Republicans Misstep on Sotomayor Attacks: When did Newt and the Gang Become Experts on Race?

By Jorge Rivas Jun 09, 2009

via AlterNet by C. Nicole Mason If I attend a Black Church and tithe once a week, does that make me a racist? How about if I donate my time to an organization committed to ensuring young black men avoid prison; would that make me a racist? Probably not. For Judge Sonia Sotomayor, however, Republicans and Newt Gingrich would like us to believe that these actions alone make one a racist. Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned definition of a racist, where one had to believe in ideas of racial superiority and use those beliefs to discriminate or cause harm to other groups deemed inferior? This so-called new definition of racism, where attempting to right historic and present-day discrimination or having pride in your racial or ethnic background makes an individual racist, has me a little confused. According to the new definition of racism — let’s call it neo-racism — anyone who believes we have not achieved racial equality despite years of efforts and work to level the playing field, can be considered a racist. Does that make sense? In Sotomayor’s case, embracing her Puerto Rican background rather than denying it; working as a young lawyer to end discrimination against Latinos and by extension many other disadvantaged groups, including women; and acknowledging that there is indeed a difference between her experiences growing up as a Latina and those of white men has made her a target. The question is, a target for what and for whom? In her career, Sotomayor has decided over 96 cases involving issues related to race. Of those times, she and her panel rejected claims of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with claims just 10 times. Of the opinions rejecting claims of discrimination, Sotomayor dissented only twice. Targeting and calling Sotomayor a racist is a calculated risk on the part of Republicans and conservatives. It necessarily entails the majority of the public buying into a definition of racism that is logically hard to follow and historically inaccurate. Rather than focusing on convincing us that she is a racist, they should focus on more substantive matters like her positions on key issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, gun control, affirmative action and education. I would also urge Republicans to take a long hard look in the mirror and reflect on the reasons they elected Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee — I doubt it was solely because he was the "best man" to lead the Grand Old Party. Depending on whom you ask, race relations and race discussions have gotten better or worse since the election of Barack Obama. The irony in all of this is that some of the longest-standing members of the "Old Boy’s Network" have now appointed themselves as the experts on race relations in this country. The reaction to Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court shows that we still have a long way to go, but we are headed in the right direction. C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D., is a political scientist and the executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She is also a senior research fellow at the National Council for Research on Women.