Why we need a wise Latina.

The most the Republicans have been able to say against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a phrase she used in a few speeches over a decade ago, in which she stated that a wise Latina woman might have more to offer in terms of justice that a white man. As a white man, I think she's got it just about right.

The Republicans have responded that she is using "reverse racism", and this indicates she can't be fair and impartial on the bench. Let us move beyond the part that, while anyone can have prejudice, racism can only be expressed by the group in power. I'm interested in looking at what the Gospel says.

Jesus' mission statement was that he had come to bring good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. Some of why he was killed was certainly because of this mission. Everywhere he went, he looked for those who were outcast from society, as Luke especially convincingly shows us. He was there for the blind, the lepers, the women, the tax-collectors, and the Samaritans. His Gospel is decidedly not good news for those in power. It was good news for those who were not in power, who were being held down by the Man, whoever that might be. At that time and place, it was the ruling Jewish authorities and the Romans. Jesus didn't look for men and women of power in his society, but consistently searched for those without, so that their power would so obviously come from God. He came for the sick, not the healthy; for the blind, not the sighted. And by this he was clear- we are all in need of the Doctor, but only if we recognize where and how we are sick, blind, and oppressed; only if we give up our power. The Gospel was never for those in power, and can never be. Jesus came to bring Jubilee, an Upside-down Kingdom, a complete change to the way life is done, where those who were oppressed don't become the oppressor, but rather grab hold of justice and teach the oppressor how to love.

Now we return to Justice Sotomayor's comment on the wise Latina. It goes without saying that we need diversity in all aspects of life, and certainly a few more people of colour in the highest court in the land. But multiculturalism and affirmative action were always of value not simply because of this. They were and are of value because of the unique contribution that other cultures can bring. And as a Christian I am mandated to go further. Those who come from groups who have not been in power, who have historically experienced the brunt of racism and oppression, are precisely those we can learn the most from. They are those that Christ came for. They are the foundations of leadership in the coming Kingdom.

We need those dispensing justice to be intimately familiar with the miscarriage of justice. We need them to be acting in the person of Christ, to be his ambassadors, looking out for those who are oppressed and bringing in justice. And so, yes, a Latina justice- a woman of colour- can offer something unique, and is better in this position that a white man. She is better able, on average, to represent who Christ is.

But only on average. There are plenty of Latinas who would make poorer justices than plenty of white men. And that's why we need a wise Latina- someone who knows how to dispense justice with that gentle rain from Heaven, the quality of mercy not strained.


webby08 said...

Great post! Going somewhat o/t, on the subject of affirmative action, I was wondering what you felt about the Frank Ricci case?
As someone who isn't white-- and not even American-- I can definitely see the importance of diversity. It is so very important we bring a different range of experiences to the table, rather than take for granted that everyone operates within the same framework-- or demand that everyone do so. One size does not fit all.
Yet I can't help but feel that we have far too limited a conception of 'diversity', where people are reduced to statistics and broad categories. We humans are complex creatures, made up of many things other than our race-- sometimes our race and ethnic culture might form the central part of our identity-- or sometimes it might be something else altogether. Context is everything. Frank Ricci was dyslexic-- he may have been white, but he had his own huge struggles that he successfully overcame-- that deserve to be validated rather than be put down to 'white privilege'. What makes us an 'other', alienates us and marginalizes us can go far beyond race, gender or sexual orientation. We are many things-- e.g. middle class, female, ADHD, male, brought up in 2 parent but emotionally abusive and dysfunctional home; brought up in single parent but affirming home, diabetic, etc.
I believe in affirmative action, but perhaps we need to be looking at a more diverse kind of affirmative action, the kind that looks beyond labels and categories and assumptions and looks at people's life stories. I like to believe that's the issue many people have with affirmative action-- not that they want to keep things uniform, but that the notion of diversity as it stands is too uniform.
God Bless.

@bdul muHib said...

Well said. Though my skin is white, I grew up in a commune, so often feel that I am "a candidate of diverse background".

I don't feel like I know enough about the Frank Ricci case to communicate effectively. I do think one of the big reasons that whites should support Affirmative Action is because in some 40 years they'll be needing it themselves.

Anonymous said...

Great. When judges start "acting in the person of Christ" then we'll be really screwed. You can't uphold the law and wallow in sentamentality at the same time.

@bdul muHib said...

Who told you that Jesus was sentimental?