Friday, June 5, 2009

What's with the National Review Cover?

Well, even though I posted just a few hours ago, seeing this cover was enough for me to add another quick post.

For those who aren't familiar with the woman who is so oddly depicted as Buddha, she is Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the current nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. The headline under the magazine cover imagine, "The Wise Latina," is a reference to the following line from a speech Sotomayor gave in 2001:

"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."

Many conservative politicians and commentators have used this line, as well as a few of Sotomayor's case decisions, to peg her as a racist - never mind that racism, by it's very nature, is a social construction and action derived from the power and privilege afforded to the majority or controlling group of a society. Since Sotomayor is Puerto Rican-American, it's ridiculous to suggest that she is racist, or that her actions and words could be considered racism. I suppose a more accurate word, if you find fault with Sotomayor's actions or words, would be "prejudice." (I personally have no issue with either the above quote, nor the court decisions mentioned by conservatives as "racist."

However, what I do find troubling is this National Review cover, not only because it flirts with racist WWII anti-Japanese propaganda poster images, but also because it seems to be taking shots not only at Sotomayor, but also at Buddhism itself. Now, I think it's healthy to laugh and kid around about your religious or spiritual tradition. I have no qualms with cartoons and jokes that make light of foibles or eccentricities within a given tradition. In fact, I view it a big sign of trouble if you have no sense of humor about your spiritual life.

But this particular image seems to be doing something else. It's twisting the concept of Buddhist wisdom, and the image of the Buddha, into nothing more than a vehicle for delivering a cheap shot on a political opponent. Furthermore, it portrays a prominent Latina American using stereotyped Asian facial features - which makes one wonder what kind of message this image is really sending about race (and racism) in the United States. I'd say it suggests we have a long way to go on the road to a society beyond racism.


SlowZen said...

never mind that racism, by it's very nature, is a social construction and action derived from the power and privilege afforded to the majority or controlling group of a society

That is a dodgy definition. Racism is an ideology that gives expression to myths about other racial and ethnic groups, that devalues and renders inferior those groups, that reflects and is perpetuated by deeply rooted historical, social, cultural and power inequalities in society.

Plenty of minorities are practicing racism. They just aren't ashamed of it.
Sotomeyers words that she, based on her race, could do better than someone else, based on their race, is by definition racist. Racisim does go both ways, at least according to gov't EEO training.

As far as the cover goes, I think they are associating wisdom with Buddhism. How weird is that?

Anonymous said...


I know nothing at all about this woman or her politics. I gave up reading the news long ago. So this is the first time I've ever come across her and her quote:

"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."

Well, it certainly sounds racist to me. I know the point you are making about power etc - but one can't say it's bad to be racist - unless it's anti-white racism as that doesn't count!

Just my thoughts,


Barry said...

It's pretty interesting to see how this nomination has flipped out a bunch of privileged, old, wealthy, and white men.

Fear takes many disguises, including the subtle form of racism you discuss in this post.

And behind fear is rage, one of the Three Poisons that corrodes every human life.

Nathan said...

Well, I figured this post would get under some people's nerves.

"Racism is an ideology that gives expression to myths about other racial and ethnic groups, that devalues and renders inferior those groups, that reflects and is perpetuated by deeply rooted historical, social, cultural and power inequalities in society." That's a pretty good definition Jordan. And yet, you then suggest that those who experience the power inequities also are practicing racism.

Certainly one could say that some people of color have prejudices against white people, which is also a problem. But racism is much larger than individual hatreds - it's about social and institutional structures that have long favored and privileged white people. In fact, I would argue that the very claim that we are now "all equal" and should be "treated as such," is a failure to see how four hundred plus years of racist social structuring has impacted entire groups in society. (I'm speaking primarily of the U.S., since I am most familiar with it's pattern of historical development.) This is not to suggest that individuals have no responsibility to do what they can to have successful lives. But we are all embedded in the larger social structures of a society, and with that comes the collective karma of past decisions, which is clearly bearing fruit in the messy discussions and actions about race occurring here in the U.S.

Nathan said...

Hi Marcus,

I say the following as a white male who has spent a lot of time reflecting on power, race, and privilege. When a person of color rips me or some other white person solely because of race, I see it as prejudice. It's disappointing, hurtful, and clearly a manifestation of hate/anger energy. As such, I don't defend such actions.

