Thursday, July 16, 2009


I have been warning for years about the trap, the dead end street, the danger of identities based on racial politics. Recently, a political party that was supposed to be the example of multiculturalism and racial/ethnic and gender harmony was visibly divided precisely along those lines.

We warned about this as far back as 1988 when we saw the Democratic Party go from being the party of immigrants and the middle and working classes to the party of “politically correct” causes. Such superficial coalitions of interest pressure groups led the Democratic Party to become the party of appearances during the past presidential elections.

From the very beginning of his candidacy, then Sen. Obama’s race, ethnicity, religion and culture were placed under question. “Is Sen. Obama Black enough?”, “Is Sen. Obama ‘the magic Negro’ (LA Times)?” These were questions not posed by “old, balding, white male” Republicans, conservatives or “the vast right-wing conspiracy”. No, they came from Democrats and the racial identity politics in the Democratic Party.

Recently the headlines read, “A happy day for all Hispanics”. Why were all of us supposed to be happy? Because a Hispanic female, “a Latina”, has been nominated by President Obama to the Supreme Court? So happy days are here again!

Yes, let us establish in no uncertain terms that we are proud of the personal accomplishments of Judge Sotomayor, a fellow “Puerto Rican”. Her story and that of her parents is not unlike that of many of us. We can relate.

We are also proud of Judge José Cabranes.

So let’s move to “brass tacks”. Is her personal story alone, so crammed down our throats by the main stream media, qualification enough for a seat at the Supreme Court? Are we “all Hispanics” alike, think alike and therefore supposed to jump and say “how high” when a political party says “jump” over their definition of what constitutes a real “Hispanic”?

I recall two recent Hispanics with similar life stories and accomplishments who did not receive equal support among politically assigned Hispanics. In fact, one of them was being considered as a potential Supreme Court candidate, way before Sotomayor. In fact, he was attacked as unqualified for the post, not because of academic and professional qualifications, but precisely for being “Latino” and an immigrant.

Remember Miguel Estrada? Addressing Democratic Party affiliated organizations, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he was especially singled out “as especially dangerous, because he has a minimal paper trail, he is Latino, and the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment. They want to hold Estrada off as long as possible." “He is Latino” are code words for possibly Catholic, possibly a danger to unquestionable judicial dogmas.

The question around President Obama’s candidacy was whether or not then Sen. Obama could play ball with the old guard of the Civil Rights/welfare politics establishment of the Democratic Party with its history of racial politics.

Now we have a “Latina” twisting in her chair, attempting an existential political balancing act that should have nothing to do with whether or not she is qualified and has the judicial temperament for a place in the highest court in the country.

Now it is out there for all to see. The danger is having our racial or ethnic identities and heritage made equal to party membership or ideological identity. If Sotomayor represents true diversity there is much too celebrate. If it is another reaffirmation that ethnic identity equals an ethnic identity in line with an ideological program or agenda, then I'm not so sure that's the diversity we need.

Sotomayor’ statement, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life" (NY Times May 15), should be at the very least cause for pause. There are racial connotations in it indeed. Is it racist? Does that make her a racist?

Sotomayor’s statements, as troubling as they are in their own standing, do not trouble me as much as why they were made: the racial identity politics imposed on us by a white liberal academic establishment for decades now and its hermeneutics of gender/race.

What Sotomayor represents for the problem of race lies with the issue of Hispanics accepting the narrative that Hispanics are a race, and a victim one at that. They have accepted the definition of “White” as Anglo-Saxon only, and of Hispanic/Latino as other than. In the case of Puerto Rican this is particularly misleading.

If you look at the ruling elite in Puerto Rico you will see what I mean. Overwhelmingly they are all white/Caucasian descendants of white/Caucasian Europeans, Spaniards, French, Italians, Germans and Irish. But the culture, as well as most of the population, is the result of historical “mestizo” forging of African, indigenous and Europeans populations into a national identity. What Puerto Ricans are proud of is not their “race”, but of the fact of how those races have forged a distinct culture. There is no “white” or “black” food, music, or dance in Puerto Rico; there is a Puerto Rican culture. And as unified as they are by a culture Puerto Ricans are equally divided by politics.

There are other statements made by Judge Sotomayor that should be examined to judge her judicial temperament, philosophy and world-view. She should be judged on those statements. But she should not be judged based on a definition of what white liberals determine of what is a real Hispanic or Latina. The same should have taken place when judging Miguel Estrada and Alberto Gonzalez. They also had compelling personal stories. Yet both were destroyed out of higher public service for not having the correct identity.

During his campaign President Obama, said that the generation of the 60s is burnt out and only offers more of the same, more of the stale and divisive politics. Yet here we are. The political struggle for the Hispanic vote will continue. The measure for political parties aspiring to their respect and consideration will be whether that respect and consideration will be mutual.

Let what is happening in the Sotomayor case stand as a warning about what happens to a minority group when racial/ethnic identity becomes equal to party or ideological identity. And what can happen when solutions to our many common problems are not measured by what their own success can demonstrate but by the identity of who proposes them. Our equal protection and common life under the Constitution should be based on “what” we are as a nation, not on “who” we are as separate identities. For anyone aspiring to the Supreme Court that is the measure.