Do Better: Understanding the Sotomayor Cartoon

This post is an entry in a blogging day of action.  Check out more posts and get involved!

When my friend Tanya told me about the Sotomayor cartoon and I looked at it, I wasn’t angry. I'm a Black man living in the United States.  Sadly, I expect this.  Since January, I’ve watched White men lose their damn minds over any little thing Obama has done, racializing everything from economic recovery to the man’s dates with his wife. Unlike most, I do remember what it was like during the election.

The man picked a Puerto Rican woman to be on the Supreme Court. Something like the cartoon was bound to happen. Sad, but inevitable.

We live in a racist, sexist country.

The reason White men are losing their minds over everything that Obama is doing and the selection of Sotomayor is because, to the core of their being, “minority” and “qualified” are mutually exclusive terms. “Qualified” and “woman” are mutually exclusive terms to them.

They so virulently go after Obama and Sotomayor because they really believe that the world is unfair, giving shit to people who don’t deserve it. Destroying our perfect union. Wrecking havoc on the wallets of ordinary Americans and deigning to join a body that has, yes, decided Brown v. Board of Education but also decided Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott. The notion that a woman of color would think she could gain entrance to it literally assaults their sense of balance and rightness in the world.

Or more pointedly, racism and sexism.

See, though far too many people think these terms have become overused and thrown around so much, that is what is at work here. It can’t really be anything else (no matter how much you argue).

It’s crucially important to recognize racism and sexism for what it is.

The image of Sotomayor strung up like a piñata with a bunch of Republican men waiting to hit her with a bat is disgusting and dehumanizing. That’s what racism and sexism are, the notion that the people you don’t like, that aren’t like you, are not even human. Sotomayor becomes an object to beat the shit out of. Literally. Further, the constant conflation of the varied nationalities and cultures of Hispanic people leads to ridiculousness like insinuating that Sotomayor is Mexican. You know, ‘cause what’s the diff, minorities aren’t human the distinction is a nonissue.

I think the reason so many other people are so livid about this cartoon and the new cover of The National Review is because of two things: 1) racism and sexism at this level still seems antiquated to most White liberals and 2) they still understand so little about how racism and sexism works (or ignore it in their neverending quest to tell the world “it’s all better”).  Given these two facts, folks get angry but can't seem to do anything much constructive with that anger.

We decided to do this Blogging Day of Action because there is no room in our public political discourse for complex conversations and interrogations of the way sexism, racism, homophobia, religious insensitivity fuel so much of how Americans relate to one another. Everything is reduced to a soundbite and most people are outraged, but fail to articulate why.

We are encouraged to look at incidents of racism, sexism, etc. as just that – incidents. They are not. We fail to realize the frequency with which this stuff happens is part of a complicated system of oppression that is designed to keep non-whites, women and their White male allies in their place, to silence anyone that threatens the dominant power structure.

We felt that it was important to be upset and voice that, yes, but also to explain why we are upset and talking about it. The challenge we have in this country is to reach not just the racist, sexist homophobe but that “proverbial person in the middle” who may not be as virulent but does think that Sotomayor has to explain a statement where she acknowledges that everyone has bias and those among the oppressed in this country (not the White men, by the by) might have a unique perspective in discrimination cases. The challenge is to inspire reasonable, good people to get mad about racist and sexist acts and to denounce them in ways that go beyond “that’s not cool.” The anger needs to be real and the analysis needs to be deep. And we’ve got to push each other harder to resist this. Often White liberals can be just as silencing as the racists, if not more.

There isn’t enough focused anger about the White male backlash to minority and woman progress. Reasonable “people in the middle” continue to pretend that the tea parties weren’t as much about Obama as a black man as they were about taxes. Reasonable “people in the middle” continue to think that his election heralds a new day in race in this country, despite all evidence to the contrary. Reasonable “people in the middle” continue to think that the appropriate response to racist behavior (depending on the intensity) is to pretend that it is an isolated incidence and it is best to just ignore it because “those guys are dying out,” except they aren’t.

Complacency and deflection do not help eradicate systems of domination.

We’ve been living through a Second Reconstruction, people. There has been a concerted, powerful effort to roll back all the progress of women and minorities.

Knowing this, I hope folks will get mad about the Sotomayor cartoon and do better. Speak truth when this happens, risk censure, make your liberal friends uncomfortable, but force them to sit with the realities of American life.

Yes, it is better. I know this. But we aren’t there yet. Be vigilant. Do better.

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About tlewisisdope

I write. I live in DC.
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