The Passion of Uncle Thomas
Let it go, Justice Thomas.
Clarence Thomas is hopping mad. Still.
Recently, Thomas appeared on 60 Minutes to shill his new autobiography, defend himself against allegations that he may be a sellout, and publicly pick the ugly scab that was created during the Anita Hill hearings. Of course, if he'd chosen to leave this last item off of his To Do List, I don't think any of us would have held it against him. Long before Isiah made news, an older, equally defiant Thomas was being publicly accused of sexual harassment and making unwanted advances. His successful defense against these charges, and his subsequent decade-and-a-half long judicial Campaign of Terror haven't dulled his temper. That's right. Even a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court and the knowledge that he is safely ensconced in one of the world's most uniquely powerful positions does not soothe the seething soul of Clarence Thomas. The man is still bitter, and waiting for him to move on might be a bit like leaving the porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa (incidentally, Thomas' wife, Virginia, has stated with a straight face that she thinks Anita Hill should issue an apology. Word is Hill might consider it only if she and Clarence can spend some quality time together sharing cans of Coke and watching old videos).
Despite the title of this post, I certainly don't intend to waste a lot of space calling Clarence nasty names. Also, I won't bore anyone by rehashing any of Clarence's maniacal (believe me, if Antonin Scalia thinks you're a wackjob you've got issues) and well-known beliefs. I mean, if Justice Thomas believes that the entire New Deal was unconstitutional who am I to argue? Well, OK. I do have a response to one of his statements. It's a single, oft-repeated, anti-affirmative action argument - one that Clarence Thomas has made for many years now.
It goes something like this: Affirmative Action is a bad idea because it lowers the self-esteem of those very people who it is supposed to help. It does this by subjecting black people to the skepticism of whites who may believe that blacks did not earn jobs based on merit. Whites will view their black coworkers with suspicion and this, in turn, will have a deleterious impact on the psyche of blacks.
I usually offer the following relatively simple, two-part counter to this supposition.
1) When it comes to our financial well-being, despite popular opinion, we black folks don't really care what white people think. The 'damaged psyche' argument as well as the line of thinking that sparks it reveals a couple of things. When it is employed by whites, it concedes an extreme arrogance and, when used by blacks, it betrays a pathetic dependence on white approval. Honestly, when it comes to my career or my paycheck, white people's assessment of my competence doesn't factor. And why should it? Do you think that George W. Bush has EVER lost a minute of sleep because he was plagued by the idea that maybe some folks assume that he is less than competent and that his career success just might have something to do with his daddy (on a semi-related and bizarre note, apparently, being the President's daughter also makes one a qualified, publishable author)?
2) I'd rather have people initially saying that I'm a quota hire or incompetent than to be unemployed. Perhaps Dave Chappelle dissected this subject best when he quipped, "Hey. It's better than people saying, 'That Nigga's broke!'" Besides, it's been my experience that once a person fully seizes a position, his coworkers care less about how he got the job than whether or not he can do the job properly. In these situations, excellence tends to accelerate amnesia - and, later, even bring about respect. If I have to choose between accepting a position for which my coworkers initially assume I'm unqualified and checking my email for daily monster.com job notices, I'll take my chances with the J.O.B., thank you very much.
In any event, while watching the 60 Minutes interview it occurred to me that black conservatives interpret racism differently than other African-Americans. For most black folks, racism is institutional. It is a pervasive, systemic problem for which a systemic solution is needed. For the black conservative, racism is simply a personal affront - less like a plague and more like a smart bomb. They view racism as a series of individual beliefs and acts committed by people who just can't seem to see them for who they are - Americans. As a result, they believe that personal efforts will be enough to neutralize the problem. Of course, none of this explains why Clarence Thomas continues to breathe life into stale, sixteen-year-old conflicts. Neither does it explain why he is easily the most detestable public black figure in the history of black America. Thomas himself claims not to understand it. Honestly, it's pretty simple. He's hated because he's guilty of committing the one crime that black folks will not forgive: in belief, word and deed he rejects us and our national reality. But I imagine he's too busy nursing his own wounds to consider that.
Edit: If you're interested in seeing what makes Thomas tick, instead of reading his apologist autobiography, I highly recommend Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas by Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher. It's both fascinating and highly readable.