Thursday, May 5, 2011

Impartiality: Another Privilege of Straight White Men

Because most people in the world are not straight white men, I have some bad news for the majority of you: you can't make an impartial decision. You'd probably best not go to law school or hope to become a judge, because you will certainly have opinions about things that do not have the permanence and gravity of the stone tablets the Ten Commandments were written on.

Where are those, by the way?

Apparently there are folks out there who think that Judge Walker, known now as the judge hearing the Proposition 8 cases in California, can't help but be influenced by his gayness in this decision process.

People always have opinions that are informed by their experiences, right? No matter what demographic groups you belong to. That's what the human experience is: learning from what we've gone through and using it to inform our thoughts. That's why Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment seemed perfectly innocuous to me, despite the bizarre outrage over it. Of COURSE her being Latina matters here - she has a different angle on oppression than the straight white dude over there. She comes from a different cultural background. If we lived in a society that was actually interested in ending oppression, and not preserving the spoils of wealth for the traditional elite, this would not be a problem. We would welcome such voices.

Beyond that, it appears that we're interested only in ratifying a certain type of citizenry, and all the others - the female, the queer, the brown - are considered deficits.

Should Walker have disclosed that he is gay and whether he intended to marry before hearings began? I don't think so. We wouldn't have asked a straight person the same questions, and the people looking to remove Walker wouldn't have wondered whether a straight person's homophobia was preventing his (of course, his) ability to think clearly about this case. There is no consideration that perhaps Walker doesn't want to get married, that perhaps he thinks marriage is not the battle we should be fighting here, that he thinks it's a screwed up institution. I know plenty of queer people who feel that way.

Of course Walker has an interest in the outcome of the case. We all do, even straight people. Because if this case gets decided properly - and I have no problem saying that a decision to overturn Prop 8 is correct and a decision to uphold it is incorrect - then we live in a less oppressive society.* And that's good for all of us. As the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee puts it, "There cannot be democracy for the few. If one is oppressed, all are oppressed."

* I maintain my position that marriage rights are not the most important issue facing the queer community right now. This post is less about marriage than it is about who gets to be seen as a responsible authority figure in the US today.

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