I am not easily angered. But as I watched the second day of confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, I grew closer and closer to the stereotype. Angry-black-woman syndrome—hard to get along with, excitable, overly aggressive, difficult, a bully and a badgerer—began to set in.
The subject of my ire? The unbelievably condescending questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., of Judge Sonia Sotomayor on her “judicial temperament.” I was stunned as I watched Sotomayor endure Graham’s disrespectful critique of her personality and her professional achievements.
I marveled at Graham as he rambled on about what he as a white male could never have said and gotten away with had he made such a comment about being a “wise white male.” What Graham and his GOP colleagues are missing is that there is no history of legally sanctioned and well-documented discrimination of white men in this nation.
Judge Sotomayor’s comments about being a “wise Latina” have been the subject of much scrutiny and analysis by those who oppose her. To compare what a white male can say, do and “get away with” to what a Hispanic woman can say and do—when she is attempting to share her groundbreaking journey from a poor Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx, N.Y. to a Supreme Court nominee—is a preposterously flawed analogy.
Women deal with gender discrimination and marginalization in ways that men can never understand. Similarly, people of color deal with racism and discrimination in ways that are both overt and covert that are impossible for white people to fully grasp.
Women of color, however, are a unique group all together because they deal with the effects of both race and gender bias that persist in our culture.
For Graham and others to treat a highly regarded judge as if she is some angry, temperamental and aggressive bully is to feed into the worst stereotypes about black and brown women. It is this very familiar message, directed at a “wise Latina” in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress, that set me off.
Sophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to The Root.