Emil Guillermo: Racism, sexism, and Brett Kavanaugh

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Fighters of racism and sexism, it’s going to take more than a week-long FBI investigation to get to the bottom of what’s becoming the Kavanaugh debacle.

At his Rose Garden media conference, Donald Trump did something Monday that shows he doesn’t truly understand what the hubbub over his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is about.

In other words, what makes it historic.

Trump was his own best example, as he segued fro trade policy to the news conference,  calling first on a female reporter, ABC White House correspondent Cecilia Vega, first.

“She’s shocked that I picked her. She’s, like, in a state of shock” Trump said, as the crowd laughed.

“I’m not, thank you, Mr. President,” Vega responded.

Trump’s next move is telling.

That’s ok, I know you’re not thinking. You never do,” the president said.

Say what?

I was stunned. I’ve come to expect the president to mock journalists as “enemy of the people.” But this was more than standard Trump, and it possibly explains all the issues Trump has had with women and power, from harassment allegations against him to that “ Access Hollywood” tape. Here was the president showing how just how natural it was to ridicule a journalist who happens to be both a woman and a person of color.

Vega was professional. She said “I’m sorry?” asking Trump for clarification on the insult.

But Trump showed off his white maleness and dismissively told her to “Go ahead.”

Then Vega asked about Kavanaugh, and Trump wouldn’t budge, preferring to talk trade policy, not the FBI investigation on the Kavanaugh matter.

The exchange is worth a mention because we’ve all been there before.

What Trump gave us was a typical micro-aggression made macro for all the world to see because it was done in a major presidential press conference.

If you are a person of color, a woman, a marginalized American, then you understand how these slights occur and how they all add up.

We all know the significance of “That’s ok, I know you’re not thinking. You never do.”

It’s all about wanting to be heard, being seen, and being respected. And then not.

The president in his inimitable way was simply showing the world just how mired we are in sexist attitudes, and how important it is to keep Kavanaugh off the court.


The Kavanaugh/Blasey Ford hearing should have been enough to jar your senses and realize we are in a constant, but slow, crawl toward a utopian vision in society and government.

It’s a never-ending negotiation over racism and sexism.

How much do we allow? How much is acceptable?

Zero, of course.

But we don’t get to decide or define. And it leaves us where we find ourselves today–nowhere near a satisfactory sense of equity on racism or sexism.

So we fight on. Like the two women who cornered Sen. Jeff Flake last Friday in an elevator and asked him to reconsider his vote. Flake put conditions on his vote, but as I point out, there are still problems.

But the video shows what ordinary citizens can do, speak out to power.

They put it to Flake in personal terms. “You are allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court, this is not tolerable,” said Ana Maria Archila, a Queens resident and activist.

It’s a powerful example.

We’ve got to be like the person standing before the tank at Tiananmen Square.

We must exert our right to move people in power to do the right thing and set forth policies that truly reflect an American vision of equality. Just go back to slavery and suffrage, you’ll get a sense of just how slow a crawl it’s been in our country.

Don’t forget that Asian Americans have always been part of the fight.

When an American-born Chinese man from San Francisco visited China and was challenged on re-entry about his U.S. citizenship, he took his case to court. Because Wong Kim Ark challenged how he was treated, the high court established the rule of birthright citizenship in 1898.

As always, we relied on the Supreme Court to settle the law. And Wong Kim Ark has continued as a legal precedent all this time.


But who knows what will happen to that and all laws we hold dear if the Senate approves a court that is virulently partisan. After the hearing last week, regardless of Kavanaugh’s proclivity toward drunkenness in high school and college and his inordinate love of beer, should we have a Supreme Court justice who so publicly believes in some left-wing conspiracy against him?

Said Kavanaugh: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. And millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades.”

But Kavanaugh saw it as the consequences of keeping his people, his kind–namely, right wing people–off the high court and in other forms of public life.

We can only hope.

Truthfully, the consequences of Kavanaugh on the bench as the 5th and deciding SCOTUS vote should strike fear in anyone who has fought for and believes in racial and sexual equity.

With him, we can expect legal reversals that will affect all aspects of life.

Without him, we might have a shot to get the equitable society we can only dream about.


So we continue to speak out and advocate like the activists who turned Sen. Flake’s vote into a conditional one. But ultimately what did Flake do? He simply gave himself and the other senators, Murkowski from Alaska, Collins from Maine, Manchin from West Virginia, and Heitkamp from North Dakota, a little cover. Now they can vote for Kavanaugh and say, “Well, we looked into all the concerns.”

But it’s a “limited investigation” that would last just one week. And when the motion was made Friday, Sen. Chuck Grassley rammed it through despite the concerns of senior committee member Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat who wanted to know the details.

The response? This was a “gentleman’s agreement.” Someone quickly added “woman” to the conversation as the Friday hearing ended. But the whole scene seemed bullied through, which is why we find ourselves at the beginning of the week wondering how much of an investigation we are getting. All accusers have their say? Even Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnik? Let’s hope the FBI takes some pride and does a thorough background investigation. Saying Kavanaugh has gone through the process six times is not relevant. I’ll bet they never had Mark Judge on their prior lists of interviewees.

And it surely doesn’t help when Trump says to a reporter, “That’s ok, I know you’re not thinking. You never do,” the president said.

Excuse me, Mr. President?

That is the problem.

UPDATE (10.2.18):

After I wrote this piece on Monday, criticizing Donald Trump for insulting White House reporter Cecilia Vega, a woman and person of color, the White House on Tuesday engaged in a little gas-lighting.

Despite the video evidence of what happened, the White House put out a transcript that Trump said: “I know you’re not THANKING, you never do.”

A misquoting of reality. A lie.

Even before the White House white-washing of the insult, I questioned myself, was I making a bigger deal out of this? But those of us on the margins know all too well of these micro-aggressions.

And this morning, I’m vindicated. I’m not being too sensitive after all.  And the incident is magnified, as the White House proves a Washington axiom, “It’s not the crime. It’s the cover up.” Read more here, and watch the video:

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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