U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has scolded Americans for being "cowards" and not talking more about race. Now, Holder is getting that "dialogue" with the recent controversy surrounding President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.
Most of the furor surrounds statements on race by Sotomayor herself: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
Sotomayor was clear enough. In a broad discussion about sex/race discrimination cases and their history, she stated that judges' ethnicity and gender make them better or worse at what they do.
Sotomayor also once complained that, "We (Latinos) have only 10 out of 147 active circuit court judges and 30 out of 587 active district court judges. Those numbers are grossly below our proportion of the population."
Aside from Sotomayor's notion that federal jobs should be parceled out on the basis of race, what exactly does she mean in an America that is intermarrying, integrating and assimilating as never before?
And why were the same people who now hold up Sotomayor's background as a qualification for the Supreme Court so quick, when George W. Bush was president, to rally to deny Miguel Estrada a court-of-appeals judgeship?
When Sotomayor invokes racial exceptionalism and her supporters privilege her Latina status we enter a morass in which there is no consistent logic about either who qualifies as a minority deserving of special state consideraton or why any one group has claims over another.
Is minority status deserving of government redress defined by some sort of claim of membership in groups that suffered past bias inside the United States?
Hardly. The University of California system, for example, not so long ago worried about too many Asians on its campuses. Yet Japanese-Americans were once put in internment camps and Chinese immigrants denied civil rights. Had Asians lost their aggrieved status because per capita they were doing too well? And does that suggest that race ipso facto is no longer a hindrance to success?
Perhaps the logic of government-mandated diversity instead hinges not just on redressing historical discrimination, but also on considering present-day racial bias.
Again, that doesn't seem to be the case. Arab-Americans, for example, don't qualify for affirmative action, but they're hardly immune to discrimination here in the U.S.
In truth, in the 21st-century United States we don't know what race exactly is, or its exact role in our own success or failure, much less the reasons how and why it should count for special government consideration.
In a radically changing America, which immigrants from Mumbai, Muslim Arab-Americans, or destitute newcomers from Croatia will the government reward on the basis of their skin color, poverty, lack of English or religion?
Who will prove to have the greater case for victimhood and government redress the half-African graduate of prep school or the poorer, darker Palestinian daughter of an immigrant 7-11 storeowner?
Or should we revert to class giving the child of the single alcoholic unemployed father preference over the daughter of a hardworking immigrant who built a successful business by working seven days a week?
To be the most fair, should we update rules of the Old Confederacy and have racial statisticians examine our DNA to see whether we were really are 1/16 this or that federally approved race? Sounds crazy, but sometimes that's where it feels like we're heading.
Just as the government now both regulates and runs General Motors, so it decides who is victimized and who is not, and then rewards (and therefore punishes) on the basis of race.
But again, 21st-century America is intermarried and mixed up. People are complex individuals, not cookie-cutter representations of their supposed tribe. The Balkans, Iraq and Rwanda are not our models.
So, can we imagine Ivy League-educated Justice Sonia Sotomayor simply as a judge, no more, no less? Can the Senate, in its confirmation hearings for Sotomayor, vote up or down on her written record and expressed philosophy of jurisprudence?
They ought to leave it at that and only that.