While the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic associate justice of the supreme court is a laudable achievement in light of our history, the fact that the media and the nation are making such a big deal about it means that we still have a ways to go in terms of how we think about race.
It is said that in thirty or forty more years, everyone will be part of a minority, but until then, it’s interesting to note that when ethnic labels are used to describe people, it’s usually in relation to groups from which the labelers wish to remain distinct.
When was the last time you heard the term, “English-American,” or “Dutch-American?” I don’t know if Chief Justice Rehnquist was the first American of Scandinavian extraction to hold his position, but I can’t recall anybody bringing it up at the time.
The very term “Hispanic,” a Nixon-era moniker, was concocted so that government could isolate a certain group from the rest of us for separate treatment.
Such a label—whether for good or ill--entrenches racist thinking within all groups. Moreover, it’s inaccurate. A Puerto Rican has about as much in common with a Peruvian as my grandmother—a Polish immigrant--had with the descendents of the Mayflower pilgrims. Nevertheless, various groups would label them Hispanic and Anglo, respectively, in a misbegotten attempt to categorize them according to ethnic origin.
If we can’t get it right, why not just drop it altogether? Would that it were that simple.