A Case of Ethnicity

It’s 1988. Somehow I’ve managed to get admitted to the CCRI associate degree in nursing program. There’s a waiting list–perhaps my credits from attending the community college in the 70’s counted in my favor. I’ll never know why my name was chosen after just a few months.

I’m sitting in a large auditorium, there’s hundreds of us attending the lecture. We are an overwhelmingly white group, at least from appearance. The same goes for all the teachers. Two of the students of color are a man and woman I talk to on the bus from Providence, we help each other with the physiology questions on the ride.

Today’s lecture is cultural sensitivity. The professor clearly needs a remedial course herself. When I get home that evening I tell my husband about it.

‘The way she presented it was–My patient has a case of ethnicity! Omigod! What will I do about this? Is there a cure?’

‘Not only that–she actually said that some of these ethnic groups are greasy, and you need several changes of water to get them clean!’

My husband suggested that a good response would have been to raise my hand and ask the teacher to name the 10 greasiest ethnic groups, in order of greasiness. Ah, lost opportunity. He’s much quicker than I am, perhaps due to practice in dealing with racial prejudice from his earliest years.

Anyway, I was listening to the radio yesterday, and I heard Sen. Lindsey Graham claim that if he had made a remark equivalent to Judge Sotomayor’s ‘wise Latina’ remark his career in politics would be over. Then some caller said that as a private citizen his reputation would be ruined if he said something like that.

Well, due to the magic of the internet, there are billions of people who are knocking off from work to troll the public statements of anyone who makes such a claim, so Sen. Graham can stand on his record.

His colleague, Sen. Jeff Sessions has a long record of inflammatory racial statements, a few of the high points collected here.

But they are neutral, normal, regular guys. They have no bias. Sonia Sotomayor, on the other hand, has an obvious case of ethnicity. She has to prove that this won’t interfere with her ability to be an impartial judge. No, don’t look at her long list of decisions–that’s boring legal stuff. Look at one statement, for which I think she owes no one an apology. Because there is a double standard here.

The ambient prejudice in our culture allows a nursing professor to blissfully insult the few ‘ethnic’ students in her class. She doesn’t know whether her words hurt, she doesn’t have to know. But her students know a lot about prejudice–it’s a wisdom they could not survive without.

Each judge brings his or her life experiences to the court. This is law for human beings. There are nine justices, and each one will have a say–diversity is a strength. When there is no evidence of a trend to bias or unfairness in Judge Sotomayor’s record her opponents focus on her character. She has a case of ethnicity! Omigod- what will we do?

She also has a case of femaleness. A condition I share with her. This writer has experienced the double standard–where male is normal and female is the other. Where women are guilty of weakness and emotionality until they can prove otherwise. Where the regular guys run the show. All of us who have had to prove ourselves have gained a kind of wisdom, and this will be a good quality to bring to our country’s highest court.

For a link to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s claim that a remark equivalent to Judge Sotomayor’s would result in his being banished from public life, go here. There’s also Sen. Coburn’s remark that the Judge would have a ‘lot of ‘splainin’ to do.’ Golly, aren’t they cute.

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3 thoughts on “A Case of Ethnicity

  1. Around 1981 or so,I had to attend a EEO training session as part of my duties as an INS employee in Chicago.
    A Black man from the regional office was conducting the training and he listed all the ethnic minorities in the counrty-almost.
    I asked him if he had a problem with the letter “J” because he didn’t mention Jews(okay,a religion,but de facto treated as an ethnic group-I KNOW)or Japanese-Americans.He replied thaat those groups made a lot of money and weren’t entitled to minority status.
    Having grown up in a blue collar paycheck to paycheck home in a rundown four flat in a crummy neighborhood,I was a little pissed.I told him to **** off in front of the assembled group and walked out and refused to return.Management didn’t push it because I wasn’t backing down.None of my Black co workers had anything to say to me about it,so it seemed it was a personal problem with that doofus.
    Nobody owns the sole distinction of being crapped on.
    That said,your professor sounded like a real loser.
    BTW the greasiest group in existence are politicians.

  2. …nobody owns the sole distinction of being crapped on….

    I agree.

    However, not everyone has been crapped on in equal measure. Some of us get it occasionally; some of us get it every day of our lives.

    And those of us who don’t get it daily probably have no flippin’ clue what it’s like to be in those other shoes.

    This evening, I had the distinct displeasure of listening to said Sen Sessions pontificate on how judges are supposed to be impartial. And how it’s outrageous that Sotomayor admitted that her ethnic background and life experience would influence her decisions.

    No s***.

    Admitting this to be true is about half the battle. Any first-year journalism student is told that it’s impossible to write something truly objective.

    Admitting that you have biases is the necessary first step towards allowing for them. Only by recognizing that we all have our biases can we stop and look for the other side, because we realize the other side is there. A wise Latina, or a wise white male, stops to find out what that “other side” may think.

    OTOH, a bigot either does not look for this other side, or refuses to acknowledge that the other side has any validity.

    Sen Sessions would have you believe that, in putting on the judicial robes can imbue the wearer with magical powers that allow him–and I mean a “him”–to set aside a lifetime of experience as a white male.

    That’s bull(spit). [ed note: h/t to Jason Whitlock for the euphemism.]

    It’s absolute bullspit.

    By making this proclamation of utter impartiality, Sen Sessions demonstrated that he is incapable even of recognizing that his point of view may not be the only one possible. Every decision he makes is conditioned by being a white male.

    Telling us that a judge can simply set aside their life experience is one of those situations where you have to ask “is he lying, or does he really not know better?”

    Then you have to ask, “which is worse?”

    • Klaus-your enrty reminds me of something-when I was a NY State Court Officer in the early 70’s there was a defense aattorney and former prosecutor named Edwin Torres practicing in Manhattan.He was a guy who had come up in the streets(he’s the author of Carlito’s Way and Q&A)and been successful.He wore a crewcut(!!)in the 70’s.
      He was a top notch defense attorney and had been an equally good proosecutor.
      He eventually became a Criminal Court Judge(equivalent to District Court)and later a Supreme Court Judge(equivalent to Superior Court)and he brought his experience,learning,and street smarts to the bench.He was way too old for affirmative action.Torres was Puerto Rican(Nuyorican)and he became the single judge most feared by predatory criminals.His life experience made him able to dispense with the bullshit thrown by these people and their attorneys.His nickname was “Time Machine” because he sent armed robbers and killers away for long enough terms that they’d be on walkers when they got out.I think his life experience in the less glamorous regions of NYC made him a great judge.
      I grew up in a rundown neighborhood and witnessed my first murder victim at about age 5.I never regretted where I came from.
      Sotomayor has generally made routine decisions and I’m not sure if it hadn’t been for some of her weirder remarks that there would’ve been any controversy to speak of.
      I think the Republicans did what they were expected to and decided not to go to war here.Probably a smart move.
      Obama’s Supreme Court picks will probably total three.

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