And yet, at the same time, I see these kinds of actions as individual ones. Just as a white person who uses racial slurs and stereotypes is doing an individual act. But beyond that, there are deep questions about how social structures have been historically set up, and how they continue in many cases to perpetuate group inequalities. Who developed the structures of government? Who set up the education system? Who developed the rules of commerce?
Who had the wealth to develop the banking system? The fact is that historically, it was mostly male whites that sat at the table in the creation and development of nearly every social structure in American society. Knowing this, I'm hard pressed to believe that we have, less than fifty years after black Americans were being beaten at polling stations, and denied entry into most of the well paying jobs, somehow leveled the playing field so much so that we can speak of racism as a universal quality.

I think of my meditation practice, and how slow to change some patterns are in my life. If it's that slow for me, then how could it possibly be so quick for these deep seated, collective patterns to change?

SlowZen said...

Nathan, my family has only been in this country since the turn of the last century. we got our asses kicked and drafted into a war we were trying to avoid in the first place. It has has nothing to do with color. ask Any Mic or Wop who got the stories handed down to us buy our grandparents. Heck ask the newer wave of immigrants from the eastern block countries if they feel like they are advantaged because of the color of their skin. You are displaying a view only popular in the cloistered world of academia. Sorry Nathan, that is not reality.

In reality, Sotomayor used the language of inequality, Which is the seed of hate. And we as a country have to knock that shit off.

SlowZen said...

Here is a related article from a graduate English student.

Racism goes both ways

By: Amanda Forbes

Posted: 3/5/08

A friend recently sent me a text message that read "When else can a black man beat a white woman's ass without going to jail? Vote for Obama!"

I pride myself on having a great sense of humor, but I did not laugh at this one. I was not offended either. I was just...shocked.

If I or any other Caucasian ever wrote or uttered such a statement in reverse, we would be summarily crucified. At a time when minorities are preaching equality and sensitivity, why is there still a double-standard when it comes to racist remarks?

I do not buy that minorities should be given a pass when it comes to making racist statements toward their own race or other races. If there is ever to be equality, it must be observed on both sides and treated with the same attitude.

Duane "Dog" Chapman was fired from his popular A&E show, "Dog the Bounty Hunter," for using a huge no-no word and Don Imus was canned from his morning show for describing the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy headed hos."

If this is so disparaging, why did I see a copy of The Sentinel in University Hall with "Bros before Hos" on the cover in reference to Obama and Clinton?

In 2004, Barry Bonds made a few racially charged statements about Boston to a reporter. No one raised flags to the media and cried "Fire Barry Bonds!" No one said anything because no one felt they could, simply because Bonds is black and is apparently allowed to say whatever he wants.

However, when "Dog" made his racially insensitive remarks, Roy Innis, chairman of the Congress for Racial Equality, demanded he be taken off the airwaves immediately because his "comments show that he is certainly not a good guy."

After Imus made his remarks, Al Sharpton demanded Imus be fired. He then insisted his demands were not about Imus but rather the "misuse of the airwaves."

"We cannot afford a precedent established that the airwaves can be used to commercialize and mainstream sexism and racism," he said.

Then why do we hear rap songs constantly referring to women as "hos" if not worse? Imus referred to the double standard after his firing by noting the term he used is well-used within the black community. Sharpton fired back, stating he does not forgive anyone who uses such words or phrases.

Yet, I have never once seen Sharpton demand Lil' Wayne be released from his recording contract because he raps "hos love my grill, hos love my crib."

How can anyone not see that as a double standard? I am not a racist and do not find joy in making racist comments, but I refuse to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye when someone of a different race makes an insulting remark and decides it should not be a big deal because they are a minority and they can. If I am going to be held to a standard of decency, then everyone, regardless of race, religion or sex should be subjected to that same standard. Once everyone is on the same page about what is appropriate and what is not, then we can start to break down the walls of racism in this country.

Amanda Forbes is a graduate student in English and journalism. She can be reached at

Nathan said...

Funny that you say I display a view only found in "cloistered academia" and then follow it up with an article from an English graduate student.

I respect where you are coming from and would agree that inequalities are all over the place, not just in the lives of people of color. My work in ESL has exposed me to all kinds of these issues - barriers of language, educational background, economic status, gender, etc. I work not in academia, by the way, but in adult basic education, where those on the bottom rungs of most ladders go for a last shot at doing some structured learning. And my students have included people from Russia, the Ukraine, Romania, and Poland, among other places. I've definitely heard stories of their struggles here, especially when it comes to language and economic barriers. It's all pretty damn complex when you sit down and reflect on it.

