FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Sotomayor and the Identity Mountain

In his now-famous essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, Langston Hughes lamented the impulse of Black Harlem Renaissance era artists to shed the “Black” from their work product. At that time, the external imposition of standards of artistic excellence drove many “Negro Artists” to reject the richness of their experience in order to create palatable and racially neutral artwork. For Hughes this was anathema. The American ideal after all was to embrace the richness of difference, rather than neutering it by imposing unfamiliar standards stripped of history, context, and reality.

More than eighty years after Hughes’ essay, the same tensions persist, evidenced by the rhetoric surrounding the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the highest court in the land. Her nomination has been branded “identity politics.”  Attacks on Sotomayor suggest that she is not only a product of this “sinister” brand of politics, but a radical proponent. Pundits suggest that background should not factor into judicial calculus and that a “good judge” should detachedly interpret and apply the law; nothing more, nothing less. For Hughes it was race, with Sotomayor it is race with a side of gender and a sprinkling of class: the Identity Mountain.

We have heard repeatedly the poignant narrative that shaped Sotomayor’s identity. She lived an impoverished Bronx childhood, labored her whole life to become a high achiever, and now stands on the precipice of history. What should be hailed as a story of American triumph, however, has been contorted to imply that Sotomayor will engage in “tribal justice,” that her race will be determinative of her judicial outcomes, and that bias will cloud her judgment to the point of ineptitude.

What exactly, though, is this identity politics of which we speak? If the references to identity politics are meant to suggest that Sotomayor’s mode of adjudication will be colored with an agenda for minority enrichment, her record does not support such paranoia. Additionally, Sotomayor’s critics seem to invoke the label of “identity politics” inconsistently, based on whose “identity” they view as receiving an advantage. In his speech on John Roberts’ confirmation vote, then-Senator Obama pointed out that Roberts “has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak.” But the same Sotomayor critics continually turn a blind eye when Chief Justice Roberts’ rulings steadfastly safeguard the rich. Similarly, if such references to identity politics are meant to convey the idea that race and gender somehow factored into her nomination, surely political considerations lurk behind each and every appointment; it is politics after all.

If the denunciation of identity politics is meant to buttress the oft-articulated mantra that “justice is colorblind,” then the arguments against Sotomayor still carry little weight. If colorblind justice means that Judge Sotomayor cannot summon her past to inform her present judgment, then such a proposition cannot stand. A justice shorn of experience is a justice of folly, or worse, no justice at all. Such experience prompted Justice Ruth Ginsburg, known for her record of fighting against gender discrimination prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, to deviate from typical practice and read her impassioned dissent in Ledbetter, a decision that made equal pay lawsuits more difficult to file. Such experience also proved a hallmark of Justice Thurgood Marshall’s piercing civil rights analyses. Still yet, the cries for a cloistered judiciary continue to ring loud from these purported friends of justice.

The notion that background in America carries no significance is subtle but dangerous. A clear distinction exists between recognizing and embracing what Jonathan Sacks calls “the dignity of difference,” and insulting this dignity by demanding the erasure of difference. The line between them is easily blurred. We cannot allow this nomination, which represents a moment for a collective national embrace and pride, to be wasted by partisan rancor and hackneyed rhetoric. It should not be tolerated; not now, not ever.

And as for those mountains, all we can ask is that Judge Sotomayor continues to climb as she has so gracefully done thus far. Give us that raw jazz that only Harlem could know. Give us those sublime arias that only a woman could produce. Give us those pain-laden stanzas that only a pen of the projects could construct. Give us American justice, the way it should be.

ALBERT OSUEKE is a law clerk at Advancement Project, a national policy, communications and legal action group committed to racial justice. To watch a video produced by Advancement Project on the negative rhetoric surrounding Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POYA9uev828.  For more information about Advancement Project, go to www.advancementproject.org.  You can email the author at aosueke@advancementproject.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Peter Linebaugh
Police and the Wealth of Nations: Déjà Vu or Unfinished Business?
Rob Urie
Class, Race and Power
John Davis
A Requiem for George Floyd
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mutiny of the Bounties!
Richard D. Wolff
Revolutionary Possibilities: Could U.S. Capitalism Turn Nationalist?
Richard Falk
When Rogue States Sanction the International Criminal Court
Louis Proyect
Smearing Black Lives Matter…From the Left
Ralph Nader
Trump and Pence – Step Aside for Professional Pandemic Scientists and Managers
Ramzy Baroud
Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia, Africa Must Demand French Apology
Philippe Marlière
Challenging the French Republic’s Color-Blindness
Richard C. Gross
Attack, Deny
Lee Camp
Connecting the Dates – US Media Used To Stop The ‘Threat’ of Peace
Steve Martinot
The Desire to Kill
David Yearsley
The War on Kitsch
Amy Eva Alberts Warren – Rev. William Alberts
Why are Certain Christians Democratic and Others Authoritarian?
Lawrence Davidson
Covid Madness
Brian Cloughley
Britain’s Disorder and Decline
Ellen Taylor
The US Military Has Its Knee on the Throat of the World
David Rosen
White Nationalists on the Attack
Jeff Cohen
Politicians of Color Should Not be Immune From Criticism
Joseph Natoli
Drawn Away from Reality in Plain View
Frank Joyce
Give Me Liberty,  Give You Death
Jonah Raskin
My Adventures in the Matriarchy
Paul Street
The Racist Counter-Revolution of 1776
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Corruption of the Democratic Party: Talking to Ted Rall about his new book
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Record on Foreign Policy: Lost Wars, New Conflicts and Broken Promises
Paul Edwards
A Bridge Too Far
Jennifer Joan Thompson
How to Do Things With Theses: Chile’s National Police Force Sues the Feminist Artistic Collective, Las Tesis
Shawn Fremstad
Vacations for All!
Thomas Knapp
A Modest Proposal for Compromise on “Confederate” Military Bases
Vijay Prashad, Eduardo Viloria Daboín, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Venezuela’s Borderlands Have Been Assaulted by COVID-19
Thom Hartmann
COVID Masks: The Latest Faux Conservative Outrage
Jesse Jackson
Mandatory College Football Practices in Time of Pandemic are Nuts
Nicholas Vincenzo Barney
Consensus Politics on the Fringe: The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Intellectual Dark Web
Ted Rall
The Data is Clear: Progressives Should Boycott Biden
Joshua Tartakovsky
Sergei Khrushchev: An Eulogy from His Close Student
Theresa Church
In Reconsidering ‘Normalcy’ Genetically Engineered Trees Do Not Belong
Chelsea Carrick
Let’s Not Lose Momentum
Adam Rissien
Sorry Secretary Perdue, Our National Forests are Not Crops
Paul Gilk
A Few Theoretical Percentages
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”:  A Phrase That’s Tells us Very Little, if Anything,  About the Actual Levels of Danger We  Face
Claire Chadwick
I Got COVID-19 at Work. I Won’t be the Last
George Wuerthner
The Upper Green River Should be a National Park, Not a Feedlot
Julian Vigo
Profiteering in the Era of COVID-19
Ravi Mangla
Policing is Not a Public Good
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail