Native Son

Why A Black Supreme Court Justice Has No Rights A White Man Need Respect

(Page 3 of 8)

But he had been cast in the role of a black criminal taking the Fifth, 100 times, and a would-be butcher of women.

With this last, as any cop on the beat could have told the senators, Thomas had been smacked on the equivalent of a "Most Wanted" list, with the annotation "black -- 43 years old -- reputed mass murderer -- armed -- dangerous." Thomas had been set up for a kill.


Why didn’t the senators grasp the dangerous stereotypes they had generated? Why didn’t they recognize what they were doing? Because the stereotyping was camouflaged for them by their enormous hypocrisy, a hypocrisy that took two forms -- the first, a counterfeit reverence for Clarence Thomas’ achievements and "roots"; the second, a counterfeit concern with his intellectual history and ideas.

Nothing could have been more proudly offered by committee Republicans and more flatteringly received by Democrats than the tale of the black boy from Pin Point, Georgia, and the saga of his studies at Holy Cross, his law degree from Yale, and his eventual rise to prominence. It was a Horatio Alger story that tugged at every American’s heartstrings, and even when it didn’t, it was supposed to.

The tale that Thomas himself told was accurate, and he told it with justified pride. It was the compulsive and wide-eyed gushing over it by the senators that was counterfeit and tacitly offensive to blacks. Thomas was scarcely the first small-town boy from the South to have achieved an important measure of success in the United States, and it was both patronizing and hypocritical to celebrate him as though he were. But that was just a symptom of a deeper hypocrisy: Few, if anyone at all, on the Senate committee, plus its legions of staff "researchers," actually cared a fig about Thomas’ background or "roots."

The roots of an American black are not to be found in the town in which he was born or reared. They are plunged deep in the dark loam of slavery and its ongoing and unfinished business of institutionalized racism. No senator, and apparently no staffer, even considered for a moment investigating Thomas’ real roots or his real struggle with American racism.

They should have done so, for the same reasons they should not have evaded one of their major political problems and buried it in legalized abortion. Because they all knew that white racism, both of the deeply entrenched kind and of a reactive, defensive kind, was exploding all about them in workplaces, in schools, and in police departments in response to double-standard affirmative action; because it was an issue that in one form or another might come before the Court; because it was an issue about which the nominee had thought deeply for most of his life -- and because it was an issue that was affecting, must be affecting, the real black man sitting before them.

Except...the subject for the Democrats was taboo. And Clarence Thomas wasn’t real to the Senate Judiciary Committee: He was a black pawn in their evasive political chess game; he was a collection of stereotypes. So no one, apparently, thought of doing some research on what really lay behind all the mutually congratulatory, intensely "caring" backslapping about Clarence Thomas’ roots.

Here are just a few things someone might have dug up about those roots by grabbing an old copy of The Black Bourgeoisie by E. Franklin Frazier, professor of sociology at Howard University and former president of the American Sociological Association. Here are a few of the events that were still living memories transmitted to those who reared Thomas:

  • Thomas’ great-grandfather was alive in 1857 when the question of whether the Negro was or was not only property and therefore had or had no rights as a human being was raised. This question was addressed in the Dred Scott case, which was taken to the Supreme Court where Chief Justice Taney inscribed the famous answer: "A Negro has no rights which a white man need respect."
  • In 1898, close to the date of birth of Clarence Thomas’ grandparents, Rep. A. Dearmond of Missouri described Negroes as "almost too ignorant to eat, scarcely wise enough to breathe, mere existing human machines."
  • In 1900, perhaps within Thomas’ grandfather’s memory, the American Book and Bible House published The Negro, A Beast, which depicted God as an idealized white man, along with a white man made in his image and a caricature of a Negro intended to show that the Negro was "simply a beast without a soul."
  • At the same time, says Frazier, the Negro was ceaselessly portrayed as "a gorilla dressed up as a man." The newspapers described him as "burly or apelike." Even the white-skinned products of intensive racial mixing were cartooned as "black with gorilla features." This stereotyping, says Frazier, was "constantly representing the Negro as subhuman, a beast, without any human qualities."
  • In 1915, an army surgeon informed people that "many animals below man manifest a far greater amount of real affection in their love-making than do Negroes."
  • In the early 1920s, a doctoral dissertation in Columbia University’s Department of Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law presented as "scientific" fact that the Negro was "as destitute of morals as any of the lower animals."

Such facts are integral to an understanding of Thomas’ "roots." If anyone on the Judiciary Committee had shown the slightest interest in such matters, he might have speculated on the degree to which the worst stereotyped hatreds entangled in those roots were still alive. He might have remembered the recent videotaped beating of a black man by out-of-control Los Angeles cops and the investigation that had brought to life the voices on the police radio crackling with jokes about "gorillas in the mist." He might have realized that those white cops were not joking about their night school courses in zoology. He might have wondered if Clarence Thomas were still subjected to such dangers and to such assumptions of bestiality. He might have wondered how Thomas might feel about it. And what Thomas might do if such a thing happened.

But these are questions, or speculations, one raises about a man -- and Thomas was not a man to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both the men on the committee who were hurled into panic by new ideas and the men on the committee who were hurled into panic by all ideas asked no such questions and gained no such insights. They had lost all contact with the human being they were "judging."

They didn’t even know that he was judging them. They didn’t notice that his eyes, once twinkling, had become dark and impenetrable, that his once spontaneous laugh had vanished, and that he now smiled through tightly clenched teeth, with the muscles in his jaws working tensely beneath the surface of his skin. They didn’t even realize that Clarence Thomas was terribly, terribly angry.

