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You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for June, 2009.

Sonia Sotomayor and Thurgood Marshall

By Thomas Kochman - 06.12.2009

It didn’t take long for parallels to be drawn between Sonia Sotomayor , Clarence Thomas,Thurgood Marshall, and even Sandra Day O’Conner, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court.  Some say she’s nothing like Thomas or Marshall, while others hope that like Marshall, Sotomayor will draw upon her life experience to bring empathy once again to Supreme Court deliberations.

Sotomayor has advanced the notion that her life experience as a Latina could give her an advantage in judgment. Those familiar with her work however suggest that her decisions as a federal judge have been generally narrow and have not shown any pattern favoring women or ethnic minorities. Backers including Harvard University\’s Martha Minow say she hews to the facts and law of a case. Read more »

Obama\’s Cairo Speech Resonates with Arabs

By Wageh Saad - 06.11.2009

President Obama\’s speech last week in Cairo, Egypt has sparked a good deal of conversation.   While its political ramifications are still unknown, one this is for sure, it was a big cultural hit. The speech has resonated with Arabs in the region and around the world because it demonstrated the president’s strong understanding of the culture he was addressing.

Here are just a few reasons I say that:

First it is important to know that in the Arab and Muslim home a guest occupies a high place.  As a guest Barak Obama gained trust, which allowed him to deliver his message to the masses in the region. The choice of destination, Saudia Arabia and Egypt, was extremely important. Muslims from around the world converge on Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage (Haj) every year.  And Obama’s hosts for his speech in Egypt, Cairo University and Al-Azhar University, were also significant. Al-Azhar University is seen as one of the hubs of Islamic knowledge and learning.  These places are considered home for the populace. Read more »

Sotomayor and Hispanic Cultural Values

By Thomas Kochman - 06.10.2009

Many conservatives expressed strong concern at the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, fearing her rulings will favor women or members of ethnic minority groups.  This concern is based on comments she made suggesting having lived as woman and Latina may give her an advantage in judgment in certain instances over a white male, for example, who has not lived that kind of life.

Some have even questioned whether that constitutes a personal bias and will affect her ability to effectively interpret the law or the Constitution. Wendy Long, a lawyer with the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network and a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, has criticized Sotomayor as a judge who believes \”one\’s sex, race and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders.\”

Her supporters dismiss this concern citing among other things her dissenting opinion in the case Pappas vs. Giulani  in which she saw Pappas’ “anonymous dissemination of bigoted racist anti-black and anti-semitic materials” within the New York Police Department while “patently offensive, hateful, and insulting,” as nonetheless protected free speech under the First Amendment. Read more »

New Criteria for Advancement?

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.05.2009

Would a Latina be likely to have a more well-rounded, multicultural  perspective than a white man who has lived and worked his entire life in only mainstream environments?

Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

“Better” was an unfortunate word choice, but if she means that individuals who have lived a minority experience, and then come into the mainstream, are more likely to have a multicultural perspective than members of the dominant white male group, then I would agree. People who have experienced what it’s like to be on both sides of the dominant white power structure in the U.S. do indeed have a value-added, more well rounded frame of reference.  Some white folks also acquire multicultural perspectives, and that’s value added, too.  (Bill Clinton has been called the first Black president by African Americans-but even there he can’t truly experience a Black perspective). Read more »

Black Women and Irish Women

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.04.2009

“Irish are the Blacks of Europe, and Dubliners are the Blacks of Ireland”…goes an opening line from The Commitments, a movie about a rag-tag group of Irish rockers bent on playing Wilson Pickett music in Dublin.

As Xerox CEO Ann Mulcahy, an Irish woman, prepares to pass the baton to Ursula Burns, an African American woman, I’ve been reflecting on the things these two women of different cultures have in common. The two have worked side by side for years, guiding Xerox through some of its darkest hours.

Betsy Morris of Fortune magazine reported: “ they have developed the kind of parnership that can only emerge from a trial by fire. They read each other’s minds, finish each other’s sentences, debate R& D spending, and then consult each other about the wisdom of buying one of their kids a cellphone.  They can resolve disagreements no matter how heated – and they can get pretty heated.” Read more »

Cultural Values and Sotomayor’s Success

By Thomas Kochman - 06.02.2009

All eyes turned toward Sonia Sotomayor as she became President Obama’s nominee for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court this week.  If confirmed she will replace retiring Justice David Souter, become the first Hispanic Justice, and only the third woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Her nomination is historic and has me reflecting on the many conversations Jean and I have had over the years with Hispanic women who have reached high levels in U.S. companies about the level of effort it took to accomplish that given family pressures to just take on the traditional wife/mother role.

The cultural underpinnings of this family conflict are parental and cultural role expectations on one side of the equation vs. individual free choice on the other.  We also hear about Hispanic parents who initially resisted the career choices of their daughters returning to embrace them later. Driving that reunion is the Hispanic cultural pattern and collective value: “one for all and all for one” which allows both individuals and the extended family/community to reach out in support of each other. Read more »

Individual vs. Member of a Group

By Thomas Kochman - 06.02.2009

One of the hurdles that Sonia Sotomayor has to contend with as a Latina, is the view that makes individual qualifications suspect to the extent that ethnicity and gender were factors in her selection. Characterizing her nomination as an “affirmative action pick” as Pat Buchanan did on MSNBC does just that.

The problem with this view is that it has become near impossible in the larger society for anyone other than a white man to be seen first and foremost as an individual and not first and foremost as a member of a race, gender, or ethnic group. So even if a white woman or person of color were best qualified for a position the fact that they are primarily seen as members of a group inevitably calls their individual qualifications into question. Read more »