Feigned Outrage

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As many may already know, Sonia Sotomayor will most likely be our newest addition to the famed and fabulous Supreme Court. I have come across an article in Newsday titiled “Sitcom reference no laughing matter to some” that sparked some thoughts into my meandering summer mind.

Here’s the basis: Sotomayor was answering a question about self-defense under the criminal law and in response to this, Sen. Coburn (R) of Oklahoma said “you’ll have lots of ‘splainin to do”, referring to what Ricky Ricardo said to Lucy on the classic I Love Lucy Show. He was making a light joke because Sotomayor is hispanic/latina(who cares which one is used; they are both inherently inaccurate). I watched the video. At the time this “splainin” comment was made, there was a good natured, laughing atmosphere in the room. In response to Coburn’s comment, Sotomayor even (gasp) laughed. Which brings us to the critics quoted in the Newsday article.

Luis Valenzuela, executive director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, said “oftentimes, comedy perpetuates these stereotypes and they’re no less damaging than when they’re not in jest”. The half-baked criticism continues: Phil Ramos(D-Central Islip) said, “This seems to be another instance of the growing pains we must deal with while our country is trying to move away from old sterotypes” and lastly, but not more reasoned than the latter two men, Legis. Ricardo Montano said: “This type of humor should be left to the comedians. In a Senate confirmation hearing for a Latina justice to the Supreme Court it’s not funny”.

Please, these people take themselves far too seriously. The ‘splainin’ comment is not itself derogatory to hispanics. Surprisingly, many first generation Hispanics speak English with heavy accents. Furthermore, the character referenced is the loveable Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy. Therefore, any substantive meaning ascribed to Senator Coburn’s comment would not take away from Hispanics’ dignity or self-esteem, or whatever it is the political correct police say these days. It was a harmless joke, and Coburn wouldn’t even have made it if Sotomayor did not first open up the humor floodgates(before Coburn made the comment, she explaining a humorous hypothetical to him).

Mr. Valenzuela, please explain to me–instead of concocting a vague, generalized explanation of race based comedy’s effect on particular ethnic groups–how this particular comment by Coburn will have any bearing on future hispanic stereotypes? Maybe now everyone will think Hispanics talk like Ricky Ricardo? Not likely, I’d say

Mr. Ramos may be right, but I highly doubt most of America’s post-I love Lucy citizens would even have caught on to Coburn’s words but for people like you, and the media, who super-highlighted the alleged racial significance of the ‘splainin’ comment. And the statement is flawed elsewhere. By saying growing pains, does Mr. Ramos intend to say that one glorious day in the Great U.S. of A’s future all stereotypes based on a particular groups’ culture/race/religion/etc. will dissappear? No, because stereotypes are stereotypes precisely due to the unique characteristics of different types of people. But that isn’t even the point! The ‘splainin’ comment is not a current stereotype and if it was, it is NOT a negative one.

Ricardo Montero might have a point. Maybe Sotomayor’s hearing should have been a dull, emotionless barrage of inane questions(she was getting confirmed no matter what). But as far as the evidence shows, Sotomayor–the Latina–was jesting about a lot of different things throughout the hearings. Plus, she laughed at Coburn’s comment, laughed! She thought a stereotype about her ethnicity was funny! who woulda thunk it?

Surely, these serious legislators and non-profit leaders must have a point. It is publicity Their quoted thoughts on Coburn’s comment catipulted them into prime coverage on biggest newspaper in their constituencies, Newsday. The two politicians, Montero and Ramos, most likely intended to get more votes from the significant hispanic population in their districts for whenever the next election is. Valenzuela wanted the publicity too, but not votes per se.

The Consequences

Now to a main, important point. This cheap publicity stunt hurts Immigrants(at least on Long Island, I can’t speak for everywhere else) while doing nothing to help “Latinos” in general.
I am pro-immigrant and–if you can say this without sounding dumb–pro-Latino/Hispanic. I currently work for the Political Asylum clinic at Hofstra University Law School and intend to practice Immigration law(in favor of Immigrants, one hopes). I went out of my way at the age of 20 to go to Mexico for three months to learn Spanish. I have since been 7 nations throughout Central and South America. Simply put, I enjoy the people and culture of Latin America. Ask anyone, they will say I am trans-Mexican.

Unfortunately, many on Long Island and throughout the States are not pro-immigrant and pro-latino/hispanic. Many anti-immigrant people can and will use the petty-criticism by Valenzuela and co. to bolster their already virulent viewpoints. Many people do not like to be called out on something they feel they are not responsible for. An anti-immigrant, or neutral person, may say: “look at this crap, that’s not racist” and then subsequently form a negative viewpoint of those that said it. The legislators could lose white/black, etc votes at the expense of gaining hispanic ones. And then they could lose the election, and Latinos/Immigrants would have less people representing their interests. The same goes for Valenzuela’s organization.

Lesson: Do not pick frivolous, race-based fights. The “Splanin” comment was not harmful, or neglibly so, and therefore did not warrant criticism. Only speak when it matters a bit.

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