Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Sister of Sotomayor Speaks

Much is being written about Sonia Sotomayor's nomination for Supreme Court justice. I won't repeat all of that here. But some key phrases in the opposition's objections are all too familiar with what many of us women, particularly pioneers, and all of those who have suffered professionally because of racism and sexism have heard:
* "She doesn't understand" or "She would have to understand." I can't tell you how many times I heard that, the implication being that we could not understand the real (white male) world or the real issues. We would be too naive, uninformed, unintelligent, etc.
* There's the question of "temperament," which could refer to women's time of the month, their being too emotional, or too collaborative or not collabrotive enough. There was no right temperament for a woman to have. Too fat, too thin, too happy, too sad. A woman was never right for the position.
* "Angry woman" She an "angry racist." Do I need to comment on that one? All of us pioneer professional women were "angry" women or, "not showing our anger,"or...
* Closely connected is the issue of "empathy." Women are expected to be empathetic but it was and is often held against them if they are. They would no doubt make unfair decisions and show lack of objectivity.
* "Experience." Although Sotomayor's record is substantial, even amazing, "experience" for a woman was and is often suspect and not the "right kind."
* When you make a choice for diversity you are making a choice against competence. One again, that false dichotomy was said about me and about women whom I have over the years counseled. It is used way too often in matters of race. There was and still is an assumption that to choose a woman or a person of color is to downgrade the institution.
* She's brilliant. It's hard to debate that description of Sotomayor. But one commentator managed to find a problem with how smart she is. No doubt she lacks the vision of leadership because of her brilliant intellect.
* One former Republican candidate for president referred to her as "Maria." And blacks all "look alike." In this person's eyes so must Puerto Rican women. Never before, but after I was ordained and a "Rev." put before my name, I received way too much of my mail where the "Norma' has been changed to "Norman." It was not funny, nor accidental. It was thoughtless assumption that I must be male if there was a "Rev." by my name. Some people even made a point of "correcting" the address to make it right.

Now are these small things? Are they not the important issues? They are signals of the basic systemic racism and sexism that still exist. I'm deeply, deeply sad.

And I'm deeply pleased to call Sonia Sotomayor my sister.


Matt March said...

My question for you is: Can there be legitimate questions asked about Judge Sotomayor and her nomination to the Supreme Court or must she be allowed to be confirmed with no questions about her judicial record or temperament? Who gets to determine what are legitimate questions?

Amanda said...

Well, it seems to me that the question becomes this - how do we live with one another in a broken world? If I remember right, a pretty famous guy had something to say about that after a trek through some pretty rough places - but back to that later.

They are small things. They are huge things. As a person who will be ordained in three days, and who happens to be a woman, I too know the questions. They are small, because if Sotomayor is appointed, they will scarcely matter anymore. They are huge, because people are making decisions out of a fear based mentality - fear of the unknown. Policy decisions made out of fear are never good decisions.

The fact remains, that decisions are being made out of fear. We all fear that well will cease to be - that what is precious to us will be gone - and the world will fall apart. Most likely, that is behind those nasty comments.

We know from our Lord, that the world has already fallen apart in Christ's death - and a new creation came on the Third day. We live in the faith that there is something more than what we know, and we know that "something" is good. That "something" is better than we can ever imagine.

We can then ask legitimate questions from a stance of love and understanding. When we are not afraid to loose ourselves to the conversation, for the sake of Christ, our questions become questions of discernment through Christ for the sake of the world.

We can be saddened by the brokenness of the world, yet it is a Christian sadness which knows hope beyond all fear, suffering, and death.

As far as my experience - people treat me like a person. Some are scared, some are overly welcoming, some want change and some want things the same. One younger person told me that it was good to have a woman back in the pulpit, because it was really weird to have those guys in the interim. An older person expressed her sorrow that they had been forced to take another woman pastor even though they had paid their dues to the synod with the last one.

All of them want to know Christ's love - and will take that message of healing grace wherever they can get it. Even if its from me, and especially if its from me.

Back to that famous guy. I think his name was Jesus Nazereth, and he said something about loving each other as you have been loved by him. We lift each other up past the fear, past the hurt, past the "little deaths" of this world, and into the grace of the God who loves us past our inability to do what we should. When we are on the receiving end of all that brokennes, we hold on to Jesus or rest in his arms, and know that there is life beyond all brokenness, and that even this will be a new creation.

Matt March said...

Amanda you said: We can then ask legitimate questions from a stance of love and understanding. When we are not afraid to loose ourselves to the conversation, for the sake of Christ, our questions become questions of discernment through Christ for the sake of the world.

Questions about Judge Sotomayor's temperment would be legitimate if she were a white male. I do not know anything about Judge Sotomayor other than she is a judge. What experience does she have that qualifies her for the Supreme Court? How does that match up with previous appointees? Has she written, said, or done things that would call into question her ability to judge fairly from the bench?

Just a couple things I have read.

Some articles have said she is qualified solely on the basis of her race and gender. I do not believe those articles add to the conversation.

She has said that the appeals court is where policy is made. The court does not make policy in our constitutional system, it interprets the law. Maybe a slight distinction but I believe that is important.

A couple more questions I would like answered: How have her opinions stood up to judicial review? How do colleagues and lawyers who have argued cases in her courtroom view her?

Now, because I ask these questions does that make me sexist and racist? If so, I would rather be sexiest and racist then to judge people solely on surface characteristics such as race and gender.

My general impression about this article is that it is saying that the questions about Judge Sotomayor arise soley from racism and sexism. If that is the case, then what Norma is arguing and what you seem to be agreeing with is that women and people of color should not have their qualifications questioned.

Amanda said...

Matt, since your anger has seemed to cloud your vision of my above statement, I will summarize. The purpose of my comment was to gently chastise Dr. Cook-Everist for her one-sided thoughts, and encourage both her and you to move beyond your hurts. I wrote to give a third way, and hopefully a more theologically inclusive one. I did not write to get in the middle of an argument between you and her, or to be snapped at by somebody who doesn't seem to have carefully read my other comment.

Rev. Amanda - signing out of this conversation.