If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Friday 23 November 2012
Read gnomica 1-150 here!
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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.
Sonia Sotomayor(25 Jun 1954 – )
There is no doubt in my mind that this esteemed Supreme Court justice means what she said, and she is of course entitled to her opinion. But if I understand that meaning, I find it a rather disconcerting thing indeed for a person of her great and particular responsibilities to make. Why? Suppose for ‘Latina’ we substitute ‘white’ and for ‘white’ we substitute ‘black’, thus: I would hope that a wise white woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a black male who hasn’t lived that life. I think there would be a hue and cry about that, and quite rightly so.
Either statement strikes me as deeply sexist and deeply racist – nota bene, I did not say that “Either statement is deeply sexist and deeply racist” but that “Either statement strikes me as deeply sexist and deeply racist”. In other words, I am expressing – like the Justice – an opinion, not a fact. My opinion is of no consequence to society at large.
My essential and insurmountable problem with the statement is its essentialism. True, as the Justice says, there “is no doubt” in her mind that [I assume the “wise Latina woman” to whom she is referring is herself] “her richness of experience” is somehow special in a way that a white male’s would, or could, not be. If so, I respectfully disagree. As I would if it were suggested that because a woman has not had the richness of experience that a white man has he would reach a better conclusion than she.
It seems to me that once you start down that path, you would have to acknowledge that every human being in the course of life has had a ‘richness of experience’ that is of necessity different from the ‘richness of experience’ of every other human being, and – that being the case – every human, which becomes any human, would “more often than not reach a better conclusion than” than any other human. And then, how – on what articulated basis — to privilege one human’s ‘richness of experience’ over that of any other individual? Is the making of (universalizing) law to be swayed by such personal differentiae? Her observation here seems to contradict another point she once made, namely: “It’s not the heart that compels conclusions in cases, it’s the law.” I am not sure how it is the “law” and not the “heart” that would in fact be salient in a “Latina woman with the richness of her experiences” reaching “a better conclusion” in the legal sense than a white male.
Well, just some musings post-Thanksgiving for living in this nation of objective law and its enforcement that is America.
PS After writing this piece and thinking about it some more, I googled the phrase “a wise Latina woman with the richness” and found that there has in fact been considerable puzzlement (or worse) on a number of fronts about the honorable Judge’s statement – here.