Looking At The World Through Sonia-Colored Glasses

sotomayorI took a graduate counseling class last year, and classroom discussion often focused on the impact of culture on how one sees the world. Among my very ethnically and racially diverse classmates, I felt like the odd man out. I am a middle-aged, White woman who grew up in a non-religious, middle-class family with no strong ties to my Italian and Irish heritage. Coming from this bland, vanilla White world (culturally-speaking), I believed I had no cultural viewpoint to offer. So when questioned about my cultural identity, I always felt stumped.

Thus, I’ve been intrigued by the conversations (ranging from hyperbolic rhetoric to thoughtful analysis) swirling around the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. While her comments about being a “wise Latina” have served as a political lightening rod, they also have helped the national discourse about race, ethnicity and culture inch forward.

I found Eugene Robinson’s column Whose Identiy Politics? in Tuesday’s Washington Post to be particularly enlightening. He wrote,

“Republicans’ outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor’s musings about how her identity as a “wise Latina” might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any “identity” — black, brown, female, gay, whatever — has to be judged against this supposedly “objective” standard.”

To my surprise, I suddenly realized that I had unwittingly bought into the flawed assumption Robinson cited. I had conceptualized my Whiteness and my middle-class status as “lacking” in culture, a neutral condition. (Although I never was under the illusion that Whiteness equated with “the natural order” or an “objective standard.”)

Truth be told, I was sometimes a bit embarrassed by my lack of strong cultural heritage during class discussions. Now I see my background – whatever it may be – as another, valid cultural perspective to be explored and understood. How interesting that it took the hoopla over a “wise Latina” to help this White Wise Woman to see the light.

What are your thoughts about Sonia Sotomayor and the back-and-forth over her nomination?


  • Catherine Says:
    7-16-2009 10:20:46

    For a classic paper on white privilege, go to: http://www.case.edu/president/aaction/UnpackingTheKnapsack.pdf

    My daughter, who has a doctorate in counseling psychology, read this paper as part of a womens’ studies class.

  • Elaine Says:
    7-17-2009 04:53:41

    For anyone who has a reaction to the term “white privilege,” I invite you to read the paper Catherine cites in the above link. Scroll down to the list of 50 life situations which White people take for granted and which historically have given people of color reason to pause. Pretty eye-opening! I haven’t seen this paper before, Catherine, so thanks for sharing it!

  • Sharon Says:
    7-17-2009 12:39:43

    I have watched as senators rant about Sotomayor’s bias – white men who have happily accepted other white men as the standard for the supreme court for generations. If we had a more balanced senate, one that truly represents our country’s colors and ethnicities and cultures, then those who have held the power for so long and do not want to let go would have to step back and allow progress to continue. I think she will be confirmed, but the blowhards need to have their say first.

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