President Barack Obama’s announcement of Sonia Sotomayor as nominee for the US Supreme Court almost passed the race card test, but not quite.
Obama’s brief announcement gave a short bio, noted Sotomayor’s credentials, and indicated her parents were Puerto Rican, tripping only with the final sentence. Obama said, “As a trail-blazing Latina…” Right off the bat, I wondered why ‘Latina’ was necessary when we already knew Sotomayor’s parents' native country. As soon as I saw the words of our president, I knew what would come next. And it didn’t take long.
Sotomayor’s own phraseology kindled the flame—a “wise Latina woman”—taken out of context but still impossible to dismiss because she contrasted that persona to the media’s favorite target: “a white male.”
It’s comical really how media and political parties bandy terms like black, African-American, Hispanic, Latina, Native American and white. But no one ever examines the rich differences among all those labels—in America we have black people whose families have been here for generations, but we have people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Haiti and many other countries, all here in search of the legendary American dream. White people are just as diverse. So are other cultures--Hispanic, Latina, you name it.
If we spoke amongst ourselves in the terms media and politicians use, the result would be ludicrous. Let me offer an example, using a fictionalized scene with mostly true personal information about the makeup of my inner circle:
SCENE: Dinner table in the Day household.
Description: The Day family is sitting down to dinner in the American South where many still call dinner supper. The Swiss-American mother says grace, and in turn, the Irish-Native American father, the Brazilian- American boyfriend of the Swiss-Irish-Native American daughter, the Puerto Rican-African American fiancé of the other Swiss-Irish-Native-American daughter all say “Amen.” Suddenly, there is a knock at the door. The visitor is an Armenian-American friend of the family. Suddenly the phone rings. It is the Danish-American godmother of the Puerto Rican-African American fiance. Someone mentions the tabouli. The mother says she learned the recipe from her friend who is technically Iranian but describes himself as Persian, but is proudest of the fact he is an American citizen.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Have you ever thought about the definition of the term ‘racism’ as we use it today? That term is not in dictionaries of yesteryear—neither the 1828 or the 1913 edition of Webster’s contains it. Current definitions are as follows, courtesy of the online resource at Dictionary.com:
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
Media loves racism because it provides a great shock headline; politicians love it because it offers a means of garnering votes. Shortly after Sotomayor’s nomination, various outlets pushed the issue with headlines like this one on the Yahoo home page on Sunday: “GOP senators tone down racially charged criticism of Sotomayor” with a clickthrough to the Associated Press header, “GOP senators sidestep harsh criticism of Sotomayor.” See how the Yahoo header ramped up that headline?
Over at the L.A. Times, Peter Wallsten titled his article, “Republicans will make race an issue in Sotomayor confirmation.” I don't know Wallsten, but I'd appreciate honesty. He doesn't like the GOP, fine by me but be man enough to come right out and say it.
If we engage in reality as opposed to fantasy, the headlines are complete fabrications. The first mention of race was made by our popular president when he introduced his nominee. The next mentions came from media, quoting Sotomayor and citing a case where firefighters were denied employment after passing a test.
Re-read the definitions of ‘racism.’ Then consider who is prostituting the term for gain. It isn't the GOP.
Prostituting racism: media distortions about GOP by Kay B. Day