differently than anyone else. There is no hate in my heart for anyone. I wish the same could be said of some of those who attacked Sonia Sotomayor.

1 comment:

  1. I think a small number of conservative whites are feeling threatened by the changes that are going on in the US and the Limbaughs, Becks and Dobbses of the world are feeding that fear to advance their own agenda, which has nothing to do with bettering America, and everything to do with gaining power at the expense of others. The only America they care about is a small, narrow one where a certain segment of the 'right kind of people' are in charge and making the rules. They appeal to the worst in people, not the best -- in fact I very much doubt they can see the best in anyone.