In a 2001 speech Sotomayor said, "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."
It’s been a week that the quote has been out there and, for just as long, the question’s been waiting to be answered: A better conclusion about what subject?
Does Sotomayor believe that Latina judges are ipso facto smarter? That’s what her right-wing critics want her much-mangled quote to mean. But smarter about what? The price of beans? The weather? What two and two add up to?
Not exactly. While the money-media have spent the week making the comment "controversial" (and then calling it that), the non-profit media watch group FAIR (where I once worked) looked at the transcript and they report (drum-roll):
"The topic under discussion was race and gender discrimination. Talking about judging such cases– Sotomayor argued that the experience of facing discrimination might lead to a better decision about discrimination and she pointed out: ‘Let us not forget that until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.’
On the moon maybe it’s different – or in the privacy of your kitchen — but out here in the actual, lived USA – white males have been the norm (originally white, not-Irish or Italian or German-males). All "others" have had a different experience. A different experience – not of snow or rain or the price of beans – but of discrimination.
In a week that saw the killing of an off duty police officer by an another police officer in New York, and the killing of a women’s doctor in Wichita, it’s hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would disagree with Sotomayor.
The New York shooter took the victim for a criminal at least in part because the victim was a black man.
The assassination of the country’s eighth abortion provider brought out of the margins and into the media the reality that women seeking legal care and the people who look after them are still, after decades, subject to the kind of daily harassment, vandalism and threats that no corporate CEO would tolerate for a weekend. Women’s lives are not the same.
In a week like this, it’s hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would argue that to mention difference in America is to be racist — or that to have experienced discrimination might make one smarter about it. But what am I saying? All those "right" minds are the problem. Right minds would rather that we pretend we’re all already equal, because then we’ll stop working to make it that way.
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.