Ask the writer: Making the invisible justice seen – “The Enigma of Clarence Thomas”

Ask the writer: Making the invisible justice seen – “The Enigma of Clarence Thomas”



The next is a sequence of questions posed by Ronald Collins to Corey Robin in reference to Robin’s new e book, “The Enigma of Clarence Thomas” (Metropolitan Books, 2019).
Corey Robin is a professor of political science at Brooklyn School and the CUNY Graduate Heart. He’s the writer of “The Reactionary Thoughts: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump” (2017) and “Concern: The Historical past of a Political Thought” (2006). His essays have appeared in The New York Occasions, The New Yorker and The London Evaluate of Books. He has acquired fellowships from the Cullman Heart for Students and Writers on the New York Public Library, the Russell Sage Basis and the American Council of Discovered Societies.
Welcome, Corey, and thanks for taking the time to take part on this question-and-answer for our readers. And congratulations to you on the publication of this exceptionally considerate e book.
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I marched. I protested. I requested the federal government to assist black individuals,” Thomas informed The Washington Put up in 1980. “I did all these issues. But it surely hasn’t labored.”
Query: Did you try and interview Thomas for this e book?
Robin: No. Thomas is a practiced political one who’s acquired his strains down. You’d must be a perfectly expert journalist, somebody like Janet Malcolm, who I’m not, to get Thomas to interrupt out of his script.
Additionally, Thomas’ persona is so current all through his opinions, his self is so stamped on the web page, that I felt there was no want to speak to him. His opinions are brutal and revealing sufficient: That was all of the self I wanted to know.
Query: You employ the phrase “enigma” in your title. As you recognize, the time period comes from a Greek time period meaning “to talk in riddles,” fables or metaphors that check a listener’s or reader’s alertness. What’s the riddle of Thomas’ life story?
Robin: At first I believed the enigma was how this man who was as soon as a black nationalist on the left might have come to embrace the proper. With time, that got here to appear much less of an enigma to me. Not solely have there been different African People who’ve made that journey (to not point out whites who’ve moved from left to proper), however there’s additionally an overlap between some strains of black nationalism and black conservatism.
What finally got here to appear extra enigmatic was that this man is on the Supreme Courtroom, the place he’s managed for practically 30 years to take care of that visitors between these two traditions of black nationalism and black conservatism, with hardly anybody noticing. There’s no precedent for that on the courtroom, and unpacking how Thomas has translated this peculiar mix of beliefs into this distinctive style of American writing, the Supreme Courtroom opinion, by which that mix is so unfamiliar – once more, with out many individuals noticing – that’s an enigma. It requires approaching his opinions with a certain quantity of literary consideration, historic data and political care — exactly the sort of readerly alertness that you just rightly carry up in your query.
Query: The epigraph to your e book is taken from Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” (1952), a novel that explored the social and mental points going through African People within the early 20th century: “I’m invisible, perceive, just because individuals refuse to see me … After they strategy me they see solely my environment, themselves, or figments of their creativeness – certainly, every thing and something besides me.” How does this quote set the stage for what unfolds in your e book?
Robin: Whereas I used to be scripting this e book, I continually had individuals, essentially the most properly which means, liberal-minded individuals, inform me who Thomas is and what he thinks. It didn’t matter that their perceptions seldom matched actuality. It didn’t matter that I used to be the one who was writing the e book. They knew what they knew. They refused to pay attention, to look; they refused to listen to or see. Their reactions reached past politics; it was nearly as is that if that they had no curiosity about this man, had no must know something about him, regardless that he’s longest-serving member of the present Supreme Courtroom, and more and more one of many extra highly effective members of that courtroom.
The nice bulk of the proof I depend upon in my e book will not be exhausting to seek out or hidden away. It’s proper there in Thomas’ opinions, which anybody can learn on the net. But only a few individuals learn these opinions and even know that they exist, and once they do learn them, whether or not as admirers or critics of Thomas, they don’t see what’s in them. They don’t hear the voice that’s talking, they don’t see the person who’s talking.
