Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 28 June 2009

The White Man and the Latina Woman


Supreme Court Associate Justice designate Sonia SotomayorHere is the now-famous 2001 assertion from Supreme Court Associate Justice designate Sonia Sotomayor, as quoted by The New York Times:

“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.”

There’s been a lot of controversy about this quote. In order to find out exactly why that might be, let’s take a look at it again — this time with a couple of parts made more “generic”:

“I would hope that a wise [ insert ethnic and gender reference here ] with the richness of … experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a [ insert ethnic and gender reference here ] who hasn’t lived that life.”

Excuse me? I thought we as a society had moved beyond comparisons between (or referencing) ethnicity and gender. Apparently not…

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Judge Sotomayor intended absolutely no ethnicity or gender comparisons here. What does the statement yield now? Paraphrased, it now says: “She hopes [expects?] that a person with ‘richness of experiences’ would ‘reach a better conclusion’ than a person ‘who hasn’t lived that life’.” Since this statement was in a judicial context, she appears to be saying that “better conclusions” (judicial opinions?) are dependent on “richness of experiences” in life.

Experiences in what area(s)? Defined as “rich” by what criteria? How does she evaluate, adjudicate, and rank my “rich experiences” with the “rich experiences” of person X? And if person Y were judged to have “less rich” experiences than person Z — but Y has a law degree from, oh, say Harvard — would the degree trump the “rich experiences” as qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court? Murky waters, these. And since we will probably not agree on who is the arbiter and on what criteria will be used, it appears to be a slippery slope.

But let’s return to our first concern. It does, in fact, appear that the ethnicity and gender references she made were important to her argument, as she went to great pains to use them for comparitive purposes. Does this not smack of the same mindset which has spawned “reverse discrimination” issues in our society? (The stereotypical example from reverse discrimination litigation goes something like this: Person A may have better qualifications, test scores, and/or evaluations, but we have decided to give the promotion to Person B because B comes from a particular ethniticy or gender which has experienced oppression, and is therefore more deserving.)

Imagine the firestorm that would have (appropriately) ensued had the quote been this (which would have been equally logically, if not factually, valid):

“I would hope that a wise White male with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn’t lived that life.”

YIKES!!

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