Conservatives Don't Seem to Understand "Whiteness"

June 1, 2009

(This post originally appeared at the United States of Jamerica)

One thing that's been strikingly common in conservative criticism of Judge Sotomayor – and particularly criticism of her “wise Latina” remarks at Berkley – is the assertion that we're witnessing some sort of liberal double standard. “If Sotomayor were a white male,” the complaint usually goes, “she would be attacked as a racist and a white supremacist by the Left!” A more mild form of this complaint was leveled by The American Spectator's Jim Antle in a post responding to Daniel Larison's thorough analysis and (somewhat reluctant) defense of Sotomayor's remarks:

Sotomayor's remarks are preferable to other multiculturalist pronouncements in that she expresses pride in an actually existing culture rather than a generic celebration of non-whiteness. But at its root is a point of view where some cultures and heritages can be celebrated while others cannot (some are in fact denigrated).

As it so happens, I do think that liberals would promptly excoriate a white male judge who believed that his whiteness and maleness offered him unique insights into the law unshared by women and minorities. That said, liberals would have good reason for tearing apart the judge who extolled his whiteness and maleness as a virtue; in the American experience, the celebration of whiteness and maleness is usually associated with extremely ugly – and often violent – beliefs about the personhood (or in their view, lack thereof) of women and minorities. It's fair to assume that a judge who expresses pride in his whiteness and maleness is also deeply unsympathetic to those who don't share his whiteness and maleness.

Now, to be fair, Antle isn't arguing that white male judges should be able to celebrate (I've probably used that word too much for one post) their whiteness and maleness. No, he's arguing that multiculturalism is unfair insofar that it permits a hispanic woman or a black man to express pride in their “hispanicness” or “blackness,” but it expressly forbids a white person from expressing pride in their “whiteness.” What Antler – and conservatives more generally – miss is that there is a very good reason for this; namely, there is no such thing as whiteness. I don't need to go into an in-depth discussion of whiteness as a social construct (I'm sure that most of you all are familiar enough with it), but it suffices to say that whiteness is a social construct and not an ethnic identity in the same way that being an Italian is. Which segues nicely into my second point: conservative's complaints notwithstanding, it is perfectly acceptable for an Italian-American to celebrate her Italian heritage, a Russian-American to celebrate her Russian heritage, or an Irish/German/Anglo-American to make note of – and I guess “celebrate” – her mixed heritage. In fact, we already have a holiday devoted to (superficially) extolling the virtues of the Irish, who last I checked, were white people!

The celebration of whiteness is problematic (and thus forbidden in the “multicultural ideology”) becauses it amounts to a celebration of privilege, and specifically, a privilege that relies entirely on the exclusion of everyone not “coded” white. For whatever reason, conservatives are reluctant to acknowledge white privilege, which as we're witnessing now, leaves incapable of discussing race and ethnicity in anything but tone-deaf outrage.

And yes, that is just a random picture of white people. Enjoy.

Watch a video of recent media attacks on Judge Sotomayor:
(see video below)