Wednesday, June 10, 2009

David Brooks backs Sotomayor -- but still espouses the racist double standard of the right

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In his most recent NYT column, occasionally interesting conservative pundit David Brooks came out in support of Sonia Sotomayor and even had some nice things to say about her:

If you look at the whole record, you come away with the impression that Sotomayor is a hard-working, careful-though-unspectacular jurist whose primary commitment is to the law.

She is quite liberal. But there's little evidence that she is motivated by racialist thinking or an activist attitude.


Looked at in her totality, Sotomayor seems to be a smart, careful, hard-working judicial professional...


[S]he has, over many years, chosen to submit herself to the discipline of the law, and she has not abused its institutions. I hope she's confirmed.

Phew. I know we were all waiting for Brooks to give the word. I'm sure conservatives across the land will now flock in support of this undeniably qualified SCOTUS nominee. (Or not. Surely not.)

BUT HERE'S THE PROBLEM. Like pretty much every other conservative, Brooks is obsessed with identity politics. (As was I, once upon a time, back when I was a youthful conservative.) It's not liberals like Sotomayor who talk about race and other such "crude categories" all the time, it's conservatives. They just can't get enough of it.

Now, yes, Brooks acknowledges that Sotomayor's record shows her to be anything but a "racialist" -- her legal opinions have been "almost entirely impersonal and deracinated." But he nonetheless claims that she was scarred by the multiculturalism of the '70s. If only she'd gone to college before or after that supposedly horrific decade -- earlier? like when women and people of color were subjected to overt bigotry? -- she would have been fine... if only. And so, now, as a result of that upbringing in the ways of racialism, she gives speeches in which "race and gender take center stage."

But what is the evidence to back up this allegation? Other than the now-famous (and taken out of context) "wise Latina" comment, there isn't any. Sure, Sotomayor has spoken to Hispanic groups (she is Hispanic, after all) and has discussed race and ethnicity on numerous occasions, but is it wrong even to mention race and ethnicity? And is it wrong to discuss one's "identity"?

Brooks even admits that Sotomayor's judicial record is admirably non-racialist and non-activist. In short, there is no evidence, based on her judicial record, to suggest that she was unable to come out of the '70s "unscarred." So what is the point of Brooks's column other than to take a swipe at Sotomayor that he rejects in the same column, and other than to demonize multiculturalism, still a favourite target of the right?

I am not, I must stress, an advocate for radical multiculturalism, some forms of which I find to be deeply illiberal. But there is no denying that race and ethnicity (and other such "categories," as if they are nothing but, as if they do not exist in the real world but only in the minds of armchair radicals in the Ivory Tower) are essential elements of both individual and group "identity." We may long for this not to be the case, but then it is Brooks who is the out-of-touch idealist, he and his fellow conservatives, not those of us who try to understand, and deal with, the world as it really is.

What's more, I'm sick and tired of what has become an all-too-common component of the attack on Sotomayor, and more broadly a key plank of conservative anti-multiculturalism: namely, that it is not just racialist but racist for people of colour to discuss race and ethnicity, let alone to self-identity along racial and/or ethnic lines.

And it's more than that, namely, the double standard that applies to people of colour when it comes to race and ethnicity. In this case, a Hispanic woman who talks about her identity (that is, about being a Hispanic woman) is engaging in radical multiculturalism run amok and is, bluntly, not just a racialist but likely a racist as well.

What is behind this is clear: A person of colour -- and, indeed, anyone who is not a straight white Christian male, that is, a member of the privileged "majority" (though it's not a majority, of course) -- is fundamentally a product of his or her "identity." The only way out is to renounce that identity and to pretend not to be what one is -- and to embrace conservative ideology, of course. Otherwise, as in this case, the Hispanic woman cannot not be first and foremost a Hispanic woman -- and this "identity" must shape who she is, even if there is little to no evidence that it does in terms of her profession.

But how is David Brooks, for example, not a product of his "identity"? How is he not a straight while male? And, more to the point, how are his views not shaped by this identity? For example, how is his anti-multiculturalism, his supposed colour-blindness, not a result of his being a straight white male? It is easy, after all, to denounce colour, that is, race and ethnicity, easy to suggest that race and ethnicity don't matter, when one is white, when one finds oneself with the "majority," when one has not been the object of bigotry. (And I say that as a white male myself.) Isn't it obvious that Brooks's whole Patio Man / Realtor Mom thing (amusing, but simplistic and misleading), not to mention his whole celebrated Bobo thing (less amusing, but also simplistic and misleading), is the product of a privileged white male suburbanite.

It is arrogant presumptuousness, self-delusion, and stupidity for a white person to think that his or her "whiteness" plays no role whatsoever in his or her views on race, racism, and racialism, but Brooks's view -- a fairly common one on the right -- amounts to this: Their racial and ethnic identity matters, ours doesn't. We don't even have any such identity, because we're white. They wallow in their sordid identity, corrupted by it, unable to escape. We're above it all. (The same is true of gender as well: Women are all about being women, whereas men are above the whole gender thing, able to judge without bias. So, too, sexual orientation. So, too, religion. A Christian is rarely expected to explain being Christian, though this used to be true only of Protestantism: a Roman Catholic like JFK was seen as an agent of the Papacy and required to profess his loyalty to America -- that is, it was suspected that he was all about his religious identity.)

Nonsense. And, yes, racism.

David Brooks may back Sotomayor, but he's still all about the double standard that treats people of color -- and people of non-"majority" identity generally -- as less than his own kind.

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  • I agree almost entirely with Brooks' description. I found her "racialist" statements to be simplistic and misguided. I assume she was either pandering, or actually believes some of what she said, but I simply do not care. She has an extensive record that demonstrates she is entirely qualified and capable of focusing on the law.

    That said, the rest of your piece comes off as a feeble attempt to justify racism and continued focus on race-as-identity among "unprivileged minorities". Sonia would probably agree. Obama's message disagrees with that, and is why people of all stripes could so enthusiastically support him.

    Race-as-identity is over as a legitimate philosophy. Hopefully you'll have the confidence to embrace this new reality.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:40 AM  

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