The confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor have mostly focused on race and how she may or may not allow her Latinidad to impact her judicial rulings on the Supreme Court. Today Linda Chavez, Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and regular on FOX News, took the cake. But they have also highlighted something that's been picking at me since becoming a mom.
First, much of the conversation supporting Sotomayor is about her struggle, not her excellence and intellect. It has focused on her being woman who was raised in a housing project and struggled to succeed. This theme has been repeated many times before in relation to people of color. I have also received praise for the road I traveled to go from working class kid to the middle class grrl I am today. Does this mean that my daughter, who will have two parents who went to college, won't be praised when she graduates from college in 20 years? Will her struggle be less because we worked hard to give her a head start? I, like Sotomayor, am an affirmative action baby.
I'm fairly certain that my working class neighborhood was tacked on to the affluent school district in order to comply with desegregation issues. The map is so gerrymandered that it's funny. That is affirmative action right there. My mom made it clear that it was and that we, my sisters & I, had better take advantage of it. And we did. By living where we did, we had access to classes that weren't offered in the high school the kids up the street attended. Linda Chavez's comments today made it clear that she believes that those of us who benefit from affirmative action didn't earn what we have today.
This all leaves me wondering where does that leave my daughter? She is clearly privileged by our hard work. But that does not guarantee her success. It also doesn't guarantee that others will look at her with color-blind eyes. My husband & I still need to dress up at certain department stores to receive polite service.
In the end Latinas like Sotomayor, Chavez and myself all have one thing in common - we look like Latinas*. That means we get judged as soon as someone sees us. For Chavez she uses that to peddle her right-wing conservative views. The market for that was huge when she started decades ago. For Sotomayor, she is embracing the opportunity to be a role model for young Latinas still in public housing and my daughter. But she is also like me, we're still reinforcing our accomplishments because someone one will take one look at us and think, "Oh, another affirmative action baby." And to that i say, "Damn straight."
*That's not to say that other Latinas have it easy. Just a recognition that those of us who look Latina have certain stereotypes thrust on us.