We'd be rightly offended if, say, Bill Clinton was accused of being a traitor to his race or sex because he supported affirmative action programs that benefited blacks or women. Yet a black, Hispanic, or woman who criticizes those same programs is in for a heap of abuse based on his or her alleged disloyalty. I know; I've been called everything from Tia Tomas to Malinche (the Indian woman who aided Hernando Cortez in overthrowing the Aztec empire) to "coconut" for my alleged ethnic betrayal. One viewer offered the following critique after I testified against Sotomayor: "I want to congratulate you for having the courage to sit in front of all those old white men and reinforce their opinions of Latinos. You managed to place yourself in the very useful position of smearing the accomplishments of a fellow Latina. I wonder how good it feels to be used that way. ..."
We rightly condemn stereotyping when it maligns whole groups of people. We know that it's bigoted to use terms like shiftless or lazy or greedy to describe racial or ethnic groups. And any public figure who does so soon suffers the consequences. Radio shock jock Don Imus lost his job -- at least temporarily -- after calling the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed ho's," and scores of others have suffered similar or worse fates. So why is it acceptable to call someone a sell-out because he or she doesn't conform to ethnic stereotypes about political beliefs?
We ought to relegate terms like Uncle Tom, sell-out, and traitor-to-your-race (or sex) to the same category we do racial and sexual epithets. They reflect the same root prejudices. Anytime we assume that we know something fundamental about how a person behaves or thinks based on race, ethnicity, or sex, we're exhibiting our own biases. People aren't good or bad, hard-working or irresponsible, smart or dull, liberal or conservative based on the amount of melanin in their skin or the number of X-chromosomes in their DNA.
The sooner we start judging people as individuals, not as members of groups, the sooner we'll put prejudice and bias of all sorts behind us once and for all. So the next time Rick Sanchez starts casting ethnic aspersions based on politics, let's recognize his prejudice for what it is.