So right here you will have a person with essentially the most distinctive voice of any justice on the courtroom but who stays utterly unheard and utterly unseen. As outrageous and tendentious as this will sound — and imagine me, I got here to this place fairly slowly, and nonetheless say it with a certain quantity of trepidation — it’s exhausting to not conclude that Clarence Thomas is the “Invisible Man” of the Supreme Courtroom.
Query: By many measures, yours is an unorthodox judicial biography in that it portrays its topic from neither a chronological nor a doctrinal perspective. You current Thomas’ life story and jurisprudence by way of the lens of three major concepts – race, capitalism and competing views of the Structure. Why did you set up the e book this manner?
Robin: All the biographies about Thomas emphasize the life he led earlier than he joined the courtroom on the expense of the life he has led since becoming a member of the courtroom. And people biographies that do talk about the latter are likely to focus much less on the jurisprudence than on Thomas’ (or his spouse Ginny Thomas’) extramural actions off the courtroom.
As a result of I noticed a thematic unity between Thomas’ life earlier than he joined the courtroom and his opinions on the courtroom, I needed a construction that will seize that unity. Not solely are race, capitalism and Structure the three major concepts of his jurisprudence, however additionally they observe and inform the story of Thomas’ life. Thomas first involves race as a youthful man within the 1950s and 1960s. He involves capitalism as an emergent conservative within the 1970s. He involves concepts in regards to the Structure as an aspirant to the Supreme Courtroom within the 1980s. So the construction enabled me to current each the life and jurisprudence in a coherent method.
However there’s another excuse I selected to construction the e book on this method, which is to problem how court-watchers discuss in regards to the courtroom.
Many authorized students, the truth is, recommended me towards this construction, urging me to arrange the e book alongside typical doctrinal strains that they’re conversant in and used to: a chapter on Thomas’ views of the First Modification, one other on his views of federalism and so forth. However when you begin parceling out Thomas’ arguments in that method, you miss not solely the life story but in addition the underlying political and ideological consistency of his thought. You cease having the ability to make sense of his writing as a complete.
As political theorist and an mental historian, I are likely to view concepts and arguments as politics by different means. Thomas is a really political individual — not merely within the typical partisan sense of that time period, although he’s that, but in addition within the deeper sense of politics as expressing a coherent worldview about energy and authority in society.
So the place authorized students, centered on doctrinal questions, can solely see inconsistency and opportunism in Thomas’ opinions, or wish to psychologize his views as a method of not serious about them as political concepts (I can’t inform you what number of authorized students wish to scale back every thing Thomas says to his unhealthy experiences at Yale Legislation Faculty, as if he had been the one one who was depressing at Yale Legislation Faculty!), I are likely to see deeper consistencies and visions, which don’t observe tidy doctrinal and even partisan strains however do mirror a bigger political creativeness.
Query: In 1989, whereas he was chairman of the Equal Employment Alternative Fee, Thomas revealed a legislation evaluation article based mostly on remarks delivered at a 1988 Federalist Society occasion. In that article he wrote that “[c]onservatives want to comprehend that their viewers will not be [simply] composed of … attorneys.” He urged conservatives to not confine themselves to “litigation” however to view their trigger as “a political battle.”
Nonetheless, there’s something apolitical about Thomas’ philosophy as you describe it. Are you able to handle this obvious paradox?
Robin: I wouldn’t say Thomas’ philosophy is apolitical a lot as it’s anti-political.
Thomas doesn’t imagine that politics in any sense of that time period — electoral politics, social actions, state motion and regulation, organizing, much more radical notions of transformative change — can positively have an effect on black individuals; he thinks politics largely hurts black individuals. For the reason that mid-1970s, he has been deeply pessimistic in regards to the prospects of political change: Political motion of any type, he believes, can not enhance or ameliorate the situation of black individuals in the USA.
On the identical time, Thomas passionately needs to steer black individuals of the reality of this perception, to persuade them to shed their commitments to liberalism and the Democratic Social gathering. That’s what provides his Supreme Courtroom opinions their distinctive political solid. That could be a paradox or a contradiction — that’s, utilizing the persuasive means and mechanisms of politics (the courtroom, in spite of everything, is a political establishment) to domesticate a deeply anti-political set of beliefs — however whether it is, it’s not Thomas’ alone. It’s pretty frequent to many right-wing individuals — libertarians, for instance — although Thomas will not be a libertarian.
