Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My take on Sonia Sotomayor

Well, it didn't take long for others to ask my take on President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. The quick answer: I'm still working on that.

However, I will say that it kind of bugs me that she wasn't picked so much on her judicial abilities as she was picked based on her race and gender. Would a white male of the very same ideological qualities and personality type been nominated? So what does that make Sotomayor - a token Hispanic and woman? Is that something to be proud of?

I've always said all along that if I am ever fortunate to be famous for my opinion writing or my editorial cartoons (or both), then I want to be known for those skills alone, and not that I happen to be Hispanic while exercising those skills. Don't get me wrong - I am proud to be Hispanic, and I most certainly want Hispanics to succeed in life, and I certainly support Hispanics that have "made it" to try to be role models for other Hispanics to follow in their footsteps.


...if I'm ever given the privilege of being a role model for other opinion writers or editorial cartoonists (regardless of their race or gender), then I want it to be because I have proven to be that good at those skills. You know what I'm saying? In other words, I want to be known as an opinion writer and edtoonist who is Hispanic - I DON'T want to be known as a Hispanic opinion writer and edtoonist, because being Hispanic is NOT why I write and draw.

I am Hispanic - I had no control over that, it simply is what I was born into. Again, while I'm proud to be Hispanic, I am not Hispanic because I worked at it and became one; I can't take an achievement pride over being Hispanic, because I did nothing to become one.

However, I am also proud of being an opinion writer and an edtoonist. That IS something that I worked at. And that I happen to be a Hispanic who is from the "wrong side of the tracks" and still became a writer and artist is gravy.

Some of you might be thinking that I want to hide my Hispanicness. Far from it. However, being a "Hispanic writer and artist" is too limiting, because this implies that I will limit myself to "Hispanic" themes and topics (however that is defined). No, I demand the freedom that comes with being a writer and artist PERIOD. No cultural definer attached.

Thus, I have to wait and see how things turn out with Sotomayor and how she is presented, and how she is received. If she's qualified to be a Supreme Court judge because she is Hispanic, then you might as well nominate me too, because I likewise satisfy that qualification.

If she's going to be the token Hispanic on the bench, then I can't support that, because she did nothing more to become Hispanic than I did. Am I supposed to feel some sort of justice done or vindication for the country's past and present racist sins against Hispanics just because a sitting president uses tokenism to pick his candidate? Isn't that instead, something of an insult - that Sotomayor would not have otherwise been nominated had she not been something that she had no control over being?

To be nominated just for being Hispanic, I think, is about as bad as being denied nomination just for being Hispanic. In either instance, it's the cover, not the book's contents, that are being judged. So was Sotomayor a token nomination? Time will tell.


blackink said...

What makes you think this?

"However, I will say that it kind of bugs me that she wasn't picked so much on her judicial abilities as she was picked based on her race and gender."

Why would she be a token?

Did you feel anywhere near the same about Alito during his nomination process?

John P. Araujo said...

I say "token" because there's not a news article that fails to say "first Hispanic" when they mention her. And if she's nominated, "first Hispanic" is what will continue to follow her. Thus, this shows what's more important about her to those who write about her: Her race. But let me relate something else.

At my workplace, I technically was the first Hispanic to win the Employee of the Year in January of this year, but no one mentioned that during the ceremony. No one needed to, because it wasn't part of why they selected me for this award. And the one news article about me regarding that award didn't mention my Hispanicness either.

I was proud to accept the award the way it was given, because it was an acknowledgment of my achievements - and being Hispanic while earning that award was not one of those achievements. To mention the fact that I was the first Hispanic to receive this award would have, in my eyes, cheapened it, because it would have told me that something I had no control over was a factor in their decision to select me. I work hard at my job because I love it, not because I happen to be Hispanic while doing my work. To have selected me for being Hispanic would have made the award a token instead of an acknowlegment that they appreciate my hard work.

So my friend, why do you think it's so important for news reports on Sotomayor to mention "first Hispanic" in their stories? I can only see tokenism as the reason why, but if you see otherwise, I'd like to hear it.

blackink said...

Ok. See, what you're asking me now is different from what you remarked upon earlier: "To be nominated just for being Hispanic, I think, is about as bad as being denied nomination just for being Hispanic."

What the news reports use as a lede, and what Obama was looking for in a Supreme Court justice are two very different things.

Media reports mentioning that Sotomayor could be the first Latina named to the High Court have nothing to do with "tokenism" any more than noting Tony Dungy was the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl. It's an interesting historical footnote, something certainly worthy of mention in a headline. And in a country where only four justices to serve on the Court have not been white men, it's something to reflect upon. Maybe even celebrate as a nod to our nation's trend toward diversity in our most important institutions.

But that should not taint her credentials. Because, for sure, her credentials certainly are Supreme Court-worthy.

And J.P., I get what you're saying about not wanting your accomplishment reduced to ethnic curiosity. Most definitely - I've struggled with that over the course of my career too.

But, in my mind, noting that I'm black or that I was the first or second black to "such and such" takes nothing away from the achievement. If I earned the award or the honor, I take it for what its worth. I mean, A (I'm black) doesn't mean B (that I was honored because of it). Those are two things that aren't necessarily connected but not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Does that make sense?

John P. Araujo said...

Of course you make sense, Bud. :-)

However, I have to wonder if Obama would have nominated her if she had not been either Hispanic or female. I can't deny that either trait *wasn't* a factor when he decided to nominate her, and if that isn't tokenism, then what is?

blackink said...

I guess so. And I (sorta) see where you're coming from. But under that standard, anyone who's not white and male could be considered a token. Why is that?

And she has the credentials - more experience than any justice currently sitting on the bench at the time they were nominated. That should speak for itself, you know?