Monday, July 13, 2009

What does Sotomayor have to do with me?

I’m completely in love with the media coverage surrounding the first day of hearings for Judge Sotomayor. I am starting to see the beginning of a shift in how the media (since that’s the source material I’m using to write this) is handling race, objectivity, personal v social, and everything in between, as a reflection of where the United States is in identity and inclusion discourse. In certain lenses this is no different from race/identity politics from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and what not, cause yes; race is still f%^ed up, yes one person is being forced to represent a whole ethnicity, yes there are racists at the table, yes we are dancing around the race card, and yes the disparities among us are a lot worse than before. Even so, the handling, the discourse, and the points of interest by the media as topics to share with the mainstream are absolutely fascinating. They see the mirror and are looking at the United States for the way it is, but their interpretations and speculations on handling this mirror image is where it gets hairy and that is what we should be worried about.

Zero sums all around – the rise of hybridity

I’m digging the whole zero-sum effect taking place by synergizing assumed polarized notions of where Latinos lie in the spectrum of American social landscapes. I noticed a lot of coverage surrounding Sotomayor’s journey in America. A lot has been discussed about her roots as a Puerto Rican, at the same time a lot is being said of her trans-geographical placement in New York culture… this is old news to most of us in the inside… but this fluid transport between the ‘exotic’ PR and the NY homeland touches upon Latinidad as ‘the hybrid of hybrids’… folks do not know if she really is ‘exotic’ or if she is (silly ass coinage from here) “American as Mango Pie”. In the end, Sotomoayor is challenging (or reintroducing) the complexities of identity and geography, with a nation of immigrants, with NY as “multi…” as it is, and PR as historically “multi…” as NY is.

Another zero-sum is the confusion by politicians if whether she is ‘mainstream’ or ‘too far off’ in her approach to judging. I’m mean really?? To have one’s record or stances evoke such disparate reactions is amazing and makes me question that the confusion is not about her at all, but about the critics and supporters themselves. Again we are seeing polarized viewpoints becoming a hybrid embodied by the journey of Sotomayor. In a weird way, those who view her ethnicity as exotic and foreign will claim she is subjectively injecting ‘personal politics’ in her work, thus ‘off the mainstream’. Yet, its they who need to question the idea of objectivity and the subjectivity of themselves residing in a land and set of laws created by their ancestors with their own biases injected as well.

The last zero-sum I noticed is the general notion from the media and politicians that ‘she is pretty much a shoe in. Yet there is all this hype and controversy surrounding her? So if she is that good, then why make such a big deal?? Because she is Latina? A choice from Obama and the “Change” movement? The work of those before us, through the civil rights movement, the ‘Cosby Era’, the multicultural / diversity movements, to this fake Post-race discourse, strives to normalize, present, and represent ourselves as folks who have developed techniques to handle the oppressions and repressions dished out by those in power. But we are always scrutinized, examined, and questioned as rational and fair individuals… its mainstream’s guilt, and fear of some sort of ‘revenge’ on our part for the crimes did by them. Its not we who bring the controversy to the table, it’s the ignorance of others who should of learned and friended us long ago, who see us walking down the street and will look at us from behind the curtains and blinds of their homes.

So, if it’s a zero-sum, what of it?

I’m nervous about how the media (and maybe in reflection of the mainstream) is unable to handle it. We have folks such as Angelo Falcon dropping old school technique on this by arguing the bicultural “Mango Pie” tactic. We have the rise of Sotomayor as an extension of ‘new school’ Obama race-politics 2.0 style. There is also the classic meritocracy approach of coming from foreign lands and pulling up some bootstraps to make it so, or the zero-sum effect of inevitability without questioning. Pessimists may think Sotomayor is another Saturday morning cartoon episode where it’s the same villains fighting the same heroes with the same conclusion at the end. For me, I’m happy to see the confusion by the US of ‘normal’, objectivity, the personal and the social, all that is up again to question. I’m seeing this confusion in the same context as when W.E.B Dubois talked about the birth of his double-consciousness, or identity development theorists call the ‘encounter stage’ where that traumatizing event brings out questions of yourself in identity and relations to others. It is at that moment we can look for innovations, introduce new techniques, and bring about further change.

In some aspects, I’m very happy to see some complexity in the discourse of race presented by the media (thank you President Obama!). This reminds me of my previous rant on Junot Diaz’s presentation of our Latinidades, as we are so complex that just calling us a ‘hybrid of Indigenous, Spanish, and African cultures” is too simple. As a Latino born in the U.S. growing up with old school values and new school philosophies and an undying sense of displacement… all that was written above is nothing new. But, its great to see this germinating from mainstream Newsweek, Time, AP, and so forth. I’m banking that folks can pick up on this tension as much as I have, and develop conscious techniques and methods to address this different landscape of identity and inclusion. I hope that my brothers and sisters use the opportunity to question their own notions of placement in the United States and empower themselves and take advantage of this ‘encounter’ that we are seeing before our eyes.

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