They didn’t observe that as each day passed, Thomas’ body had grown more rigid, that he was being held upright now only by a few powerful ideas, which he repeated like a mantra -- by the ideas of "the nuns," the first teachers to instruct him explicitly that he was the metaphysical equal of the idea of "my grandfather," the first to teach him that whatever legal and constitutional victories had been achieved for his racial group, his personal efforts, his personal achievements, his personal pride, were his own to the idea of his lifelong "dilemma" over the "fundamental contradiction" in the U.S. Constitution, which he wove, over and over again, into his answers -- the "contradiction" that had, historically, refused him membership in the human race.

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  • canada gooses parka||

    These are the kind of products, where you see that Supreme always does go a step further than everybody else. They have created two earflap caps this season. One checkered together with New Era, that comes in 3 colorways and one in their classic colors with fur inside. Both very unique pieces and they dropped now, just on time for the cold season. Make sure to get yours quickly, as these will of course sell out in no time.
    Essence has them in stock now.

  • some guy||

    I hate gooses. Geese, on the other hand, are a-okay.

  • Free Society||

    what's good for the goose is good for the gander, you racist.

  • Aloysious||

    I feel not unlike that I am in pursuit of an untamed ornithoid.

  • Hyperion||

    This is the most messed up start to a comments thread that I have ever seen here.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Two year old comments from when this first came around. Not sure what they mean, but I figure it's not worth worrying about.

  • Hyperion||

    They must mean that all Libertarians were drunk and/or stoned that day.

  • Marshall Gill||

    That day? Every day.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Ahh, back in the pre-registration days, when commenters gamboled in and out like the carefree, naked savages they are.

  • some guy||

    I had nearly forgotten about that halcyon time. Now the memories of not having to type in a password ever day are flooding back. Depression to follow.

  • AuH20||

    If black conservatives weren't The wrong team, holy shit would people fawn over them. Condi? Dad was a preacher who fought off the kkk with a shotgun. Thomas overcame gut wrenching poverty, not having either of his parents around (raised by his grandparents) and speaking gullah to bw a supreme court Justice. Wtf has Melitha Harrith Perry done again?

  • Bill Dalasio||

    You probably shouldn't leave out Thomas Sowell, a guy whose father died shortly before he was born and whose mother gave him to his aunt to raise because she couldn't afford to raise him. His childhood encounters with white people were so limited that he did not believe blond was really a hair color.

  • Hyperion||

    Thomas overcame gut wrenching poverty, not having either of his parents around

    Well, that's just wrong. If he were a good minority, he would have sit around waiting for the government to give him free stuff.

    Wtf has Melitha Harrith Perry done again?

    Came the closest of any living human being, ever, to reaching peak retard?

  • Marshall Gill||

    Came the closest of any living human being, ever, to reaching peak retard?

    While she is highly ranked, Shriek is clearly number one.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Did Justice Thomas wear tampon earrings? No? Then he lacks the enlightenment of a Harris Perry.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    Thinking this was a joke, I googled Melissa Harris Perry tampon earrings. The results are, impossibly, even more ridiculous than I might have imagined.

  • Almanian!||

    Jesus Christ but this is tedious! Learn brevity, man! Here, let me help:

    1) It's not racist unless it's coming from not-liberal whites.
    2) It's not racist if the target is a not-liberal black person.
    3) It's not racist if the intentions of the person(s) doing it are noble, as defined by FUCK YOU, THAT's WHY!

    Therefore, Clarence Thomas is a Teathuglican, rat-fucking, Uncle Tom of a house n-word ((I can't say it cause I'm white), self-hating, Step -n- Fetchit tool of the Koch Brothers who is no more qualified to serve on the Supreme Court than he was when he was nominated.

    I blame Bush.

  • Almanian!||


    Thomas was...[a]..boy from the South


  • Hawk Spitui||

  • BCallaghan924||

    Wow, it's studies like this (or, rather the interpretation people draw from them) that make me question my decision to go into the social sciences. I'm sure the person who reported on it watered it down, but the researcher seems to assume that being against a particular policy is automatically an indicator of racism, even though the measure that is theoretically closer to actual racism (attitudes) tells us just the opposite. Because, apparently, nobody can oppose affirmative action without being a racist. I even believe the explanation that whites are more likely to oppose these policies to some, conscious or unconscious, extent to protect their own position in society. But of course you would never hear anybody suggest the opposite: that blacks may support them simply to improve their own status. And people wonder why the academy is suffering from a lack of ideological diversity.

  • ||

    "High-ability whites are less likely to report prejudiced attitudes...."

    Holy shit. The lack of self awareness with these people is just takes the breath away.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    If the author had left out the parts about unconscious, institutional racism, I would have been much more in agreement with it.

    It's not that Thomas is some color-blind, colorless figure who just happens to be black, it's that he's someone who intensely identifies with the black experience but, inconveniently to liberals of all races, has drawn politically-incorrect conclusions from that experience.

    Reflecting on the experience of his forbears in this country, Thomas has developed a vision which (aside from his unfortunate devotion to executive power in national-security cases) is exactly what this country, and Americans of all races, need today.

    His vision is of a color-blind legal system, where your ancestry doesn't give you a leg up of any kind, where nonwhites who advance in the world are assumed to have made it on merit not favoritism. The vision also makes lots of room for federalism, despite demagogic claims that federalism=Jim Crow and slavery (as if the federal government never had a Fugitive Slave Act or interned Japanese Americans). Thomas's vision also allows for robust free speech. Plus, the mere fact that previous Supreme Court decisions allow lawless injustice is no reason to blindly follow those precedents - he doesn't think "stare decisis" is a thought-stopping phrase preventing judges from implementing justice under law.

    I can't think of any other Supreme Court justice who comes close to him, though admittedly this is a low bar to clear.

  • Outlaw||

    Is that a racist pizza?

    I'm hungry now.


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