In addition, the statements Amanda Forbes presents are definitely a problem, and need to be called out as seeds of hate.

Again, though, they are individual actions, and I stand by my previous statements about structural/institutional racism. Maybe we'll need to agree to disagree at the end of the day.

One thing that all of this suggests, though, is the failure of most of us to stop and listen to each other a little more. Buddhism teaches us to let go of our stranglehold on the views and ideas we believe are true - or false - and to remain open to life as a whole. I don't take this as a suggestion to have no opinions or to take no stand on issues - but instead, to carry those positions lightly enough so that you do not blow over others in the process.

I appreciate your willingness to present your views without attacking me personally, or using cheap shot tactics. It seems to me if more people would be willing to talk openly about these issues, and take a look at how our laws and policies effect them, maybe there will be some significant shift.

As far as that goes, even though I have a strong distaste for the National Review cover, it's presence offers people like us the opportunity to speak about these issues at greater length. The way I see it, it is better to have things out in the open, than to suppress or hide what we don't want to hear or see.

SlowZen said...

Glad you got the humor there.

I mentioned academia because of an article a "Professor" wrote that we had a discussion about amongst other Equal opportunity officers and I expressing some of the same views you had regarding the "whites are racist while minorities are just prodigious" thing. That really messes us up when were working in the culturaly diverse world of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children trying to get everyone on the same page but then holding people to different standards of accountability just sets you up for failure.

I guess I don't really care that much about the cover. I do care about putting a person who has, in my opinion, displayed racist views, into a lifelong government posting.

SlowZen said...

Doh, prejudice vic prodigious. :

Nathan said...

I'm not all that enamored with Sotomayor myself, but not because of the now infamous comment. She's a little too corporate America friendly for my taste. (But that's a whole other can of worms.)

Here's a few numbers to chew on. Take it however you wish. As far as I'm concerned, there isn't such a thing as an "objective" judge. Only humans with their varied backgrounds and flaws who either try their best to remain open or do not.

Court Watch: An Analysis of Sotomayor’s Decisions on Race-Related Cases
May 31, 2009 · No Comments

By Garance Franke-Ruta
The indispensable SCOTUSBlog, from the Washington-based firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, has published an analysis of every race-related decision made by appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor, finding that she rarely disagreed with her colleagues on cases involving claims of discrimination.

Meanwhile, has aggregated the latest surveys and found a huge gender gap in favor of Sotomayor among female Republicans as compared with male members of the GOP, but no dramatic gender difference among Democrats.

Tom Goldstein, a partner at Akin Gump who has argued more than 20 cases before the Supreme Court, writes: “Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases” while on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The reference is to the well-publicized case Ricci v. DeStefano, which involved a promotion exam for New Haven, Conn., firefighters. The case is now under review by the Supreme Court.

“Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times,” he continued; “the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions. Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous.”

“Of the roughly 75 panel opinions rejecting claims of discrimination, Judge Sotomayor dissented 2 times,” Goldstein writes.

“The numbers relating to unpublished opinions continued to hold as well. In the roughly 55 cases in which the panel affirmed district court decisions rejecting a claim of employment discrimination or retaliation, the panel published its opinion or order only 5 times,” Goldstein writes.

“In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times. … Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.”

And’s Margie Omero writes: “Yesterday I posted on some Gallup data on voter reactions to Sotomayor. Quinnipiac released new data today, and both Gallup and Quinnipiac were nice enough to share party by gender crosstabs. These data continue to show that women, particularly Republican women, respond strongly to Sotomayor’s nomination. …

“In the Gallup poll, both Democratic and Republican women are more supportive of Sotomayor than their Democratic counterparts. The difference is more modest among Democrats (men: +46 ‘excellent/good pick’ minus ‘only fair/poor’ pick; women: +54). Among Republicans the difference is sizable (men: -44; women: -11).

“The Quinnipiac poll is consistent. There is no difference in the ratings of Democratic men (+74 ‘approve’ minus ‘disapprove’) and Democratic women (+76). But Republican women are almost evenly divided on Sotomayor’s nomination (-9), while Republican men are more decidedly disapproving (-39).”

Anonymous said...