Query: Thomas’ concurrence in Holder v. Corridor (1994) gives a glimpse into his views about “black energy” within the electoral realm. And that opinion, as you analyze it, aligns together with his views on the worth of electoral politics for African People. Are you able to open a window into Thomas’ considering on this space?
Robin: Again in 1987, lengthy after he had made his proper flip and joined the Reagan Administration, and simply 4 years earlier than he joined the courtroom, Thomas declared in The Atlantic: “Blacks are the least favored group on this society. Suppose we did band collectively, group towards group—which group do you suppose would win? … Which group at all times winds up with the least? Which group at all times appears to get the hell kicked out of it? Blacks, and possibly American Indians.”
Discover what Thomas is and isn’t saying. He isn’t saying African People don’t have a standard curiosity or shared place in society. They do. He isn’t saying African People aren’t essentially the most oppressed, or near essentially the most oppressed, group in society. They’re. However what he’s additionally saying is that when African People act collectively to specific and pursue that curiosity, once they attempt to overcome their destiny by way of political means, they’ll lose. Badly and dangerously.
That view lies on the coronary heart of Thomas’ opinions on voting rights and numerous efforts to empower black individuals collectively within the electoral realm. He thinks it’s a idiot’s errand, that black individuals will at all times or not less than largely lose in a white majoritarian system, and the one method they received’t lose is to depend on the nice needs and benevolence of white individuals, which once more, he thinks is a harmful and crippling phantasm.
Query: “Race,” you write, “is the foundational precept of Thomas’ philosophy and jurisprudence.” Later you recommend that his “jurisprudence could also be a bitter mixture of right-wing revanchism and black nationalism, however it’s distinctively American and of the second.” What do you imply by this, and why do you discover his jurisprudence to be “of the second?”
Robin: We stay at a time when conservatives, not less than within the Republican Social gathering, usually are not shy about their white nationalism. They don’t gown up their racism within the garb of colorblindness or a priority with federalism, as they used to do, or attempt to faux that they care in regards to the content material of individuals’s character somewhat than the colour of their pores and skin.
From early on, Thomas has claimed to favor the overt racism he knew whereas rising up within the Jim Crow South to the racial duplicity he claims to have skilled within the North, the place whites professed a racial innocence or racial benevolence that coated up their secret perception within the inferiority or distinction of black individuals. In some ways, Trump’s popping out of the closet on race, his willingness to say what many individuals thought they needed to maintain secret, is consonant with Thomas’ view of the permanence of racial battle and enmity.
Thomas’ beliefs and opinions — which help the huge and unequal accumulation of wealth, the arming of individuals to the enamel, the imprisonment of so many individuals and racial battle so far as the attention can see — are so consonant with the world we stay in at this time that I believe you would safely say, of all of the justices on the Supreme Courtroom, he has the best declare to being the general public thinker of our second, this wretched, wretched second.
Query: How does Thomas’ black nationalism slot in together with his jurisprudence of “race-conscious conservatism,” as you label it? And the way does this impression Thomas’ views on affirmative motion, as expressed in his dissent in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)?
Robin: In contrast to many conservatives, Thomas doesn’t imagine, and doesn’t give any lip service to the idea, that colorblind insurance policies will result in a colorblind society. He merely doesn’t imagine it’s doable for America to not be racist. He has stated fairly clearly that he’s not sympathetic to integration as a great. And in a few of his opinions — from United States v. Fordice (1992) to Mother and father Concerned in Neighborhood Colleges v. Seattle (2007) — he not solely has questioned whether or not integration works for black individuals and improves racial attitudes but in addition has voiced help for black individuals’s having separate establishments of their very own, other than white individuals.
This makes Thomas’ views on affirmative motion fairly totally different from these of most white conservatives. Thomas doesn’t give attention to the alleged harms suffered by alleged white victims of affirmative motion, the best way different white conservatives do. As a substitute, he focuses on what he thinks are the harms imposed upon black individuals, the stigma of inferiority that he believes taints all black achievements.
