There is a lot of talk these days about the demographic changes going on in the United States these days. The future of America is one in which there is no racial or ethnic majority. There hasn't been an ethnic majority in the United States since its beginnings (despite our reputation as "transplanted Englishmen," Germans, Irish, Africans, Scots and French people etc have always made up large portions of our population - not to mention Native Americans). But racially, this country has long been one in which Europeans comprised well over 80% of the population. That is what is about to change. The day is coming soon when Americans of European heritage will make up less than 50% of the population. The big growth is coming from Asian and Latino immigrants and their descendants. The dominant theme of conversations about this future revolves around the changes "White" people will have to make.
But an exchange yesterday between Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Judge Sotomayor about her infamous "wise Latina" remark (in which she said that a wise Latina would make better judicial decisions than a white male) points out that groups that are now minorities in an America dominated by whites will have to make changes in their attitudes as well. Senator Graham pointed out that if he had come close to suggesting he would make a better Senator than a minority candidate because he was a caucasian male, he'd be - rightly - shredded. I think Senator Graham has a point here. There are statements that if white people say them are clearly and universally regarded as racist that if a Latina/o or African American say them are more often regarded as more or less innocent statements of cultural self-confidence.
The traditionally "political correct" way to respond to Graham's distinction is to say, "Well, white people are in power by virtue of their majority status so of course they can't say things that minorities can." But very soon, that won't be as true as it is now or was 30 years ago. The time is fast coming when people of color will have to more carefully consider the rhetoric they use to express their pride of culture. It's one thing to say "Latinas have wisdom to contribute!" It's quite another to say "Latinas are better than white people."
To be honest, I don't think Sotomayor understood or agreed with Graham's point. I think she deflected the topic with agility and diplomacy. But I think she is very much a product of her generation. I think her attitudes towards conversations about race is very much rooted in traditional political correctness with all its inherent double standards.
I don't think this exchange really disqualifies Sotomayor. Nor do I think her statement from years ago is all that important in of itself. But I think the point Graham was trying to make is an interesting topic for a conversation about race. Think of it as a kind of continuation of the dialogue Obama called for his race speech.