These are interesting times.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been taken to task for stating, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Her word choice is poor, but her point is that her ethnicity and gender carry with them a wealth of experience simply unavailable to a white man.
Can race, gender, or ethnicity be instructive? Well, let’s examine the evidence.
In a recent moment of almost perfect poetic symbolism, the fine officers of Cambridge, Massachusetts, racially profiled one of the finest minds in Af-Am scholarship, a man who has been instrumental in creating a space in which the uniqueness of black experiences and voices is honored. Well, now he sure as hell has had an edifying experience as a black American male that is not available to the white population. Having been an academic long enough to know how their minds work, one of my first thoughts upon reading of Gates’s arrest was, “Wow. Think of the article he’ll write after this one.”
Don’t get me wrong – I think the man is a genius regardless of race. But, his experiences as an African-American have shaped him into the type of scholar he is. And, I’d be shocked if this latest experience doesn’t further shape his academic work.
And then we have Regina Benjamin, the nominee for Surgeon General, who is being criticized as too fat for the job. Now, setting aside my immediate reaction of “Are you fucking kidding me?” for a moment, I do see the point that we need role models for good health. However, a couple of photos of a plus-sized woman do not by any stretch of the imagination demonstrate that she is not a good doctor or role model. Show me a grocery receipt with $78 of Twinkees on it and then we can talk about poor health choices. For all I know Dr. Benjamin eats well and exercises regularly and would weigh a helluvalot more if she didn’t. Last I checked, people come with different body types.
Oh-ho-ho-ho, isn’t it fun to characterize black women as lazy, stupid slobs who can’t be bothered to walk their empty tub of KFC X-tra Crispy to the trash can? It’s uncool to call black women “Welfare Queens” nowadays, but calling them too fat and unhealthy to be good doctors is every bit as much about race and gender.
I don’t know Thing One about how it feels to be discriminated against for being fat, female, and black, but Regina Benjamin sure does. I suspect that experience will serve her well as she tries to educate Americans on their health choices.
Does race, gender, and ethnicity qualify someone for a job? Of course not. Does being black or Latina in American make a person necessarily wiser or smarter than someone who is white and male? Not last I checked? Does it provide a library of experience from which to draw? Absolutely. To pretend otherwise, to try to simply ignore racial and gender identity, is to attempt to marginalize minorities by erasing the very bodies on which American society has been writing far more negative stereotypes for centuries.