On The Repackaging Of Judge Clarence Thomas
Thursday, November 8, 2007.
By Keith Boykin
In one of the most famous images of Clarence Thomas, he was depicted on the cover of Emerge magazine as a "lawn jockey to the conservative right." On another cover, the magazine depicted him with a white handkerchief tied around his head.
He's been called an "Uncle Tom," a sellout and an affirmative action baby who forgot where he came from. But now Clarence Thomas has a new book out and a new image of himself to sell to the white media: Victim.
Don't believe the hype. Clarence Thomas is still the most dangerous black man in America. But he's not dangerous to white America; he's dangerous to African Americans. He's exactly the kind of black man who would sell out his people for the approval of the larger white society.
We know because he has. From his days in the Reagan Administration to his tenure on the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas has done nothing but harm to black America. But now, after years of turning a blind eye to the concerns of legitimate black victims in the courtroom, he has the nerve to call himself the victim.
The sad part about it is that the white media seem to be buying into the repackaging of Thomas. Recently, he got top billing on "60 Minutes" after correspondent Steve Kroft warmed up to Thomas for a positive profile puff piece. He also got favorable coverage from ABC correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg for a series of reports she did on “Good Morning America,” “World News” and “Nightline".
It's no wonder that Thomas’s book, “My Grandfather’s Son,” has already climbed to the top spot on Amazon.com’s bestseller list. White people must feel really guilty about the things that have been said about Clarence Thomas. Black people, on the other hand, haven't forgotten who Thomas really is.
CBS's Croft seemed to swallow a full cup of Kool-Aid, telling Thomas in their interview, "There's some misconceptions about you." Croft describes Thomas as "thoughtful, provocative and unpretentious. Not at all the person you might expect." Croft even goes out of is way to describe the popular characterization of Thomas as "unfair and untrue."
Croft said: "It is Thomas who has been vilified by the civil rights establishment."
Thomas himself does an admirable job of portraying himself in the victim's role. Thomas tells Croft that the reason why black leaders dislike him is that he is "veering away from the black gospel" to which he is supposed to adhere. It's the same argument he used in his 1991 confirmation hearings where he declared the Anita Hill portion of the hearings "a circus," a "national disgrace," and most famously, "a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves."
Even when Croft brings up the complaints against Thomas in the interview, he allows Thomas to escape with easy, dismissive responses characterizing the criticism as "silly." But no matter how Thomas describes it, the criticism is based in Thomas's own record.
Just this year, Thomas voted to eliminate public school integration plans across the country. But his record of disregard for the poor and minorities goes back years.
Thomas has voted to eliminate affirmative action, to limit access to the courts for plaintiffs, to deny rights of appeal to defendants, and to protect the corporate status quo.
And he cast one of the deciding votes in the divided 5-4 Bush v. Gore decision that stopped the counting of ballots in the contested 2000 Florida presidential election.
Croft allowed Thomas to portray the criticism as some sort of manufactured black outrage created by the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. But in reality, Thomas on the Court has been an enemy to women, the poor, gays and lesbians, and many other disenfranchised minorities.
It's not just blacks who have a vested interest in protecting themselves from Thomas's jurisprudence.
And we should also be concerned by Thomas's effort to rewrite history about his own behavior. Croft spent time in his "60 Minutes" piece going back to Thomas's humble beginnings in Georgia, but he didn't spend much time investigating the charges against Thomas that caused the controversy of his confirmation hearings.
In his book, Thomas offers what Anita Hill describes as "a litany of unsubstantiated representations and outright smears that Republican senators made about me when I testified before the Judiciary Committee."
In an op-ed in New York Times, Hill challenges Thomas's characterization of her in his book as a "combative left-winger" who was "touchy" and prone to overreacting to “slights."
Hill wrote: "A number of independent authors have shown those attacks to be baseless. What’s more, their reports draw on the experiences of others who were familiar with Mr. Thomas’s behavior, and who came forward after the hearings. It’s no longer my word against his."
Hill also points out what she calls "blatant inconsistencies" in Thomas's argument. "He claims, for instance, that I was a mediocre employee who had a job in the federal government only because he had 'given it' to me. He ignores the reality: I was fully qualified to work in the government, having graduated from Yale Law School (his alma mater, which he calls one of the finest in the country), and passed the District of Columbia Bar exam, one of the toughest in the nation."
Thomas also hired Hill not once, but twice while he was in the Reagan administration, calling into question his argument that she was a substandard employee. If she wasn't any good, why did he hire her a second time?
But more to the point, how can Thomas complain about the politics of personal attack at the same time he wages his own attack against Anita Hill? And why didn't Steve Croft point this out in their interview?
I know the answer to the last question. We went through this once before in 1991. It's the reason why more white liberals didn't speak up as forcefully as they should have. White people, especially easily guilted white liberals, are afraid to challenge black conservatives for fear that the black community will consider them to be racist. But some times you have to call a spade a spade, to use an unfortunate metaphor.
Clarence Thomas is no friend of the black community, but he's also no great ally to anyone who believes in a positive and progressive role of government. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not going to stop saying that just because he hired a good publicist to make us forget the past.
Keith Boykin is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and political commentator. He blogs at Keithboykin.com
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