Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I keep seeing the headline today about Sotomayor "defending" her membership to an elite Latina's lawyer's group. I'm ok with someone asking why it's ok for her to join an exclusive group when it's not ok for white men, but I'm not ok with someone equating it with a "men's club" and failing to see the reasonableness of the association. Over on the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi recently wrote something I found very profound, and this fits the theme perfectly.
Conservatism, with its belief in institutions, traditions, and the past, will seemingly always privilege (perhaps inadvertently) the powerful over the powerless. Institutions, traditions and the past belong to those with power. Privileging them, privileges their agents. ...
To be a true conservative is to be more disturbed by victimology, than actual victimizing. It is to claim to abhor evil--but to abhor the response to evil even more.

The reason a female hispanic lawyer would join a group of female hispanic lawyers has nothing to do with discriminating against non-female hispanic lawyers and everything to do with responding to discrimination against female hispanic laywers. When you make no headway in the established structures, you make your own structure. For someone to call that group out as racist or sexist is to miss a point so obvious I can barely find the words to point out its obviousness.

I belong to a group of Women Engineers. (What is a group of Men Engineers called? IEEE... yes it's joke.) I've never had problems joining a group of male engineers, but there still exist reasons to join up with women. There are still issues that need to be worked on. There are still power struggles that get exacerbated in mixed sex gatherings. The chances of me taking a leadership position - which is a skill building thing to do - is much greater in my smaller group. Then I can take that experience and build off it and use those skills in my career.

I could probably do something similar in a male dominated group, but Sotomayor could not have. Heck, 10 years earlier and she might not have gotten into Princeton at all. Do people have no sense that the reaction to being discriminated against is not, in itself, discriminatory? If not, why not? If a male judge in this day and age was shown to be in an exclusive all white, all baptist, all straight, all male group of lawyers, it would not be ok. Because that is a group where people with power are excluding those without power, for the sake of excluding people without power, generally because they consider those other people inferior. People without power joining up to gain power and experience and voice so they can break into the ranks of those with power, is a proactive way to work for equality, not against it.

May the day come when we won't have women's softball and men's baseball or need Women's engineering or lawyering groups, but that day is not here yet. And to deny someone the very real benefits of joining such a group is the very height of not understanding why they exist in the first place. Sheesh!

No comments: