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May 26, 2009

NPR Liberals and Sonia Sotomayor

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 4:39 pm

I’m sure the folks at NPR and the various local stations don’t see themselves as part of the problem. They’re self-congratulating white liberals that think they aren’t racist because they don’t belong to the KKK. The same kind of people who listen to NPR and think they’re getting “better” news because it doesn’t come from Fox or CNN or whatever. – K. Tempest Bradford

I listen to a lot of NPR. Certainly not as much as some – but I have it on in the car, I stream it in my office, and it’s where I get most of my mainstream news. I’ve listened to enough NPR that its political sensibilities have taken on a clear and distinct flavor in my mind – a progressive ecoliberal white heteronormative flavor that smacks of privilege. The kind of privilege that allows people to feel like being Democrats makes them an oppressed minority. The kind of privilege that means responding to an economic crisis by canceling the only show in your line-up focused on the Black community.

Here’s today’s example of racist fuckery on NPR: President Obama just nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. I learned about this on Morning Edition. I also heard some variation on the following construction three times in under ten minutes of broadcasting:

“Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic and the third woman to reach the Supreme Court. She has a long history of experience in the law and as a judge.”

… Ya don’t say. A nominee to the Supreme Court has years of experience on the bench? Really? You mean she’s not just being nominated because she’s a Woman of Color? You’re saying that, in addition to her fabulous affirmative-action friendly identity, she’s also the best qualified candidate for the job? Shocking! Thrilling! Thanks, NPR!

Look. Yes, unequivocally, it’s incredibly exciting that a Puerto Rican-American woman whose parents were working-class immigrants will be serving on our Supreme Court! And yeah, it’s kind of a neat piece of trivia that “with 17 years on the bench, [Sotomayor] would bring more judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice confirmed in the past 70 years.” But the fact that OMG YES SHE’S QUALIFIED REALLY REALLY WE SWEAR HERE’S PROOF!! doesn’t need to be the focus of every news segment about her nomination.

And they certainly didn’t need to then bring in two “expert” commentators to debate whether or not these claims about her qualifications are valid or just so much political smoke and mirrors. I guarantee, if the nominee were a white man, that they would have expert commentators debating about him – but they would be debating his political biases, what his nomination meant for the legislation, and whether or not he was likely to be confirmed, NOT whether or not he really deserved to be nominated in the first place. His “personal story” and professional history would be a footnote.

Come on, NPR. The fact that Sotomayor knows how to do her own job absolutely cannot be the (second) most interesting/important thing about her nomination. If there were some kind of professional scandal in her past, then this kind of non-discussion might be newsworthy. But there wasn’t. There’s only the scandal of her, despite being not-white and not-male, being so successful professionally that she’s been nominated by the effing President to serve on the highest court in the land. So how ’bout taking it as a given that her damn resume stacks up and talking about whether, politically, she’s the right person for the job?

Unquestionably, NPR isn’t the only news source fixating on this. Assuredly, more conservative mediamakers are pushing the agenda that she simply doesn’t deserve the nomination because the fact that she increases the diversity of the judicial line-up automatically proves she’s not fit to serve. But this is the kind of ridiculous spew that ought not be justified with a response – or, at least, the response should be a critique of the Right’s racist tactics themselves, rather than defensively trying to beat them at their own game.

The fact that some other people are being noisy flaming racists (or that, as Good Liberals, we assume some are) doesn’t make NPR implicitly calling Sotormayor’s qualifications into question every four-and-a-half minutes any less embarrassingly or obnoxiously racist. Nor does it change the fact that this encourages white progressives to believe this is an appropriate and safe tack to take on the issue – because they heard it on NPR! So it can’t possibly be racist! It’s not like Bill O’Reilly said it or anything!

I got into the beginning of heated conversation with Jay the other night about the rule of law, the judicial system, retributive v. restorative justice, and the prison industrial complex. It’s one I’d like to continue when we’re, y’know, sober… I’m not sure where the Supreme Court and Constitutional law fall into that discussion. As usual – either because I’m a burned out cynic, a dewy-eyed idealist, or maybe just a perspicacious radical – I’m skeptical about anything that happens at the Federal level, assuming that it’s either largely irrelevant and/or broadly engineered to fuck me and my loved ones…

Still, I can’t shake the memory of being 14 years old in Washington DC and stepping inside the Supreme Court building for the first time. Of standing awestruck inside that smooth, glowing, cathedral-like marble edifice and feeling like…like something here meant to do right. Like something here might not care about me personally, but it was powerfully and passionately devoted to protecting the idea that I deserved a good life. That’s a little creepy – but it’s a little encouraging also.

That this potentially protective body now includes a person who brings the perspective of meaningfully different cultural and gendered experiences to the table is, I say tentatively, even more encouraging. But I’d really like to know more about who she is than about whether she’s really earned the right to be there. (Hi. She has. No duh. Move on.) And I’m probably not the only one.


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