The Eclectic Quill

June 2, 2009

Reversing Racism is not Reverse Racism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 4:59 pm

Whenever a justice is nominated for the Supreme Court there’s the inevitable silly little debate that will go on. Pundits will go back and forth about the qualifications of whoever the nominee is, prattling on as though they’ve known all about the nominee and following their career closely, when in point of fact, probably few, if any of them, really even knew that person’s name just a week prior. Some statement gets blown out of proportion and spun out of context to serve as the totality of that person’s belief. Then, depending on what’s gone on behind the scenes politically, and in front of the scenes politically the person either gets approved or doesn’t. It’s all a kind of political game. What’s unique about the Sotomayor nomination though is what is being brought to the forefront and what isn’t, which is to say the matter of racism and reverse racism in light of her comments. Simply put reversing racism is not the same as reverse racism.

To any thinking person there’s a clear context and tone to her answer that is very different from saying that Latinas are better judges than whites, and if you don’t get that you simply aren’t going to. To put it bluntly though, if you think that the traditional elderly white male judge has done an admirable job over the 233 years of our nation’s existence then you’re either ignorant or stupid. To this point 106/110 Supreme Court justices in our nation’s history have been white males. Does anyone really believe that had there been a couple of blacks on the court Dred Scott wouldn’t have turned out differently? Does anyone believe that had there been a more equal representation, women wouldn’t have received the right to vote earlier? Does anyone suggest that Civil Rights would have been more readily enforced were there a more balanced court? It needs to be understood that Sotomayor’s comments were not just reflecting the present state of the court, but the historic nature of the court, and the Supreme Court has historically failed to have empathy for minorities and women. That’s a demonstrable fact. In the flack surrounding the statement though there’s something getting lost—an opportunity for a real conversation about the present state of racism in this country. In fact, in their criticisms of Sotamayor many of the right wing pundits who are calling her racist are donning their own racist tendencies and not getting called on it.

This is occurring on three levels. First, in their blatant and open attacks on her for her race they are racist. Second, in their mock shock over her statement they are racist. And third, and most subtly in their opposition to affirmative action they are racist. In order to understand the present situation, and why I make this claim, we need to see what racism actually is. From

1.a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

2.a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.

3.hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

Do Sotomayor’s comments suggest a belief that her race (and gender) are superior and give her the right to rule others? Actually no they don’t. They, at most, suggest that the experiences she has that typically go along with her race and gender might give her the ability to make better judgments, particularly in instances where the factors of race and gender might come into play. Secondly, there’s nothing to suggest from that comment that there’s a whole scale philosophy built around the notion of building a system of government based on fostering that doctrine. There’s also nothing in her legal history which suggests that. And truth be told, any intellectually honest look at her statement shows that things are being blown out of proportion. So why all the hullabaloo? Because beneath all the verbiage in this debate is a coded message about affirmative action. She’s even been called the “affirmative action pick” and the same diatribes usually end up with her being a “reverse racist.” The liberal punditry points to the diatribes as examples of how far right the far right have gone, but even they don’t really offer much up in the way of the discussion which really needs to be had here on the nature and need of affirmative action. You see, while Sotamayor isn’t a racist, racism does still exist in this country.

Here’s a table that shows what the facts are according to the Census Bureau.


1st Quintile

2nd Quintile

3rd Quintile

4th Quintile

Lower Limit of top 5 Percent

White (Non-Hispanic) 



















Succinctly put, Whites, across the board, make significantly more money than Blacks or Hispanics, and a lot more at that. They make especially more than Blacks and they do so especially at the bottom. The bottom quintile White, non-Hispanics make nearly twice as much as Blacks. There is severe income disparity in this country, and there’s really no argument to be made about it. There being income disparity the next question is why. There can only be two reasons why, it is either inherent, meaning that one race actually is better than the others and that’s the reason they are across the board more successful, or else it is systematic, meaning that there’s no genetic advantage but that there’s something that exists within our present socio-economic system which provides more benefit to one race than the others. There is no third alternative. If one contends that the reason is inherent then they are racist based on the first definition, if they say that is systematic, yet oppose changes to the system, then they are racist based on the second definition.

In our society, and by “our” I mean the white society, we’ve come to the conclusion that racism is a thing of the past in this country. We view racism as lynching the black guy for sleeping with the white girl and deem that we are past that now. Racism isn’t just hating a person because of their race, it’s not being against separate but equal, it’s favoring a system which gives an advantage to one race over all others, and clearly our system does that. It needs to be fixed. To deny this problem is to perpetuate this problem. Look at the numbers. Can anyone really deny that there is a problem? There’s another, much subtler form of racism which exists in tacitly agreeing that there is a problem but at the same time being against surrendering advantages we receive based on our race and/or gender.