He usually comes near arguing that affirmative motion is solely the continuation of Jim Crow: not just because, as different white conservatives declare, it’s race-conscious, however as a result of it’s race consciousness that he thinks harms African People, a race consciousness that’s defended, as Jim Crow usually was, as within the pursuits of African People.
Extra essential, he sees affirmative motion as a program of white elites who’re much less serious about diversifying their establishments than they’re in sustaining their hegemony and energy.
Query: Thomas has an abiding curiosity in reviving the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Modification in order to reverse the holding within the Slaughter Home Circumstances (1875). Amongst different locations, Thomas made that time in his dissent in Saenz v. Roe (1999). What’s the drift of his considering right here?
Robin: Thomas sees the privileges and immunities clause because the foundational proper received for and by African People in the course of the battle over slavery and its aftermath, a interval he is aware of fairly properly and has written about at size, usually citing the work of left-wing students resembling Herbert Aptheker and Eric Foner. Greater than the equal safety clause, he thinks, the privileges and immunities clause is the inspiration of black freedom.
On the identical time, Thomas has a reasonably slender view of the sorts of freedoms the privileges and immunities clause is supposed to guard (that is a part of the argument he makes in Saenz). The central freedom, it turns into clear over the course of Thomas’ later jurisprudence, is the proper to bear arms. The appropriate to bear arms can clearly have a particular right-wing valence, nevertheless it additionally has had, all through American historical past, left-wing and black-nationalist valences. Thomas attracts from all these traditions. However whether or not his views are right-wing or left-wing or each, it’s fairly clear that his imaginative and prescient of the privileges and immunities clause protects a extra restricted set of freedoms than the equal safety clause or the due course of clause would defend.
I ought to add that Thomas’ dedication to the privileges and immunities clause, and his grounding of the clause within the battle for emancipation, has distinguished him, not less than so far, from most conservatives on the courtroom. It usually leads him into battle together with his conservative colleagues, who go for substantive interpretations of the due course of clause as the premise for extending the proper to bear arms to the states — a transfer that Thomas rejects.
Query: In studying your e book, one will get a robust sense that for Thomas the wrongs of slavery can by no means be repaired. The place does Thomas imagine that leaves the nation, black and white alike, within the battle for racial justice?
Robin: Thomas doesn’t imagine in racial justice. It’s that easy. He believes in racial survival, the survival and persistence of the African American group. He doesn’t suppose that may be achieved by way of typical liberal or left-wing means; it might probably solely be achieved if black individuals withdraw from the establishments of the state and give attention to their collective growth, other than white individuals.
Query: How does Thomas’ purported allegiance to black nationalism and the push for a “state of exigency” comport together with his acknowledgment of the disproportionate imprisonment of blacks? Why, as in his dissent in Texas Division of Housing and Neighborhood Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Mission, Inc. (2015), does he seem to low cost disparate-impact evaluation?
Robin: On the coronary heart of Thomas’ imaginative and prescient of the survival of the black group are black males — actually, black patriarchs. In black males he finds the potential salvation of black individuals as a collective.
He additionally thinks generations of black males have been crippled by the rights revolutions of liberalism: by the alleged aid of accountability and diminution of self-discipline that had been wrought by the New Deal and the Nice Society and the Warren Courtroom. The mix of the welfare state, the sexual revolution and the rise of due-process rights for defendants — all this has led black males, Thomas believes, to desert their tasks to their households and their communities.
Due to their precarious place in a white racist society, Thomas believes that black individuals are extra dependent upon the ability and power of males than are different communities. However the one method black males will discover that energy and power, he thinks, is thru agency modes of punishment and authority. That punishment and authority had been crippled by the rights revolutions; the one method they are often restored is by a restoration of the state’s capability to punish. This, I ought to add, will not be essentially a black-nationalist perception; it’s one of many cornerstones of Thomas’ conservatism, nevertheless it’s a conservatism that could be very a lot framed by reference to black individuals.
