Native Son

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

(Page 4 of 8)

The ideas that held him upright helped him mask his terrible anger. But even to the power of these ideas to sustain him there were limits -- limits to what he could or would tolerate.

Limits? The concept never entered the heads of the senators who recognized no limits on themselves. A black who sets limits? That did not conform to the stereotyped creature they had created. Blinded by "caring" hypocrisy, no one thought to investigate what those limits might be, or to consider that they were precariously close to those limits.


And then there was the second major source of self-blinding, which reinforced the first -- the senators’ counterfeit interest in Thomas’ intellectual history. It kept them from discovering that right under the senatorial noses, there was clear-cut information about the limits to what Clarence Thomas could and would tolerate.

Throughout the hearing the Democrats in particular pretended that they were deeply interested in, indeed determined to discover, the nature of Thomas’ ideas. The Republicans were not in the idea business; they had left that up to the Democrats. But the Democrats had compiled all the papers and speeches Thomas had written and the interviews he had given. They knew, they said, the books he had read, the authors who had influenced him. All, they said, they had carefully examined and thought about. But they hadn’t.

They had simply been searching for fragments of sentences

with which to indict Thomas as politically extreme or politically unreliable or politically unrespectable. Had they been authentically interested in Thomas’ ideas, they would have read, and read carefully, one of the first documents brandished by Sen. Joseph Biden on the air, complete with references. It was an interview given by Thomas to REASON four years ago. One passage in that interview should have sounded a red alert to the men who professed to be interested in Thomas’ ideas. It went as follows:

"REASON: Are there any writers who were really influential to you when you were young, and still are?

"Thomas: Richard Wright. I would have to put him number one, numero uno. Both Native Son and Black Boy really woke me up. He captures a lot of the feelings that I had inside that you learn how to repress."

Richard Wright, "number one, numero uno" -- until this very day? Richard Wright, one of the most powerful black writers ever to have appeared in America? How could that have been overlooked by men who were trying, as his interrogators claimed to be trying, to understand this particular man? How could they have overlooked the observation that Wright "captures a lot of the feelings that I had inside that you learn how to repress." How could they have missed the switch to the present tense?

But his interrogators missed this. Had they not missed it, it is conceivable, just barely conceivable, that the hearings might have run a different course.

Wanting very much to understand this man who had been stereotyped out of existence and who was controlling a violent anger at what was happening to him, I reread Native Son. It had been published in 1940, and I had not read it for 50 years. One finds many things relevant to Thomas and to his roots and his lifelong concerns in this book. But in this particular context, one finds one crucial thing -- his limits. The one thing Thomas would not, could not, permit, whatever else might be at stake, the one stereotype that it would be downright dangerous to paste on him, leaps out from those pages.

Native Son is the story of Bigger Thomas, a defiant, terrified, sensitive black tough, a chronic delinquent trapped for life in a white world where he dreams of experiencing connectedness to others but cannot. He gets a job as a chauffeur for a rich white family. Entirely by accident -- there is nothing equivocal about this -- he suffocates their daughter with a pillow when she is dead drunk. In terror that he will be charged with murdering her, he burns her body in a furnace. It does not occur to him that he will automatically be charged with raping her and that he has burned the evidence that he did not. One lie leads to another, one crime to another, and eventually the young Bigger Thomas becomes the object of a 5,000-man police hunt that combs every inch of the segregated slum in which he is trapped. Eventually he is caught; he is defended by two white communists; their efforts fail; and Bigger is found guilty -- guilty, above all, of the two crimes he has not committed, the rape and the murder of the white girl.

Here are four passages from the book:


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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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