No sooner did President Obama nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court than racists began to make derogatory remarks based on her ethnicity.
Judge Sotomayor should not be confirmed just because she is a Latina. She should be confirmed using the same standards employed during the confirmation hearings of all the other whites who presently sit on the Supreme Court. She should be confirmed based on her qualifications, which shouldn’t be difficult to prove or disprove due to her numerous judicial decisions.
But rather than pretending to be colorblind, some Republican politicians and pundits have made ethnicity central to the debate. Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, echoing Rush Limbaugh, accused Sotomayor of being “a Latina woman racist.”
She has been attacked for lacking sufficient intelligence (graduating summa cum laude isn’t enough for Latinos) or on being too abrasive (translate as a non-docile Latina who speaks her mind). Some of the comments bordered on the absurd. Take, for example, former Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, who called the National Council of La Raza (the Latino equivalent to the NAACP) a “Latino KKK.”
Probably the most innocent comment made, and yet the most destructive to communities of color, was by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “The American ideal is that justice should be colorblind.” The senator, as well as many Euro-Americans, perceives the ideal response to racism is to claim colorblindness.
As noble as this may sound, it is a policy that is detrimental to communities of color. Besides, no one is really colorblind. Allow me to debunk the myth for those of you who are white. How many blacks and Latinos live in your neighborhood? When you compare your neighborhood to that of a different race or ethnicity, which has better social services?
How many blacks and Latinos are fellow students with your children at the school they attend? If your children go to a Christian school, are there more blacks and Latinos going to the Christian school or to the public school? Why? How many blacks and Latinos worship at your church? When was the last time you had a person of a different race or ethnicity at your home for dinner?
The typical answer to these questions proves what statistical trends reveal: As a nation, we are becoming more segregated. When we claim colorblindness, we mask the link that exists between the ideal that Euro-Americans claim to believe in and the segregated life they carved out for themselves. Obviously, we all see color. (If you haven’t noticed that Barack is black, please get your eyes checked.)
But by claiming colorblindness, we don’t need to be bigots. In fact, we can learn to be very PC, stigmatizing those who utter racist comments with righteous indignation. Those claiming colorblindness don’t need to believe in or advocate for white supremacy because the social structures are racist for them, protecting their white privilege even while they lament the lack of diversity in their lives.
And here’s the kicker. Whenever those who suffer disenfranchisement raise their voice in protest due to the oppression caused by the segregated society they live in, they are dismissed by being labeled “racist” by those claiming colorblindness.
Euro-Americans who pine for the “good old days” lament the loss of an affirmative action that assured whites, regardless of qualifications, to fill every empty slot in the workplace, the marketplace and academic institutions. In a perverse zero-sum-rule, every position earned by a person of color was interpreted as a slot “given” to a less deserving applicant – a birthright taken away from a member of the dominant culture.
Of course, most would not make the error of voicing racist comments or appearing to violate the rules of political correctness (at least not in the presence of people of color). Still, wishing to preserve white advantages through the denial of racial differences has led to the advocacy of colorblindness. White resentment toward the present economic crises has led many to blame the so-called “unfair advantages” given to non-whites (i.e., affirmative action), which can only be mediated when everyone is treated the same, ignoring how social structures continue to privilege whites.
To claim the ideal of colorblindness allows Christians, specifically those who are conservative and evangelical, to approach racism on an individual, rather than communal level. Under the Lordship of Christ, they believe, different races can come together. Because Christ is Lord, Euro-American Christians can downplay, if not outright ignore, the importance of initiating socio-political acts that challenge the present social structures detrimental to communities of color that remains embedded within the United States.
For them, reconciliation is achieved through personal relationships across racial and ethnic lines. Stressing individual-level actions over and against changing social structures allow those who are privileged by those same structures to feel righteous because of public apologies with much crocodile tears, given for past racist acts. Meanwhile, they can continue to benefit from the status quo due to their Eurocentric privilege.
So in conclusion, the danger of advocating, as does Sen. Cornyn, for a colorblind justice when vetting Sotomayor’s qualifications is that rather than recognizing the obvious (that she is a Latina whose life experiences have much to offer), the Senate will ignore her qualifications while attempting to sound PC as they focus on her ethnicity.
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice and Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.