Thomas’ opinion in Inclusive Communities displays a unique component of his philosophy. Within the early 1980s, when Thomas was on the EEOC, he was extra sympathetic to disparate-impact evaluation (not less than when it got here to race; when it got here to gender, he refused to entertain the concept) on the bottom that racism was so systemic, so pervasive all through society, that even essentially the most racially impartial insurance policies might reproduce racial inequalities.
By the point of Inclusive Communities, Thomas had turned 180 levels on the query of disparate impression. He rejects the doctrine utterly. However what’s so fascinating about his rejection is that his underlying social view of race — that it’s systemic all through society, that institutional insurance policies are ineffective in countering it — stays the identical. Solely this time, he concludes that it is mindless to try to redress the issue on the degree of housing or different coverage, or on the degree of an establishment, as a result of “a given racial disparity at an establishment” will not be “a product of that establishment” however is as an alternative “a mirrored image of the disparities that exist outdoors of it” in society. His pivot on disparate impression exhibits, I believe, how a deeply pessimistic view of the pervasiveness of racism in society can reduce in both a leftward or rightward path.
Query: And the way does his dissent in Brumfield v. Cain (2015), which affirmed that it’s unconstitutional to execute the mentally disabled, determine into all of this?
Robin: For Thomas, Brumfield is the story of two black males. One is Kevan Brumfield, whose father deserted him when he was younger and who murdered a police officer named Betty Smothers. The opposite is Warrick Dunn, who was the kid of Smothers. Dunn’s father additionally deserted him when he was younger. However after his mom was murdered by Brumfield, Dunn not solely managed to boost his 5 youthful brothers and sisters but in addition turned an NFL participant.
For Thomas, the case is “a examine in contrasts” between these two black males, each deserted by their fathers, however one in every of whom rose to change into the patriarch he by no means had, offering an instance for and management to the black group. Thomas believes the one strategy to create extra Warrick Dunns is to punish, harshly, all of the Kevan Brumfields. That may depart some black sons with out black fathers, however it can guarantee, in Thomas’ view, that the black fathers who stay are the sorts of patriarchs Thomas believes the black group relies upon upon.
I ought to add right here that so jarring and explosive is Thomas’ evaluation on this case that Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined a part of Thomas’ opinion, took flight precisely on the level when he talks about these two males. Alito, with Roberts, claimed that the story had nothing to do with the authorized evaluation of the case, which was, as you say, in regards to the constitutionality of executing the mentally disabled. However for Thomas, these two black males, that examine in contrasts, is admittedly what the case is all about.
Query: As I understood your e book, unbridled capitalism – largely unencumbered by the constraints of democracy and dominated by “males of cash” – is a key tenet of Thomas’ life philosophy and jurisprudence. Is that appropriate? If that’s the case, please clarify how this interacts together with his views on race. 
Robin: It’s undoubtedly appropriate. Thomas’ dedication to capitalism is the corollary of his skepticism of politics. It’s not that Thomas believes black individuals will get a good shake underneath capitalism or that racism will not be rife all through the market. As a substitute, he thinks the market gives black individuals niches, areas other than white individuals, the place they will accumulate wealth that can then serve the black group.
Curiously, Thomas will not be keen on wage labor; his imaginative and prescient focuses rather more on black entrepreneurialism. The rationale for that, it’s clear, is that he thinks waged black laborers will usually discover themselves working for white employers. The entire purpose of black enterprise is in order that black individuals received’t must be within the place of working for white individuals, which Thomas sees as paying homage to the sort of domination and dependency that black individuals expertise once they contain themselves within the political sphere.
Query: Thomas’ understanding of the commerce clause is radically totally different from that of Chief Justice John Marshall as set out in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) – take into account, for instance, Thomas’s lone concurrence in United States v. Lopez (1995) and his lone dissent in Gonzales v. Raich (2005). What do these outlier opinions inform us about how Thomas thinks federal energy will get distributed in society and the way that energy impacts the lives of African People?
Robin: As Thomas argued all through the 1980s and at his Senate affirmation listening to, the enlargement of nationwide regulatory energy is on the coronary heart of the black-freedom battle and civil-rights liberalism, and the commerce clause is the constitutional centerpiece of that effort. Thomas understands this full properly.
