For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.
Writing in Reason's February 1992 issue, Edith Efron explains how the racist assumptions of white politicians shaped the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas:
The effect of stereotypes on blacks is a sense of being unseen, as in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. The effect on whites is the corollary: They do not perceive blacks as real or make the same fine discriminations among blacks that they habitually make among whites. In the last analysis, they do not perceive black individuals; they perceive black skins. And this remains true at every step of the continuum.
It should not, therefore, come as an insuperable shock that the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court were a racist phenomenon. The "nice" kind; no Simon Legrees or fiery crosses here. But racist nonetheless. Setting aside old segregationist Strom Thurmond, who conscientiously counterfeited a dead man and may, for all I know, actually have been dead, the other senators participated, singly and collectively—and unwittingly—in a process that ceaselessly generated negative stereotypes about Thomas.
So unaware were these men of their own racist stereotyping that when, at the 11th hour, they were forced consciously to deal with a negative stereotype, they didn't recognize it and had no principles with which to assess it or with which to differentiate between the black individuals involved. The press commentators generally revealed the same incapacities. All eventually ended up mired in an unspeakable crudity that would never have occurred had the protagonists been white.