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Racist or Not: Sen. Coburn’s “Ricky Ricardo” Impression With Sotomayor

Racist or Not! We haven’t played this game in a while at The Black Snob but there was an interesting moment during Sonia Sotomayor’s hearing in the senate when a Republican senator made a reference to television’s most famous Cuban-American during questioning.

Here’s how the exchange went down according to Time Magazine:

More after the jump.

In the middle of an exchange (with Senator Tom Coburn) about gun control, Sotomayor tried to illustrate the reach of New York State gun laws by joking about running home to get a gun in self-defense. “If I go home, get a gun, come back and shoot you, that may not be legal under New York law because you would have alternative ways to defend …”

“You’ll have lots of ‘splainin’ to do,” Coburn interrupted, invoking a phrase familiar to fans of the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy, in which Lucy’s long-suffering husband, Ricky Ricardo (Cuban American Desi Arnaz in real life), would often utter the refrain in exasperation at his zany wife’s antics. Sotomayor paused awkwardly before nervously agreeing with a chuckle, “I’d be in a lot of trouble then.”

And here’s the reaction from some Latinos:

“It was insensitive,” says Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat who chairs the Hispanic Caucus Civil Rights Task Force. “It probably demonstrates where the Republican Party is today. They just don’t get it. This is a serious issue for many members of the Latino community. Growing up you’re very conscious of the mispronunciation of words. Sometimes it was also a subject of humor, but I think Dr. Coburn doesn’t understand the stereotyping he was engaging in.” (Read “Just What is a ‘Wise Latina,’ Anyway?”)

Lillian Rodriguez, president of the Hispanic Federation, an organization that builds Latino institutions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, said she understood the remark was meant in jest, “but you’ve got to be very careful in those kinds of characterizations. It sends a message that that’s the way you see us: in a time capsule of a 1950’s sitcom. We’ve progressed a long way since then.”

Your verdict? Racially insensitive or just a joke? Racist or not?

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33 thoughts on “Racist or Not: Sen. Coburn’s “Ricky Ricardo” Impression With Sotomayor

  1. devessel says:

    Insensitive, and out of place. Ridiculous, and not at all befitting the nature of these hearings. And disrespectful. And racist.

  2. Natasha says:

    I guess you can see it as funny if you think hispanic culture is homogenous and believe speaking in a Cuban accent to a Puerto Rican Supreme Court nominee is appropriate. It was out of line and inappropriate, but not necessarily racist. I would liken it to a white person thinking they have to speak to a black person in "ebonics" (I hate that word but couldn’t think of another one) or slang–plain stupid.

  3. I was listening and I didn’t realize that’s what he was referring to! I thought he was just not speaking very clearly.I dunno, me and my husband say "You got some splainin’ to do" to each other all the time, and we’re Australian, so MAYBE it was not consciously done.Then again we are talking about a Republican, so…; )

  4. Of course it was racist…as were the repeated references to Miguel Estrada, and Judge Cabranes. It’s like the GOP Senators want to prove that they know "latino"…some of their best friends are "latino". It’s insulting and it’s racist. But then, we know Sessions was never a judge because he was ……ding ding, survey says……racist. Even too racist for the GOP.

  5. Lisa J says:

    It was insenstive. Also, who looks for things to find racist? Actually, we find things that are racist and can say it now. 50 years ago, you couldn’t really call anything racist and not be laughed at or beaten up. Oh wait, except for the beating, it is still the same.

  6. Tiffany says:

    I thought the comment was said in jest and I took it that way to a certain point. For that comment to be used when one of their biggest complaints is the "wise latina" comment, I took offense. They want to drag that comment that Sotomayor made to a group of Hispancs through the mud like she was being racist, prejudice or whatever and then use stereotypical remark like that in fun and not expect to get negative feedback. Makes me me think of the old saying…"white is right…."

  7. peachee1 says:

    At a minimum it was disrespectful and inappropriate considering this is a confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court. Since that phrase is now so common in the lexicon…see soda&candy, above…it’s hard to call it outright racist. That’s the problem with circa 2009 racism; you constantly question what you saw/heard…was it a bad joke or the real thing. As usual Judge Sotomayor maintained her cool and her dignity while dealing with a bunch of idiots.

  8. It was stupid and racially insensitive. Would Coburn tell Clarence Thomas that his credentials are "DY-NO-MITE!"? Geez, I think he might be trying to bring some levity to the hearings, but ugh.

  9. isobel says:

    I agree with kaikou and Antonio. Certainly ignorant, and racist in that he wouldn’t have said it to a non-Latino. I do say it with my boyfriend rarely, but cracking jokes in private with friends/family is quite different from saying them to a Supreme Court nominee during a hearing broadcasted around the country.

