White Is Not a Race

May 31, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and others on the far right are calling Sonia Sotomayor a racist. Before she was nominated, when Obama said that “empathy” was a quality he would look for in a Supreme Court justice, Republicans picked up the word and waved it like the red flag of danger. Even David Brooks, who enters stage right to play the role of the calm and thoughtful, but always reliable, conservative, suddenly remembered that “emotions are an inherent part of decision-making.” In his column yesterday, Brooks asks of Sotomayor,
Can she process multiple streams of emotion? Reason is weak and emotions are strong, but emotions can be balanced off each other. . . . Is she aware of the murky, flawed and semiprimitive nature of her own decision-making, and has she accounted for her own uncertainty? If we were logical creatures in a logical world, judges could create sweeping abstractions and then rigorously apply them. But because we’re emotional creatures in an idiosyncratic world, it’s prudent to have judges who are cautious, incrementalist and minimalist.
The role of emotion and the “semiprimitive” nature of decision-making – Brooks says that these affect all humans. It was a mere oversight that he never mentioned these factors in his writings about other justices or nominees. But faced with the nomination of Sotomayor, Brooks seems to be seeing he as Penelope Cruz as the hot-blooded Latina in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

These Republican reactions and arguments rest on the basic assumption that 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. Because white males do not have race or gender, race and gender cannot affect their decisions or perceptions. But for a Latina, awash in race and gender, these qualities will distort her views. Therefore, she must prove that she can overcome race and gender – in other words, that she can think like a white male.


Anonymous said...

Actually, white males have for decades failed completely to see their own privilege. They're just expecting to be allowed to continue in this delusional attitude without any pushback. Seems ridiculous enough to this white male who doesn't believe that his race or gender is the norm.

Anonymous said...

Do white people come from a place called "White"? Or is it a bunch of groups put together to achieve a larger number than that of African Americans? Seems kinda confusing? So, Jewish and Puerto Rican people are considered to be a part of this ambiguous "white" race? Seems to be geared towards creating the imaginary battle between dark skin and white skin. I always wondered why people were classified by their origin during the Census. The only Americans are Native Americans. Everyone else needs a prefix, right?

Anonymous said...

If 'white' isn't a race, why do I have to keep checking it in the 'race' box on all these damned government forms? Guess I can just mark that section 'inVALID' (to distinguish it from INvalid, which is also not a race...)