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Supreme Distrust

Oct
8
2007

I’m not one of those “playa haters” but Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should understand why blacks like me dislike him so intensely. We suspect he is dishonest.

Thomas who’s back on TV this week promoting his autobiography, “My Grandfather’s Son” is trying to convince the world that African-Americans vilify him for supposedly not acting “acting black” (whatever that means), for betraying civil rights orthodoxy, and for being intellectually wanting in his powerful job.

But it’s not Thomas’ right-wing ideology that gets under my skin and apparently the skins of many African-Americans. It’s the content of his character. I deeply dislike the Supreme Court justice but not just for what he’s doing on the court. For starters, I resented the way he publicly embarrassed his sister, Emma Mae Martin, a few decades ago in what seemed like nothing more than an attempt to score points with conservative supporters.



My Grandfather’s

Son:

A Memoir

Martin collected welfare in order to support her children. In 1980, Thomas deplored her behavior, complaining to a group of black conservatives that his sister was lazy and felt entitled to live off the government dole. During his contentious Senate confirmation hearings in 1991, investigators reminded Thomas that he had exaggerated. Emma Mae Martin accepted welfare reluctantly. She could not leave home go to a job because she dutifully cared for elderly relatives in addition to her children. Martin was not one of Ronald Reagan’s caricatured “welfare queens.” Thomas had made her into one, however.

Thomas told conservative pundit Armstrong Williams he regretted trashing Martin’s reputation and immediately drove all night in the snow to Georgia to apologize. But Emma Mae Martin remembered no such visit, reported Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher in their meticulously researched 2007 biography “Supreme Discomfort”. Furthermore Martin, said the authors, told numerous interviewers that she was not on welfare when Thomas made his poisonous comments.



Supreme Discomfort:

The Divided Soul

of Clarence Thomas

And I’m still appalled by Thomas’ disgraceful neglect of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when was chairman of that civil rights institution. As head of the EEOC in the 1980s, Thomas allowed 9,000 complaints to lapse. As a Reagan administration appointee, his marching orders were to apply benign neglect at the government civil rights commission. Robust anti-discrimination enforcement wasn’t on the agenda. That’s disgraceful.

And even though he’s broken his 16-year silence and used 40 of CBS’ precious “60 Minutes” on Sunday to make sell books, Thomas remains an enigma, a bundle of contradictions that make me suspect the justice is either delusional, or simply a liar.

He uses the autobiography to snipe at Anita Hill, the former EEOC employee who almost derailed Thomas’ appointment to the high court when 16 years ago this month she testified that Thomas sexually harassed her. Thomas suggests that law professor was a dupe of a left-leaning civil rights cabal determined to get him. Yet Thomas’ friends and associates have said frequently that the former seminarian had a thing for telling bawdy jokes and for watching pornography. Those diversions don’t make Thomas a bad person; they just strain credibility when he cries foul.

Hill wasn’t alone in her claims, however. Another former EEOC employee, Angela Wright wasn’t called to testify before the Senate but her memories of Thomas’ inappropriate workplace chatter mirrored Hill’s. In a 1991 Charlotte Observer newspaper column, Wright recalled Thomas’ unwanted sexual advances, his vow that she would be dating him, and inquires about her breast size.

I struggle – badly – to believe Thomas. I don’t doubt his intellect or his commitment to independent thought. And it’s clear Thomas, 59, was profoundly influenced by the stern grandfather who raised him in the segregated South. But Thomas is an angry man. His late grandfather disapproved of his exit from the seminary, and, as a devout Catholic, scorned Thomas’ decision to divorce and remarry. Clearly Thomas is trying to make some kind of peace with his book, which in its title highlights their close, if tense, bond.

Americans pay a heavy price for these internal struggles. Thomas’ internalized anger and callousness informed his public actions and influence his court opinions. And that’s why I so heartily dislike him.

Share  Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 9:29 AM | Permalink

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