Posted by Jay Livingston
In the flap over Sonia Sotomayor’s gender and ethnicity, when the right went nuts over her “wise Latina”comment, I noted (here) the invisibility of dominant characteristics.
White male is the default setting. White is not a race, male is not a gender. Only blacks, Hispanics, and others have race. Only women and gays have gender.I should have added that usually these are invisible only to the whites and the males. I also should have added that, in the US at least, Christian is not a religion.
From Wednesday’s New York Times
As the Supreme Court weighed a dispute over a religious symbol on public land Wednesday, Justice Antonin Scalia was having difficulty understanding how some people might feel excluded by a cross that was put up as a memorial to soldiers killed in World War I.Just as white is the universal race (in the eyes of whites) and male the universal sex (in the eyes of males), Christianity is the universal religion. The Times writer says that Scalia did not need to be told that the cross is the symbol of Christianity. But Scalia says that it’s “outrageous” to think that the cross honors only Christians. In other words the Christian religious symbol is the universal religious symbol . . . at least in the eyes of Christians like Scalia. I think Justice Ginsburg might disagree.
“It’s erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead,'” Scalia said of the cross that the Veterans of Foreign Wars built 75 years ago atop an outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve. “What would you have them erect?...Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?”'
Peter Eliasberg, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer arguing the case, explained that the cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and commonly used at Christian grave sites, not that the devoutly Catholic Scalia needed to be told that.
''I have been in Jewish cemeteries,'' Eliasberg continued. ''There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.''
There was mild laughter in the packed courtroom, but not from Scalia.
“I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that's an outrageous conclusion,” Scalia said, clearly irritated by the exchange. [emphasis added]
UPDATE. The Times this morning published a letter which says, in part, “The cross does not represent ‘establishment’ of a particular religion. It is a simple, and neutral, recognition that those honored were, by an enormous margin, Christians.” The writer, Ron Holdaway, is a retired judge in Wyoming.
What a persuasive choice of words. Neutral! Neutral is good (by Polonius). The old neutral cross.
That saying, “It’s Sinatra’s world, we just live in it,” is funny when it’s about Ol’ Blue Eyes. But when it’s changed to “It’s Christianity’s world; we’re just allowed to live in it,” it loses much of its humor.
(As for Judge Holdaway, I picture my grandmother, were she alive: “Holdaway, Ron Holdaway,” she muses, rolling the name around in her mind, looking at it from different angles for several seconds. Then, “Doesn’t sound Jewish.”)