The XX Factor

Sotomayor, Reverse Racist

Unsurprisingly, Rush Limbaugh just called Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor “reverse racists.” He is referring to the controversy over Sotomayor’s line, from a speech given in 2002, that she believed a Latina woman would make a better decision than a white man. Limbaugh might have ground to stand on had Sotomayor been making a blanket reference to the inherent superiority of Latina women to white men. But she wasn’t. As Hanna pointed out yesterday , Sotomayor was talking about sex discrimination cases, about which there is evidence that having female judges leads to outcomes that appear to be fairer for women. She was not being a reverse racist; she was being a pragmatist, and perhaps, a wee bit of an activist in that moment. What’s more, it was a rare moment of unsubtlety in an otherwise judicious (no pun intended) lecture. The reverse racism line reminds me of the opening to “Goodbye to All That,” where Malcolm Cowley describes a game of intellectual ones-up-manship where men of his generation would try to take an argument or an insult one iteration further, always seeing if they could turn it back on whatever had come just before. Limbaugh is doing the same thing, telling us that “liberals” would say that “minorities cannot be racists because they don’t have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone, because reverse racists certainly do have the power. … Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he’s appointed one.” Which would make Limbaugh what? A reverse-reverse racist, someone who sees no color?