Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shame on You Linda Chavez!

By E.N. Jackson
Frost Illustrated Newspaper, Inc. Vol. 41, Issue 34
Copyright 2009

So it’s official. We now, for the first time in American history, have a woman of color sitting on the highest bench in the land. Judge Sonia Sotomayor held her ground, did what she felt she had to do, and was eventually confirmed and sworn in as the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States. Quite a fete accompli to say the least. But in spite of this incredible victory, I cannot help but think back to the actions of one witness in particular who attempted to completely derail the Sotomayor train on day 4 of the Senate Judicial confirmation hearings.

As I watched that day’s proceedings, my stomach churned and my head nearly exploded when Linda Chavez, right-wing conservative, Chairperson of The Center for Equal Opportunity, and Fox News political analyst, sat before the judicial committee and accused Sonia Sotomayor of – among other things – playing identity politics, being a radical leftist, disrespecting Congress and the Constitution, and generally being completely undeserving on every level of being the next Supreme Court Justice. Chavez seemed hell bound and determined to say and do anything she could to disparage everything about Sotomayor, both personally and professionally, and ended by saying that she "respectfully" urges the committee not to confirm Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice. Sadly but not surprisingly, Chavez was the most vehement and vocal of the opposing witnesses in conveying her opposition to Sotomayor's nomination. Not even New Haven, CT firefighter Frank Ricci, whose discrimination case Sotomayor presided over, spoke against her in such a viciously personal and denigrating way.

Before I am accused of pulling a "Jeff Sessions" (the racist Senator who once called white lawyers a "disgrace to their race" for defending black litigants in a court case), let me just say that Linda Chavez may think, feel, act, and do whatever she wants. I do not believe that just because she is a woman and a Latina she must defend, like, or support someone with whom she clearly has political, ideological, and philosophical differences. However, that having been said, I also claim my right to call into question Chavez’s motives and actions as she faced the men and women (all white) in whose hands Sonia Sotomayor's fate lies. Why would this woman be so dogged and determined in her attempts to derail the Sotomayor train? Why the intense playa hatin’?

Though she would deny it until she was blue in the face, my belief is that Chavez, like so many minorities who have internalized their oppression, sees other minorities like Sotomayor as a clear and direct threat to everything she has achieved. People like Chavez are individuals who, instead of celebrating the success of someone from their community and seeing that success as their own, instantly react with intense scorn, resentment, and jealousy to that success. Why? Well, most likely because Sotomayor has done something incredible, something most minorities in positions of power try so hard to do but often fail miserably at: she has managed to stay true to herself, her people, her cultural roots, and her principles while at the same time appreciating the richness and diversity of what other races, cultures, and genders have to offer. Put plainly, she has resisted the call to “Tom” her way up the ladder.

Sotomayor’s success lies in stark contrast to the success of the Chavezes of the world who have succeeded primarily because of their willingness to turn themselves inside out trying to maintain the status quo. They obey the rule that says minorities must color within the lines, and not demand too much of the world around them, even when operating in this way is detrimental to themselves and other minorities. Where Linda Chavez is the symbol of what happens when you deny who one you are in order to become someone else's ideal of who you should be, Sonia Sotomayor is the anti-Chavez and stands as evidence that you don’t have to turn against yourself or your community in order to be declared an "American Success Story."

But Chavez's actions on day 4 of the confirmation hearings were really no surprise and are actually in keeping with the attack dog way in which she has been going after Sotomayor for years. When the firefighter case broke, this added yet more fuel to her fire, so to speak, and true to character she went on the attack, claiming "reverse discrimination.” She even wrote an essay entitled "When Whites Are Discriminated Against" in which she criticizes the panel of 2nd circuit court judges (which included Sotomayor) that upheld a lower court ruling which decided in favor of the city of New Haven, CT rather than in favor of the firefighters (source: jewishworldreview.com). While I understand the frustration and anger felt by Mr. Ricci and the other New York firefighters who clearly believe they were dealt an incredible injustice, I am nonetheless astonished by how quickly Chavez and others like her rush to the defense of whites who feel they have been discriminated against. Yet they just as quickly dismiss the claims of women, people of color, and other minority groups who suffer an endless variety of bigotry and discrimination day in and day out. In fact, if women, people of color, the poor, and members of the GLBT community had a dollar for every time they have been passed up for a promotion or otherwise barred access due to their gender, sexuality, or skin tone, they would be exceedingly wealthy. And if these same groups pursued legal action every single time they felt they had been discriminated against, the courts would be DROWNING in cases.

If anything, those firefighters stand as living proof of the truth that ensuring civil rights and equality for minorities ensures civil rights and equality for ALL Americans. When any group in our country is hurt by a policy of discrimination, we are all hurt by it. And it did nothing to advance the cause of civil rights and equality when Linda Chavez put her foot out to trip Sonia Sotomayor as she ran toward her seat on the highest court in the land. Shame on you, Linda Chavez! Shame on you!

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