Thomas’ challenge is to result in an ideological shift within the black group; he needs black individuals to cease wanting on the federal authorities because the benevolent agent of black pursuits and to begin wanting on the financial system as a extra favorable area for black pursuits – not a nationally regulated financial system however a deregulated financial system, by which there might be extra niches, he believes, for black entrepreneurs.
With the intention to try this, he believes, this benign view of federal energy and the commerce clause have to be confronted. Head on. That’s what leads him to such a radically restrictive view of what constitutes commerce: He understands that the extra expansive a view now we have of commerce, the extra that can permit the federal authorities to behave on behalf of African People and different teams. “With every new locution,” Thomas writes of our battles over the definition of commerce, “federal energy expands, however by no means contracts.” So he goals to chop that challenge of enlargement off on the knees: on the very interpretation of what commerce means.
Query: Thomas filed a lone dissent in Brown v. Leisure Retailers Affiliation (2011), by which he wrote: “The practices and beliefs of the founding technology set up that ‘the liberty of speech,’ as initially understood, doesn’t embrace a proper to talk to minors (or a proper of minors to entry speech) with out going by way of the minors’ mother and father or guardians.” How does that sq. together with his free-speech jurisprudence?
Robin: Going again to 1987, Thomas has been extraordinarily serious about securing for property and cash and the market the identical sacred standing that the rights of speech and perception then had within the liberal creativeness. So it’s no accident that his most essential First Modification opinions contain the extension of free-speech rights, the proper to expression, to moneyed and industrial pursuits. We noticed this most lately within the concurrence he wrote in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Fee (2018), which was joined solely by Justice Neil Gorsuch. Conversely, his curiosity in free speech, as that time period is known by liberals, will not be significantly sturdy. His restrictive view of free speech in Leisure Retailers is illustrative. What’s extra fascinating about that opinion, to me, is how a lot it reveals about Thomas’ view of the authority and energy of fogeys, significantly fathers, which he thinks is, or not less than must be, intensive.
Query: Clarify how Thomas’ sturdy protection of Second Modification rights matches together with his concept of “the Black Structure,” as you time period it.
Robin: One of many keystones of the battle for emancipation in the course of the 19th century was the proper of black individuals to arm themselves towards white individuals. First towards white masters underneath slavery, then towards white supremacists underneath Jim Crow. The black radical custom has lengthy championed this proper as important to black freedom, as seeing the proper to arms as the inspiration of black expression and black manhood. (Elaine Brown, who chaired the Black Panther Social gathering within the 1970s, even wrote and recorded a music, “The Finish of Silence,” that makes these connections between black arms, black males and black speech specific.) In Thomas’ view of the Black Structure, which he thinks was created by the battle over slavery and emancipation, the proper to bear arms is equally central. His opinion in McDonald v. Chicago (2010) is an prolonged meditation on these connections.
Query: In your dialogue of “the White Structure,” you write of a society “in a everlasting state of pressure, ceaselessly suspended between promise and betrayal.” Inform us extra about that society and its position in Thomas’ philosophy.
Robin: Like many conservatives, Thomas has a deep uneasiness about life being too simple, a few society by which the avenues of social development have been cleared of hurdles and obstacles. And like many conservatives, he mistakenly believes that liberalism has created such a society. (The reality, in fact, is that many of those obstacles and hurdles stay.) The results of that society, he thinks, will not be that the flawed individuals get forward — that’s not Thomas’ concern, and right here he departs from many conservatives — however somewhat that black individuals are disabled by its consolation and ease.
An individual’s and a individuals’s growth, he thinks, relies upon upon the adversity they face, and the overcoming of that adversity; that, Thomas says, is the place freedom lies. So there must be a pressure in any society between the imaginative and prescient of development, the hope for shifting ahead, and its frustration. If issues get too tractable, if development is simply too simple, if frustration will not be felt, black individuals received’t develop the sorts of habits and self-discipline that sustained them by way of the lengthy night time of slavery and Jim Crow.
