Yes, the United States’ history of slavery and racial discrimination means that Americans in general have implicit biases, a civil rights lawyer and top Biden administration Justice Department nominee told a stunned Republican senator on Tuesday.
Vanita Gupta, the Biden administration’s nominee for associate attorney general, would be the first woman of color to hold that position in American history.
She also stood by past comments that all Americans have implicit racial biases.
“Against which races do you harbor racial bias?” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) asked the nominee.
“I believe that we all have implicit bias,” Gupta said. “It doesn’t mean that we are harboring any racism at all, these are unconscious assumptions and stereotypes that can get made.”
Cotton pressed her, asking the same question over again.
Gupta laid it out for the senator.
“I hold stereotypes that I have to manage,” Gupta responded. “I am a product of my culture. It’s part of the human condition. And I believe that all of us are able to manage implicit bias, but only if we can acknowledge our own, and I am not above anyone else in that matter.”
But the senator was out to make a point. Cotton named three Trump administration judicial nominees, each a racial minority, whose confirmations Gupta opposed.
“Should members of those communities be worried that you harbor racial bias against them, because you oppose those judges’ nominations?” he asked.
Gupta balked at the implication. In her prior position as CEO and president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, she said, the organization supported and opposed nominees based on their records.
Cotton treated that as a “gotcha” moment, saying that Democrats and journalists “immediately jump to charges of racism” when politicians oppose certain nominees.
The senator concluded with what he seemed to think was a knock-out blow: Gupta had said that every institution in America suffers from institutional racism.
“Ms. Gupta,” he asked, “Does the Biden White House suffer from institutional racism?”
“Senator, given the history of this country — of slavery and the long period of Jim Crow and the ongoing scourge of racial discrimination — I think that it remains very much a live problem in America today, and that the effort to address racial discrimination in all of its forms, discrimination of any sort, is something that all of us have to work at in the institutions we are a part of,” Gupta replied.
She mentioned the Justice Department’s mission of ensuring equal justice before the law, including the “core function” of enforcing federal civil rights law.
Cotton accused Gupta of dodging the question, then chastised her for her views.
“When you throw around allegations that every single American suffers from racial bias, and every single institution suffers from institutional racism, you open yourself up to these kinds of questions,” he said. “By condemning your fellow Americans, without individualized evidence of their beliefs, their words, or their deeds — I think these statements were beyond the pale. I don’t think really anybody truly believes them, nor should they be believed, because they’re so preposterous.”