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And if a white man had said it?

The lack of furor over Sotomayor's remarks reflects a sanctioned racism.

By John Kass

What would happen if I began a column about the corrosive effects of government-sanctioned racism with the following idiotic idea?

"I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than an African American or Latino who hasn't lived that life."

If I wrote such nonsense, I'd be denounced as a racist. And President Obama would never nominate me to the Supreme Court.

But Obama did nominate Sonia Sotomayor to the court. In 2001, while giving a lecture on the law and cultural diversity at the University of California, Berkeley, Sotomayor declared race and gender "may and will make a difference in our judging."

She aimed at a belief expressed by Supreme Court justices that a wise old woman and a wise old man would reach the same conclusion in deciding the law. "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," Sotomayor said.

Jeepers. If I'd written that with the races reversed, they'd send me to a racial sensitivity training session and give me a rat cage to wear on my head.

Though I am deathly afraid of rats, I'd try to tell the sensitivity committee what most Americans believe: that the Constitution is color-blind, and skin pigment has nothing to do with wisdom. And that a government that uses race to pick winners and losers - while enforcing such policy through the courts and calling it fair - is a government that infects its people with a corrosive and debilitating cynicism.

Then they'd fire me. That's not the worst of it. Obama would never get to tell my compelling narrative: how my father plowed the fields outside his village in Greece with a mean, bowlegged mule named Truman - a mule that happened to be a white mule.

And how, later, as immigrants on a waiter's salary, my parents purchased for their children a subscription to the Chicago Tribune and the complete My Book House books collection, unwittingly condemning their eldest to the madness of a writer's life.

The Sotomayor debate is now open, offered up by the first black president, whose campaign promised to lead us into the undiscovered precincts of a post-racial America. Sotomayor's qualifications as a first-rate intellect are not in question. But there are at least two sides here worth exploring.

First, there is the inspiring icon of the White House's narrative - the Latina born in the Bronx, raised by her widowed mom, who sacrificed everything for her daughter. With smarts and guts, Sotomayor graduated from Yale Law School, only to have her impeccable qualifications questioned by a prospective employer who'd been conditioned by race-based government policy to wonder if she'd made it that far only because of her Hispanic heritage.

She's rightfully a beacon of hope to every Latina mother and daughter, from the Bronx to East L.A. The girls in the neighborhoods can see Sotomayor and aspire to greatness.

But the other side of the story also speaks to racism - not the knuckle-dragging kind shrieked by ignorant barbarians. That's easy to condemn. There is another kind.

The media don't recognize it as racism, instead larding it with virtue, calling it by its Orwellian name: affirmative action. Yet many know what it is: government-backed racial preference.

Sotomayor was part of a three-member federal panel that reviewed the reverse-discrimination case of 17 white firefighters and one Latino firefighter from New Haven, Conn. They scored high on the promotions test, but the city voided the promotions because not enough blacks scored well enough. "We are not unsympathetic to the plaintiffs' expression of frustration," the judges said in dismissing the case in a one-paragraph ruling.

Imagine you're a judge in a burning building. At the moment of fire and flesh, would you care about the color of the hands that save you?

The other day, I wrote about a Chicago physician left for dead by a hit-and-run driver. Responding paramedics saved his life. By properly bracing his broken neck, they prevented lifelong paralysis.

But I foolishly never thought to ask about their race - only their competence. How stupid of me. Judge Sotomayor would think me most unwise.