Clarence Thomas on Principles & Values
Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Bush Sr. 1991)
A decade earlier, Anita Hill had worked for Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She made shocking allegations of sexual harassment by Thomas at the EEOC. Biden, as chair of the Judiciary Committee, decided to send the FBI to talk directly to the woman. She wrote a four-page account of her accusations against the judge.
When confronted, Thomas said, "It just didn't happen. I wouldn't do that. Black men are always accused of that." [When the news reached the public], Biden called a quick second round of hearings. [Anita Hill testified at length about sexual harassment by Thomas, and Thomas was confirmed anyway].
I am descended from the West African slaves who lived on the barrier islands and in the low country of Georgia, South Carolina, and coastal northern Florida. In Georgia my people were called Geechees; in North Carolina, Gullahs. They were isolated from the rest of the population, black and white alike, and so maintained their distinctive dialect and culture well into the twentieth century. What little remains of Geechee life is now celebrated by scholars of black folklore, but when I was a boy, "Geechee" was a derogatory term for Georgians who had profoundly Negroid features and spoke with a foreign-sounding accent similar to the dialects heard on certain Caribbean islands.
My mother and brother shared the only bed, leaving me to sleep on a chair. It was too small, even for a six-year-old. We couldn't afford to light the kerosene stove very often, so I was cold most of the time, cold and hungry. Though there was only one store in [my previous home of] Pinpoint, the rivers and the land provided us with a lavish and steady supply of fresh food: fish, pig's feet, and plenty of fresh vegetables. Never before had I known the nagging, chronic hunger that plagued me in Savannah. Hunger without the prospect of eating and cold without the prospect of warmth--that's how I remember the winter of 1955.
The panic I felt on my first day gave way to a constant state of controlled anxiety. My new teachers assigned even more homework than the nuns at St. Pius X, and the classes required more preparation. I wasn't used to that kind of pressure, and I started to worry about flunking out. Propelled by fear and excitement, I started reading in closer detail and with deeper understanding than ever before.
My grades were more than good enough. Father Coleman told me matter-of-factly that I didn't speak standard English and that I would have to learn how to talk properly if I didn't want to be thought "inferior." Yet it motivated me, too: I vowed that day that no one would ever again say such things to me.
I'd come to the conclusion that the priesthood was not for me.
I was still torn by indecision when I walked into the dormitory one April afternoon and heard someone shout that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. "That's good," another student replied. "I hope the son of a bitch dies." His brutal words finished off my vocation--and my youthful innocence about race. This was the real world: the seminary was surreal, far removed from the momentous turmoil in which America was now immersed.
Holy Cross was still an all-male school in 1968. It was also nearly all white: I was one of 6 black students in a class of about 550. I was the corresponding secretary of the newly organized Black Students' Union. Our race, we thought, separated us from whites in ways that only we could appreciate. It gave us a swagger, a sense of moral superiority. We were the aggrieved and the righteous.
[During my time at Holy Cross] one of the biggest changes was that I parted ways with the Church. It was all about Church dogma, not the social problems with which I was obsessed.
I had reflexively disliked most Republicans prior to going to work for Senator Danforth in Jefferson City. "Black is a state of mind" one staffer told me. That kind of all-us-black-folks-think-alike nonsense wasn't part of my upbringing, and I saw it as nothing more than another way to herd blacks into a political camp.
My nomination was an affirmation of the American dream: a poor black child from the segregated South had grown up to become a Supreme Court justice. My opponents couldn't deny that I'd been born into rural poverty, so they cast doubt on everything I'd done since leaving home, twisting and belittling my escape from the poverty and ignorance of my young years.
"You were confirmed: 52-48." Mere confirmation, even to the Supreme Court, seemed pitifully small compensation for what had been done to me.
I'd grown up hyperconscious of the need to avoid even the appearance of such impropriety, for I was intensely aware of America's long and ugly history of using lies about sex as excuses to persecute black men who stepped out of line. I was up against a phalanx of smart, well-heeled interest groups and powerful politicians who opposed my nomination. They were out to kill me, and they'd stop at nothing.
And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by the US Senate rather than hung from a tree.
“Debate was not permitted,” he said. “Orthodoxy was enforced.” Thomas delivered a version of a speech that he has given before and that has the principal theme that courage is required to battle an intellectual orthodoxy imposed on people. The theme was distinctly autobiographical, as he has often been the object of withering criticism for his conservative views that are at odds with the views of most other black Americans. He said that “today, no one can honestly be surprised by the venomous attacks” unleashed on anyone who disagreed with conventional wisdom.
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