Nathan, may I challenge you on this point here?:

"Since Sotomayor is Puerto Rican-American, it's ridiculous to suggest that she is racist..."


Are you really saying that only whites can be racist?

If so, please, let me tell you some things I've personally seen. Based on the countries I know best - Thailand, Korea, and the UK.

Take a trip to Thailand and visit a construction site. Most of the workers there, working bare feet in the sun, will be illegal Burmese workers. Looked down on, exploited, traded, and with no legal rights at all in Thailand. Oh, and it's illegal for them to own a phone and they have to obey a curfew.

Then go to Korea, and see Thais suffer the same racism there as Thailand dishes out to the Burmese. I've visited Thai factory workers in Seoul living in plastic tents in the winter, I've talked to these people.

Immigrant labour in Korea get a visa tied to their employer. They are not allowed to change jobs. So, if the boss decides to half your pay, take your passport off you, double your hours, hit you, make you sleep in a plastic tent, there is nothing you can do about it.

Ask a Korean what they think of Thai people, you'll hear them say that they are lazy. Ask a Korean what they think of Chinese people. Dirty. Ask a Thai what they think of a Burmese. It goes on an on.

Let's talk about the Middle East. Let's talk about Arab tolerance for temporary workers, for their labour rights, for their religious rights. That's right - there is none.

Nathan, the idea that only whites can be racist is poppycock.

And racist compared to what?

I would much much rather be an immigrant in America, Europe, or Australasia, than anywhere else on the planet.

I notice you work in ESL Nathan, helping teach English to immigrants. That's wonderful.

My (ex) Thai wife now lives in the UK. She has permanent residence, assisted housing, the right to assisted ESL education, and the right to apply for and be granted citizenship.

I work in Thailand in a university and have a Thai wife. No permanent residence for me. My job and marriage makes no difference. The Thai immigration authorities demand that I, and all the other thousands of 'aliens' that live here, registed our address with the immigration deprtment every 90 days.

The rights of a Thai immigrant in the UK are about a trillion times greater than those of any immigrant in Thailand. Why? Blood.

Korean immigration and Thai immigration policy is based upon preserving blood purity.

And things don't get much more racist than that.

So, yes, it is perfectly possible for a non-white to be racist.


Nathan said...

Well, Marcus, I was speaking about here in the U.S. mostly. I have heard about issues in Thailand and Korea from my students, many of whom were in the exact positions of you describe. My point was that racism is both individual and systemic, and tied to the power holders in society. In the case of Thailand, it's the Thai majority. In the case of Korea, it's the Korean majority. In the case of the old South Africa, it was the white minority.

But the point being again, that it's the power holders that not only can name-call and degrade, but also can structure society in a way that benefits them much more than anyone else.

Partly, I'm arguing over semantics - which word to use. But mostly, I really think a lot of people fail to see how the society they live in often is structured in a way that vastly degrades the lives of those who are part of groups that hold no tangible political, social, or economic power.

So, you're right - racism isn't just a "white" thing - but I think one would hard pressed to suggest that Puerto Rican Americans collectively have had a huge influence on U.S. policy, economics, and the expected "norms" of our society. That was what I was getting at by suggesting that maybe you could say Sotomayor's comment was prejudice, but not racist.

You'll have to forgive my U.S. centric commentary; even though I knew a little bit about issues in Asia, for example, I didn't feel versed enough to speak clearly and accurately about them. And, of course, I was originally speaking about an issue here in the U.S.

Anonymous said...


Yes, I see what you mean. However, go spend a year (or 14) living outside of America and you'll never again say something like "since so-and-so is non-white, it's ridiculous to suggest that s/he is racist..."

Anyway, yes, I do see a little more of your point - and thank you for the discussion.

All the very best,


Algernon said...

Such a bizarre image. It really is scattershot, taking the widely-misunderstood "wise Latina judge" comment and turning her into a Buddha figure who to me looks more like Mama Cass than Tojo, but whatever.

The Buddhist visual is familiar to me, as I have gotten used to silly and patronizing images of Buddhists in the media.

The exchange with Jordan in the comments is interesting, yet sadly he mischaracterized the famous comment by Sotomayor from the outset. The internet makes it so easy to check these things out for ourselves: the text of her comments with their context is wide available. It may or may not have been a skillful attempt to communicate her idea, but the idea itself was not racist even by Jordan's definition.