Selective Blindness and the Promise of America

With the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, it’s worth looking back a few weeks at Senator Ted Cruz’s take on President Biden’s now-fulfilled pledge to nominate a black woman to the court:

“The fact that [Biden’s] willing to make a promise at the outset, that it must be a Black woman, I gotta say that’s offensive. You know, you know Black women are what, 6% of the US population? He’s saying to 94% of Americans, ‘I don’t give a damn about you, you are ineligible’,” [Black women actually make up 7% of American population.]

The statement is ridiculous on its face, but plays well with a base that seeks to be offended and enraged by anything they can even remotely conceive of as a threat to their “good old days” mythology.

More importantly, though, it reveals a selective blindness that serves that same mentality, and allows those who embrace it to duck accountability for the wrongs of the past with false, but oh-so-comfortable, righteousness in the present.

First of all, Judge Jackson is representative of far more than 6% of America just by the qualities Cruz is choosing to take exception to. Judge Jackson represents not just black women, but all Black people, and all women.

America is 50.8% female, so on that criteria alone, she is a more democratic, more majoritarian, choice than any man currently on the court, or any that could have been nominated in her place.

America is also 13.4% black. Taking out the 7% Black women already represented in the 50.8%, that’s an additional 6.4% Black men that she represents. So Cruz’s 6% representation, based on his own criteria of “Black” and “woman”, is actually 57.2% representative of America.

Does Cruz take exception to the presence of the other justices who, by his own calculus, signaled that their appointing presidents didn’t “give a damn” about the vast majority that their nominees didn’t represent?

Clarence Thomas is a Black man. As such, he represents a similar, but smaller, slice of America than Judge Jackson does by Cruz’s math. Where is his outrage at Thomas’s presence on the court?

Amy Coney Barrett is a white woman. Only 30.5% of America is White women. Was Trump saying he didn’t give a damn about 69.5% of America when he nominated Coney?

Six of the 9 justices on the Supreme Court are Catholic. That’s 66.7% of the court. But Catholics only make up 20.8% of America. Obviously, by Cruz’s math, there should only be two Catholics on the court. So were the presidents who nominated the last four Catholic justices — George W. Bush (Samuel Alito), Bill Clinton (Sonia Sotomayor), and Donald Trump (Brett Cavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett) — signaling that they didn’t give a damn about the 79.2% of Americans who aren’t Catholic? Where’s the outrage?

Clearly, the embarrassingly inept Ted Cruz’s exceptions to a not-even-named-at-the-time Black woman nominee are ridiculous. He wasn’t even reacting to an actual person, because none had yet been named for the position. He was just trying to slice the demographics of the choice in such a way that the wholly unwarranted anger about the choice to be made seemed worthy of anger.

He was playing identity politics – which is supposed to be among the most egregious cardinal sins of the liberals and Democrats on the other side – because it suited him and his desire to stoke false outrage to do so. Because, as always seems to be the case, it’s only wrong when the other side does it.

But here is where Cruz’s trademark simpleton-ism stumbles into a much bigger issue.

America has always been a white supremacist nation. It’s in the very DNA of the country, because it shaped what would be the nation long before it even was one.

As such, identity politics have always been the way of the game. It’s just that the only acceptable identity was “white male”. This has been true for every party in every era of our history. Even when racial progress could be claimed in one arena or another – even when it could be claimed in the political arena itself – the overarching rule was still that whites should rule.

You can see America’s identity politics in any photograph of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. You can see it in a pictograph of the presidents, like the world’s most depressing game of that Sesame Street skit One of These Things Doesn’t Belong Here. You can see it in the portraits of the Supreme Court justices, too. And in virtually any other hall of power in America.

Our history established, perpetuated, and has led us to our current incarnation of this unjust state of race-based membership in positions of power.

And here’s where the selective blindness kicks in for those who are galvanized by the ridiculous logic of Ted Cruz. To fix the race-based injustices of the past, we must be ready, willing, and able to make counter-balancing race-based decisions about who our leaders are going forward. Even amidst the unthinking and unreasoning cries from those who are happy to turn a blind and forgetful eye to 400 years of racist history only to feel righteous and justified in declaring “racism” today, whenever any effort is made to unwind that deplorable history.

Until we are all represented equitably at all levels of society and government, that job is still incomplete.

Until then, America will continue to be the broken promise it has always been.

And a very big step number one in accomplishing that job, is to get rid of those, like Ted Cruz, who love power – and the utterly unequal status quo that enables him to have it — more than the promise of America.

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