If we acknowledge there is a problem then we should be for a solution. If we see racism happening and are against reversing racism we are in fact racist. What things like affirmative action try to accomplish is not a kind of system where the minorities are given special advantages but it is a system where they are given an equal opportunity, and that is a very big difference. Again, look at the numbers. In 2007, 29.1 percent of Whites had at least a college education compared to 18.5 percent of Blacks and 12. 7 percent of Hispanics. This doesn’t mean that there’s deliberate discrimination in the acceptance cycle; it means that there’s something inherently flawed in our system. We fundamentally remain a racist country in the sense that we still are a country where there is a race that has an unfair advantage. That, by definition is racism. However, we as individual people are only racist if we willfully perpetuate the existing situation.

But the subtler message, that she can’t be trusted to strike down affirmative action because she is a reverse racist is wrong. In actuality she has shown that 80 percent of the time she doesn’t uphold discrimination. It’s precisely because of her experiences as a Latina woman that she can be trusted. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but actually experiencing discrimination probably qualifies you to know what is and what isn’t discrimination more than if you have never experienced it. All these right wing, talking head dolts assume that when she says “better” judgment that means she is more inclined to uphold discrimination cases. She didn’t say that, she said better. Maybe sometimes the better decision is to say it’s not discrimination. Maybe sometimes it’s not just the verdict itself, but the reasoning behind the verdict. Having the experiences she has had she is more qualified to understand those kinds of experiences.

Now here I want to point out what I mean in saying that there is a difference between reverse discrimination and reversing discrimination. Imagine that there are 25 people in a room. 15 are green, 5 are blue and 5 are red. There are 15 jobs available and there is training required to get those jobs. The “greens” band together and get the training to get the jobs, and then they get the jobs. This goes on for a year and the blues and reds say, hey this isn’t fair. At this point the greens say, what do you mean it’s not fair, we have the training! We are the most qualified to get the jobs. Is it fair to the least qualified green that he has to surrender his job to the most qualified blue? Perhaps not if you look at the snapshot, but it is if you look at the big picture. There’s already a discriminatory system in place at that juncture and the only way to reverse that discrimination is to allow less qualified blues to become qualified is to allow them an opportunity to train. This is the idea of affirmative action, “reverse” discrimination or racism. The right wing punditry wants you to believe that the 5 reds and the 5 blues come in and kick 10 greens out of a job and now the reds and blues have a 100 percent employment rate while the poor greens only have 33 percent and now the minority is benefitting from a racist system. That’s not reverse racism, it’s racism, and it’s so far from being a problem in this country it’s just plain irresponsible or even flat out lying to suggest it is. The reality is they know a racist system exists and they are trying to perpetuate it. That’s being a racist on the second definition.

In all their reaction to the Hispanic nominee the right-wing punditry reveal their true colors, pun intended. First, it’s obvious in their word choice and reaction that they are actually really bothered by her race. They keep asking would she be a nominee if she were a white guy and had the same qualifications. My response is that if she were a white guy with the same qualifications they wouldn’t be asking if she were qualified. She is supremely qualified, and is as or more qualified that virtually anyone on the court. No presently sitting justice had as much as experience as she has had sitting a Federal Court. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Princeton. She went to both Princeton and Yale on full scholarship. Of her 3000+ decisions 99.8 percent were never overturned. If any white man had those qualifications there wouldn’t be questions about being qualified. I know because less qualified white men got nominated and weren’t questioned by these same clowns about whether they were qualified. In fact some of the less qualified present justices were lauded by both parties as being extremely qualified. There question belies their true intent. They just simply can’t accept that no matter how qualified she is that she is qualified enough. That’s being racist based on the third definition.

These self-righteous mealy mouths are nothing more than racists. From David Duke to Bill O’Reilly to Rush Limbaugh they are racist one and all. They might not think they are (or they might) and they might not even know they are, but they are. The problem is that there’s probably a whole lot of White Americans who also are without knowing they are too. It’s time America takes another good hard look at herself and acknowledges her flaws. When we are in a crisis like this our greatest recourse is our people—all of them. If we perpetuate a system where we only utilize 60-70 percent of our greatest recourse, we only become 60-70 percent of what we can. It’s time the media stopped letting “Affirmative Action” sound like a dirty word and started pointing to some hard facts again. Only then will the Duke’s and Limbaugh’s be exposed for what they are.




1 Comment »

  1. So much hear to take it, thus praising your thoroughness.

    Whether it be the crazies with their violate attacks and crimes, or the little things many do each day that singles out someone because of their race, unfortunately racism is alive and well.

    I found the Understanding Race exhibit mentally engaging. As I studied and reflected – thus encourage everyone to visit the exhibit if/when it’s in their area.

    The schedule is on the exhibit’s site. For others, the site is also a reasonable substitute.

    Here’s my February post after my visit.

    Your post is fabulous, and hopefully it will stimulate someone look past the politics to examine their own views about race.

    Comment by Frank — June 12, 2009 @ 7:30 am | Reply

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