Misgivings Because Sotomayor Is Now a Member of the Supreme Court

With the Senate’s confirmation and swearing in now out of the way, Sonia Sotomayor is now a Supreme Court Justice. Liberal whites, as well as many Latinos, are jubilant at what they view as a great step forward for Latinos.

After a time of reflection, however, the realities of racism bring a sobering realization: her ascent to the Supreme Court is both a personal triumph over anti-Latino racism and thus a reminder of the deeply embedded racist apparatus of this country.

Sotomayor is a brilliant woman whose achievements were won through great discipline and admirable effort. Yet she is heralded as the “first Latino” to become a member of the Supreme Court by almost all commentators, left, right, and center. Clearly, her master status is “Latino.” Her great achievements and qualifications lie somewhere in the background.

The appointment of a white Protestant man to the Supreme Court attracts only a modicum of attention, and virtually never to his whiteness or maleness. That is seen as normal. Once again, the deep, unconscious white racial frame shapes common sense and blinds us to the fact that white privilege is the cause of both the ordinariness of white accomplishments and the momentousness of Latino achievement.

A danger that lies ahead is that Sotomayor’s appointment may be interpreted by many conservative and “mainstream” observers as further evidence that “race” is a thing of the past. However, even as Sotomayor succeeds as a justice, unauthorized immigrants are still widely exploited and persecuted, the Spanish language is routinely assailed and vilified, and Sotomayor’s homeland, Puerto Rico, remains a nation under U.S. control.

Sotomayor has been accused by her conservative opponents for her putative “activism” as a judge. As far as I’m concerned, it was not her so-called activism but her encounters with racism that helped her see past the white racial frame and make such great achievements.


  1. Dcase

    Not trying to nitpick, but a whole lot of black Americans are also happy about Ms. Sotomayor’s appointment to the court. By naming liberal whites and Latinos as those “jubilant” about her ascent, you are implicitly giving currency to the commonly held idea of that blacks and brown advancement are inherently at odds.

  2. Kid dynomite

    I keep reading on all of these racist web sites about the white supremcy and white racial frame. Are all whites racist? Didnt alot of them die to free blacks 150 years ago? Didnt a lot of whites vote for Obama A black man? Is the man out to get all non whites? I dont feel this at all. I think you are all paranoid. These are racist comments comming from racist people, who need a crutch. why do we keep blaming other races for holding each other down? The Whites scream Its affirmative action, and the blacks scream its “The man”. Hispanics try for the most part to be quiet and slide under the radar but still scream discrimination. How about pick your self up, hold your head up, look in the mirror and point the finger at yourself for once. Me I feel sotomayor is a racist as well. Her comment about being better then a white male speaks volumes to me. I feel for any white who steps in front of her.

  3. adia

    Jose, thanks for this post. I agree with Dcase’s point above, that many black Americans are thrilled about Justice Sotomayor’s (I love saying that!) confirmation. However, I must say that as happy as I am to see her on the court, I still feel a bit of trepidation. While she appears to be eminently qualified for the court, since the Senate chose not to hold an actual hearing and instead wasted my time and hers by continually asking her to explain/defend/contextualize the now-infamous “wise Latina” remarks, I don’t feel that I got a strong sense of her judicial tendencies or philosophy. I am not sure if she’s a strict constitutionalist, where she stands on the limits of executive power, reproductive rights issues, or capital punishment. And while these aren’t disqualifying issues, it would’ve been nice if more of our Senators did their job by asking her about her positions on case law & judicial philosophy rather than disingenuously (and in some cases hypocritically–this means you, Jeff Sessions) trying to malign her as a racist.

  4. Michael Parker

    Judges are, by definition, people who have to make judgments. We rely on humans to review cases because we trust each other more than machines (let’s face it we could just punch all of the details into a computer and have a verdict printed out if we really wanted to). But judges are human beings all coming from specific perspectives. I would personally feel much more comfortable sitting before a judge who is comfortable enough to openly declare her background than in front of man who can’t even admit that his race and gender might play a part in his perspective. When Sotomayor openly declared her ethnicity and gender, she took the first step towards true objectivity.

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