Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, only the second black person to serve on the court, recently told a group of college students that people today are too race conscious.
Yahoo reports that Thomas made the remarks to Palm Beach Atlantic University students in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up,” said Thomas. “Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah.”
Thomas was born in 1948, a time in which many black people, especially in the South, experienced horrific acts of racist, terroristic violence. But to let Thomas tell the tale, his childhood was an idyllic wonderland and it wasn’t until he got to know those snobby, bleeding-heart Yankees that he experienced real discrimination.
“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites. The absolute worst I have ever been treated. The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia,” said Thomas.
Perhaps this wrongdoing Thomas spoke of is in reference to the “high-tech lynching” he said he endured during his confirmation hearings in 1991. Anita Hill, a former employee of his at the EEOC accused Thomas of sexually harassing her. Her allegations included some fairly graphic language and the hearings became front-page news.
Thomas denied the allegations and had strong words for his detractors. “From my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree,” Thomas said at the time.
Those sound like the words of a man who is conscious of race and the impact race has on the course of one’s life. Being conscious of race is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, consciousness is life-sustaining skill. Black people in America have never had the luxury of being “colorblind.” Racism is a reality, so it is imperative for historically oppressed racial groups to understand how they are perceived by the majority and the consequences of certain behaviors.
Back when Thomas was growing up in the South, black people were tortured and murdered for the slightest of offenses and the white people who committed those heinous acts often faced no legal consequences. People, especially black people, were extraordinarily conscious of race.
Today, black people are more open about that consciousness and about what racism is and how it has shaped this country. It’s not about being “too sensitive.” It’s more so that black people can now talk more freely about racism. During a CNN panel discussion about Thomas’ comments, Professor Marc Lamont Hill said he it disturbing that found the justice’s desire to live in a colorblind society.
“It shouldn’t be post racial, but post racist,” said Hill. “He’s had a long history of walking through doors and closing them behind him. He acknowledges no part that affirmative action played in his life but he wants to close the door for others.”
Alvin Holmes, a black democrat in the Alabama House of Representatives, had stronger words for Thomas. He told the National Review that Thomas is an Uncle Tom. Media sources asserted that Holmes took to the House floor and said he didn’t like Thomas because he’s married to a white woman. Holmes denied saying that, but did say that Thomas is an Uncle Tom.
Of course of there is no need for name-calling. Thomas is a conservative Republican who is far more right-leaning than his predecessor, the late, trail-blazing Thurgood Marshall.
Thomas may lament consciousness from the comfort of his life-time appointment on the Supreme Court, but consciousness is something we should all aspire to. We should be conscious of ourselves and others and be able to peacefully co-exist. Ignoring our differences is not the ideal. Acknowledging and celebrating diversity is the ideal.