  10. Insensitive and racist, yes. But totally eclipsed by the entire rest of the hearing, in which a group of old white men sit around for FOUR DAYS asking the question, "Can you be Latina and still make fair and unbiased decisions?"

  11. Scott says:

    Isobel:How do you know that Sen Coburn would not have made that statement if he was not talking to a Latino? Do you know him or is that just your opinion? To use another TV show line, please just the facts.

  12. Sandra says:

    Scott, do you know Coburn to know what he meant or didn’t mean? You’ve expressed your opinion and Isobel has expressed hers. Hers is just as valid as yours. Just the facts, huh? Talk about trying to bury your head in the sand. You may have been born yesterday, but I wasn’t. I was born 49 years ago, and I’ve learned to read between the lines.

  13. swiv says:

    if a white man made those "wise latina" comments, there’d be pitchforks and gunshots. the comment was stupid and silly, and the people who who are blowing it up are taking it out of context. no one in here knows the intent of the "impersonation" or even if it was an impersonation, but people are acting like he said a "wise white man" comment. "reading between the lines" could very well mean looking for something that isn’t there.

  14. Scott says:

    Sandra:I stated an opinion which didn’t even reference Coburn while Isobel made a definitive statement w/o any facts to support it. As an attorney I know the difference b/t an opinion and a statement supported by facts. If I say something to a court I better be prepared to back it up with real hard facts not just nebulous opinion. Yes Isobel’s opinion is valid but only as an opinion and shouldn’t be confused with anything else more substantive. If she actually knows Coburn and what would say, I’d like to hear it, if not don’t be surprised when she gets called out to support what says with facts.

  15. I think there’s a core group of people who’s "strong point" (weak point?) is to either 1) kill 2) ridicule and humiliate and 3) take away someone else’s income. Sotomayor may have been confronting such a person. So when he heard "gun" and "at you" his base instinct woke up — the equivalent of someone from the hood who doesn’t know any better and reacts with a neck cracking, finger in the face, cuss words etc. He reacted.Should he be blamed? Yes. I think it was base.

  16. I think it’s really hard to call. I agree with the commenters who mentioned what a common expression this is in the popular lexicon. I used to work with a woman who would say "splainin to do," and there were no Latinos in our office. I’ve been highly offended by Sotomayor’s treatment during the hearings, but, we can’t be sure this Republican wouldn’t have said this to a non-Latino because it’s such a popular expression. I know I personally use a lot of expressions from pop culture–from "gag me with a spoon" to "bah humbug," so you never know.

  17. BluTopaz says:

    @ Scott: I would say the continuous loop of questioning regarding Sotomayor as a "wise Latina" (when she has already explained her comment in its proper context) is a fantastic example of nebulous, arbitrary opinion. Especially when one of the senators questioning her (Sessions) was outed as a KKK sympathizer, and has reportedly referred to an adult Black male on his staff as "boy". And when Judge Sotomayor’s nomination was first announced, she was referred to as Maria Sotomayor by another prominent Republican. Comments like Coburn’s don’t happen in a vacuum. I wonder if anyone made mafioso references to Judge Scalia during his hearings, I am guessing no. Even if Coburn meant no harm, he should be intelligent enough to know a comment like that is going to raise controversy, given the particularly sensitive nature of these hearings.

  18. Wenzel Dashington says:

    At least Coburn didn’t go Scarface.Now what is your problem, lady? Eh, you gotta problem? You’re good looking, you gotta beautiful body, beautiful legs, beautiful face; wit all dese guys in love wit you..

  19. beanie says:

    I think it foreshadows what Sotomayor will face as a member of our highest court of mostly old white dudes. They will for a while talk to her like they’re talking to a foreign entity, then awkwardly think they are "speaking her speak," then they will either get used to her or isolate themselves from her. Sort of mirrors what happens in society or what will happen on that court.

  20. bdsista says:

    Scott, I am also an attorney and a diversity trainer and its clearly racist and insensitve to use the splainin reference. Levity that is race based has no place in supreme court confirmation hearings. I would also like to add that there are plenty of racist attorneys who are totally obtuse about their racism. You need to register on this site rather than pop in and swipe. I call shenanigans on you!

  21. Lisa J says:

    On point bdsista. Especially since his first comment seemed to indicate that we were looking for something to be offended about.

  22. BuenaventuraAvenue says:

    Yes, the phrase is very well known. Yes, it’s possible that Sen. Coburn would have said it even if we had a nominee of a different race. But I think that he said it with her race in mind and perhaps even planned ahead for it. It’s like when a white person calls me ‘sista’ or ‘girlfriend’ or speaks exclusively in slang to me. Irritating, patronizing, inappropriate, condescending. But not necessarily malevolent.

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