One of many causes Thomas believes in what I name the White Structure is that he thinks it can preserve the situations of harshness and adversity that black individuals want as a way to develop these habits and that self-discipline.
Query: In a brand new documentary, Thomas speaks critically of those that opposed his nomination to the Supreme Courtroom: “That is the flawed black man; he needs to be destroyed. Simply say it!” In one other phase he added: “There are totally different units of guidelines for various individuals. Should you criticize a black one who is extra liberal, you’re racist, whereas you are able to do no matter to me, or to now Ben Carson, that’s superb since you’re probably not black since you’re not doing what we anticipate black individuals to do.”
What do you make of this assertion?
Robin: Like Thomas’ testimony at his Senate affirmation listening to, it’s a mix of reality and untruth.
The reality is that Thomas has been subjected to an astonishing quantity of racist criticism from liberals and the left that will merely not be leveled at him if he had been white or liberal. The complete vary of fees and criticism which have been lodged towards him, the truth is, are paying homage to the costs and criticisms that had been made towards Thurgood Marshall on the courtroom, not just by right-wingers, however even by liberals like Archibald Cox, who stated that “Marshall will not be very vibrant or hard-working however he deserves credit score for choosing the most effective legislation clerks on the town.”
Thomas’ assertion additionally displays one other reality, which is that a variety of white individuals don’t understand or acknowledge the complete range of opinions amongst African People, that there’s a lengthy custom of black conservatism, that black nationalism assumes quite a lot of guises, and so forth. So when white individuals — and that is true of the white left and the white proper — hearken to Thomas, they will’t hear what he’s saying as a result of they’ve a previous set of beliefs about what it’s that black individuals should suppose. So all that’s true.
The untruth, the falseness, is twofold. First, earlier than Anita Hill, many Democrats had been going to vote for Thomas; he had widespread help within the black group. Despite the fact that his Senate testimony was underwhelming, liberals acquired little or no traction in mounting opposition. I occur to suppose, like many, that there’s overwhelming proof that Anita Hill informed the reality and Thomas lied. So his protestations right here misconstrue how a lot help he had, even among the many Democrats, earlier than Hill’s allegations had been made public, and fail to confront his personal position in harassing Hill.
However the untruth — not within the sense of a lie, however of the failure to inform the entire reality — goes past that. It’s consultant of Thomas’ normal view of racism. As I present within the e book, in Thomas’ view, racism assumes the type of racial stigmas and unconscious bias (which makes his view not not like that of many modern social scientists). It is a view of racism that’s centered overwhelmingly on verbal acts and gestures somewhat than materials disparities. So Thomas sees racism in a single respect — not restricted to how he’s been handled, it must be stated — however not in others.
Thomas additionally sees these stigmas and that bias working in a really rarefied environment: that of the black skilled class, the place bold strivers like him are subjected to a sure sort of suspicion about their skills and talents. He doesn’t see these stigmas working in the identical method for the black poor or the black working class. Now Thomas has a sophisticated set of beliefs that will clarify that disjuncture, which I discover within the e book — in different phrases, I don’t suppose he’s merely being self-serving or hypocritical or inconsistent right here — however nonetheless, it’s finally a really restricted worldview.
Query: You finish “Enigma” on an uncommon be aware – the necessity to understand one thing largely ignored but basic: “[T]he process at hand,” you write, “is to not retrace and rebut his strikes from premise to conclusion, however to return and begin once more with totally different premises.” Whose process is that this? And with what totally different premises ought to we strategy our view of Thomas?
Robin: That’s a set of feedback addressed each to the left and to People who’ve given up on the concept politics — whether or not actions within the streets or motion by the state — can remodel social situations. Thomas believes that racism is so mounted and everlasting that it can’t be altered by political motion. On this regard, I believe his views are emblematic somewhat than idiosyncratic. The conclusions he attracts from that perception usually are not broadly shared, however the underlying assumptions are. I believe that as long as individuals share that worldview, we’ll by no means see the sort of transformative politics and genuinely mass motion that we noticed in earlier moments of the black freedom battle or different struggles on this nation’s historical past.
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