Thursday, May 14, 2009

Frontiers, Crossed and Crossing

My Twitter and Facebook friend Raul Ramos y Sanchez is the author of AMERICA LIBRE, a novel coming out this summer that is already an International Latino Book Award winner and one of USA Today's 2009 Summer Reads. Raul is thoughtful (in both senses of the word), and his passion for exploring issues of ethnicity in American life, culture and politics mirrors mine for exploring issues of gender. He is always posting provocative questions along these lines, and we have enjoyed stimulating conversations on Twitter, on Facebook, and here on my blog.

(In fact, Raul is the reason I now brave Facebook once or twice a week. The nicest thing I can say about Facebook is that I don't get it. The interface makes little sense to me, I have better ways to stay in touch with people I already know, and all those sophomoric quizzes and applications may well, it seems to me, put the final nails in the coffin of Western civilization (and, for all I know, Eastern civilization too). But Raul's thoughtful conversational prompts are great, and I can't stand the idea of missing one, so into Facebook's shallow, silty waters I now wade. I should also acknowledge, before I close the parentheses on this paragraph, that I recognize I'm standing in a glass house throwing stones when I diss Facebook. Twitter can certainly be sophomoric too, but I've found it much easier to tailor my own experience there. To each his or her own.)

Anyhoo, Raul asked today whether President Obama will name a Hispanic to the Supreme Court and whether achieving ethnic balance on the Court should even be a factor. I answered that it should indeed be a factor given our current circumstances, which are that there are eminently qualified Hispanic (and female) candidates for Justice Souter's seat. It is not necessary to relax standards to appoint a replacement who is not a white man. Given that, and in light of US demographics, I think achieving ethnic and gender balance on the Court is a completely appropriate goal.

In answering Raul's question, I lifted some ideas and paraphrased some sentences from A MERGER OF EQUALS. I concluded long ago, somewhat shakily, that quoting myself without attribution is not plagiarism. I feel...I don't know, derivative, I guess...whenever I do it, but I do it all the time anyway, secure in the knowledge that no one but I has read, let alone committed to memory, virtually every sentence I've ever written.

Today, however, my character Charlie keeps interrupting the writing I've been trying to do (on another book altogether) with a strong message to the effect that I didn't do justice to the point I lifted from him. So here it is (redacted to delete spoilers, for those of you who haven't yet read the book):

That created the first vacancy on the Executive Committee since the coup, and I felt strongly that we should fill it with a woman.

At the time of the coup, I had regretted that our slate didn’t include any women. But there were none of sufficient seniority at the Firm and we’d decided we had enough to manage without adding the effort of identifying and recruiting someone from outside, then selling her to the rest of the Firm. One step at a time, we’d told ourselves.

There was something about [recent events] that made me feel our “one step at a time” approach, however practical, had been essentially a rationalization. Women seemed to me to be able to handle just about anything, and it started to strike me as shabby that we hadn’t yet managed to handle getting even one into the Firm’s management.

The Firm still had no women positioned for appointment to the EC, although we had made good progress in the last year. I had no doubt that in another year or two several women would be good candidates for the EC.

We considered naming one of them to fill the EC vacancy even if it was premature. A couple were probably strong enough to make their voices heard even without a more established power base. But we weren’t looking to put a woman on the EC just so we could say we had one. The goal was to realize the actual benefits, financial and otherwise, of inclusivity and diversity – and to demonstrate that it wasn’t necessary to relax standards in order to include women.

Putting a token woman on the Committee satisfied neither of these goals. We needed someone with proven leadership skills and either a client base or some other equally credible value to bring to the Firm. All the EC members had strong client relationships; most were (or had once been) group heads and also chaired important Firm committees or held other administrative leadership positions. Naming a woman without these qualifications to the EC would undercut both the purpose behind our stated diversity goals and her ability to feel and act like a full-fledged member.

Because we’d have to look outside to fill the immediate vacancy with a woman, there was a fair amount of discussion at the EC about waiting for the next opening or seeking a woman for the open spot but filling it with the best candidate we found, irrespective of gender. As far as I was concerned, this was just so much bullshit designed to put off diversifying the Committee. I argued hotly that there was no reason we couldn’t find a qualified woman unless we failed to look seriously for one and that we shouldn’t settle for filling the vacancy with another man.

As I said to Raul, I applaud President Obama for taking into account the goal of achieving ethnic and gender balance and developing his Supreme Court candidate list accordingly. As Charlie reminded me, there is no reason we can't find a qualified and diverse candidate unless we fail to look seriously for one.

1 comment:

Lea said...

Well said, Charlie! I mean Debra. :) I am going to look up Raul and his book immediately... they both sound captivating to me. Thanks for the tip!

Oh, and I'm so with you on the FB apps and quizzes. Sophomoric is the perfect descriptor! Have you noticed that they nearly always feature a truckload of typos?

I'm also putting a 2nd reading of Merger on my summer list. Looking forward to it!