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By Simon


Monday, August 03, 2009.

To borrow a line from a popular advertisement touting American Express: membership has its privileges.  Membership does indeed have its privileges, especially with regards certain groups whether because of race, ethnicity, gender, national origin or class.


While many understand the obligations that come with privilege many are blinded by its conceits, such as arrogance, hypocrisy, indifference and other blinding moral deficits.  Privilege is often an accident of birth, not the will of God, something that xenophobes, jingoists and fundamentalists of all stripes often forget.


Pride in one’s tribe, denomination, religion or ethnic group is understandable.  But, forgetting that membership in such groups should be rooted primarily in membership in the human race and must often transcend group identity is morally dangerous.

Failure to grasp that the privilege of human being comes with the obligation to acknowledge that privilege in others, has given us holocausts and crusades of all sorts, entrenched systems of racial apartheid and economic structures which masquerade as free and fair, while maintaining systems of privilege for select countries and groups.


One of privilege’s worst conceits is the belief that my identity, be it racial or otherwise, is the norm, with all other identities secondary to my own.  The diabolical nature of some privilege is when that narrow view of what is “normal” is tied to power and the ability to relegate others to second class or inhuman status whether through racial codes, economic power, propaganda or other weapons of mass distortion and destruction.




Such privilege was on naked display recently in the United States Senate Judiciary hearings over the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to that country’s Supreme Court.  If confirmed she would become the first Hispanic and only the third female to serve on America’s highest court in over two centuries.


Judge Sotomayor’s ardent detractors during the hearings, who often manipulated her words to paint her as a racist, were most, though not all, of the Republican members of the Committee, who were all white, male, conservative Christians, the base of what was once a Grand Old Party (GOP), now slipping into minority status partially out of resentment that its days of singular privilege are being threatened by a diversity that it can no longer control at will.


The hypocrisy of the situation was highlighted by the disturbing yet comical assertion of Judge Sotomayor’s racism by the Committee’s ranking Republican member, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who once observed that the Klu Klux Klan was not that bad a group, until he found out that some of its members may have smoked marijuana.

Senator Sessions also opined that the venerable civil rights group the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were un-American (i.e. his narrow vision of America) and communist inspired, “because they forced civil rights down the throats of people.”


Perhaps if these groups supported Senator Session’s singular status quo vision of America they would be more “pro-American and democratic”.  Of course, this is one of the conceits of privilege:  my group is naturally ordained to rule and those who think otherwise are upsetting the natural order. 


To point out the undemocratic and anti-American nature of such privilege, racism or sexism makes you the racist and sexist, which is hypocrisy marinated in arrogance and moral vanity.


Thankfully, regarding her now famous “wise Latina” comments, Judge Sotomayor has only had to contend with the charges of racism, because her opponents realized it would be unwise to make naked gender attacks on her.


Still, for a vision of what a dwindling but powerful minority wants America to remain, look no further than the composition of the Republican membership of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which includes not a single minority or at least one member of America’s other half – women.



As an aside, the national Republican Party boasts not a single African American in the U.S. Congress or as Governor.  That they fail to realize that wise people of colour may help to make them more sensitive to the needs of a greater diversity of people, or failing that, help them to win more elections, makes them unwise.


Perhaps the GOP can start in the U.S. Senate which only counts four women among that body’s 17 women, and not a single Jew.   That 7 of the Democrats 12 members of the Judiciary Committee are Jewish must deeply disturb those who believe that privilege in America should be reserved for a select minority of God’s chosen people, namely and mostly white, heterosexual male Christians.


This includes those profoundly “democratic” and “American patriots” in the KKK whom Senator Session referred to, whether they smoke pot or not. 


That the distinguished Judge Sotomayor, a graduate of Princeton and Yale, who received the American Bar Association’s highest rating, is now being labelled a racist and an affirmative action pick with questionable credentials by Senator Sessions, who himself failed to receive Senate approval for a federal judgeship because of a variety of nakedly racist remarks, and who was considered by many to be an intellectual lightweight and not the most distinguished jurist is farcical.


Membership indeed has its privileges and the comedy continues: despite his failed nomination to the federal bench, the Senator is not only the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, but he also won his seat because of the privilege that came with being Jefferson Beuregard Sessions III of Alabama


While many people of privilege understand how others have been locked out of opportunity, such understanding often increases by living and working with those who are typically made to feel like second-class citizens, unsure of whether a country or group will embrace them or their children.


That is what a wise Latina like Sonia Sotomayor represents and what she meant in her speeches about the perspective she would bring because of her background.   This is also what the election of Barack Obama represents for America:  an extraordinary human being, not singularly defined by any of his multiple identities, but continuously informed by them in his policies and his vision for America.




The problem is that those who enjoy certain privileges for so long come to believe that this is the natural order and that those who aspire to achieve the blessings and benefits they have enjoyed, often for generations, threaten this order.


Recently on the BBC programme Hardtalk Lady Lynne Forester de Rothschild recalled why after Hillary Clinton failed to receive the Democratic presidential nomination she switched to backing John McCain.


Her essential charge: Barrack Obama was an elitist.  That former First Lady and then Senator Hillary Clinton enjoyed more privilege than Obama could ever imagine as a child growing up in America or even as an adult seems to have eluded her Ladyship. 

And that John McCain, with a long congressional career, the man of five houses married into a wealthy Arizona family, and once a third generation naval officer and scion of a wealthy and well known military family epitomized elitism in America also seems to have eluded her Ladyship.


What this daughter of privilege hailing from a European dynasty with enormous wealth dating back to the mid-18th century really might have been saying is, where did this uppity negro come from and how dare he have the audacity of thinking he is our equal and can lead the most powerful nation on earth?


Those weren’t the words, but that is much of the subtext intended by many of the well-heeled and well-connected who often view privilege as a zero-sum game which others may observe, but certainly not a game in which they should participate.


The response of Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama, their admirers and supporters and others who don’t intend to play by those self-serving rules:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at frontporchguardian@gmail.com





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