Anyone who has followed my career knows how I feel about Clarence Thomas. In fact, Jack E. White, writing in Time magazine, said, \”No matter what George Curry accomplishes during the remainder of his journalistic career, he will be remembered for one thing: he was the editor who slapped a portrait of Clarence Thomas wearing an Aunt Jemima-style handkerchief on a 1993 cover of Emerge magazine.\”
White continued, \”That shocking image outraged Thomas supporters, of course, but it crystallized the disgust that many African-Americans had begun to feel about the ultra-conservative legal philosophy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s only black member.\”
Given my view of Thomas, I never thought I’d want to read a book on the supreme prick from Pinpoint, Ga. However, I resisted the urge and this week read \”Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas.\” The only reason I read the book was because it was written by Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher, two friends who work at the Washington Post. They have done a superb job describing the many contradictions of Clarence Thomas.
After reading the book, I have one regret about that famous Emerge cover. If I had an opportunity to do it over, I would tie the Aunt Jemima knot tighter.
While criticizing African-Americans for embracing \”victimhood,\” the book portrays Thomas as the ultimate professional victim, at every turn claiming that people didn’t like him because of his dark skin, his broad lips, or his conservative ideology. Recounting a 1998 speech before the National Bar Association, the authors note, \”In remarks that veered from self-pity to combative, he maintained that the ‘principal problem’ he faces could be summed up in one succinct sentence: ‘I have no right to think the way I do because I am black.’\”
As the late Appeals Court Justice A. Leon Higginbotham pointed out at the time, \”He’s got a right to think whatever he wants to, but he does not have a right to be free of critique.\”
And a critique of Thomas shows that while professing to oppose special treatment because of his race, every job he has held, including his appointment to the Supreme Court, was obtained, in part, because of his race.
\”Every Thomas employer, from Danforth, who gave him his first job, to President George H.W. Bush, who nominated him to the Supreme Court, chose Thomas at least partly because he is black. Race is a central fact of his meteoric rise, and Thomas has alternately denied it and resented it – all the way to the top,\” the book states.
To get to the top, to the Supreme Court, Thomas allowed his Right-wing handlers to misrepresent his past.
\”’The Pin Point strategy,’ some advisers dubbed it: file down the sharp ideological edges and keep emphasizing Thomas’ personal story of triumph over adversity,\” the authors wrote.
\”…What the White House advisers didn’t know – or, perhaps, just ignored – was that Thomas’ connection to his birthplace was tenuous at best. His family’s house had burned down when he was six, and for most of his young life he was raised comfortably in Savannah by his grandfather, Myers Anderson, one of the black community’s leading businessmen.\”
Although Thomas’ affection for pornography was disclosed during his confirmation hearings, the books details Thomas’ long and deep attraction to pornography. He told Dan Johnson, a Yale classmate, \”My favorite movie of all time is Deep Throat. I’ve seen that [MF] six times.\”
In the public arena, Thomas appears only before friendly audiences; he rarely speaks to Black organizations. He saw nothing wrong with officiating the wedding of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh while sitting on the Supreme Court.
The most incredulous assertion made by Thomas was that his actions benefit African-Americans. He told a visitor to the Supreme Court, \”It’s unfair how black America criticizes me. I’m trying to help black America.\”
Help us to do what? Return to slavery?
African-Americans are not fooled. According to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, cited in the book, a 1998 poll showed that Thomas had a favorable rating of just 32 percent, the worst numbers of any prominent African-American.
Judge Higginbotham said, \”I have often pondered how is it that Justice Thomas, an African-American, could be so insensitive to the plight of the powerless. Why is he no different, or probably worse, than many of the most conservative Supreme Court justices of the century? I can only think of one Supreme Court justice during the century who was worse than Justice Clarence Thomas: James McReynolds, a white supremacist who referred to blacks as ‘niggers.’\”