Amid the anti-Mexican media hysteria festering since the outbreak of swine flu, Dave Letterman’s portrayal last week of potential Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a hot-blooded Hispanic Judge Judy wasn’t the ugliest stereotyping of Latinos. It was actually weak tea compared to the mouth-foamings of Jay Severin, the Boston radio host who called Mexicans "leeches," "the world’s lowest of primitives," and exporters of "women with mustaches and VD." WTKK-FM has suspended but hasn’t fired Severin, even as some advertisers have bailed.
No, Letterman’s bit was far more mainstream, and more feasibly "acceptable" than, say, the kneeslappers of Betsy Perry, a branding consultant whose Huffpost musings about Mexican "banditos" and "the Mexican help with hands washed in parasite-infested tap water" resulted in Mayor Bloomberg axing her from the New York City Women’s Issues Commission. Clearly, not all Perry’s issues are about women. (She has since apologized.)
With the rightwing smuggling in the lie that immigrants are responsible for swine flu in the U.S. (when, in fact, it’s been spread here primarily by Americans who’ve visited Mexico), Mexicans have been, of course, the prime target of the most rancid typecasting. But once the type has been cast, it has jumped easily to Latinos of any origins. A summa cum laude graduate at Princeton, an editor of the Yale Law Journal, now a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and a Bronx native raised by her single mom (like Obama), Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent, and so this:
Not even a gulp from the Morning Joe gang. Mika laughed, and Willie Geist mumbled something about "fit for the Supreme Court." We may never learn whether Sotomayor is or isn’t "fit," because before we or the Senate Judiciary Committee see her in reality, we’ll visualize that hot tamale from the courtroom TV show losing control of her fellow Hispanic hotheads.
This particular ethnic skewering seems out of character for Letterman, who often slices through idiot-think brilliantly. Maybe he was, as conservative blogger Ann Althouse suggests, "mocking the mocking of Sotomayor." What is up? I asked a Letterman show spokesperson, who answered, "We’re going to decline comment on this."