Powerful men are starting to lose their jobs and reputations, thanks to today’s national climate against sexual assault and harassment. Men who were once deemed untouchable are no longer.
Since we’re on the issue, it’s time we finally admit now is the time for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to go.
It’s been over 25 years since Thomas’ Senate confirmation hearing. In October 1991, law professor Anita Hill testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her 10 years prior, when she was in her mid-20s and worked for him at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hill testified that she had heard Thomas discuss a porn star named Long Dong Silver, and refer to pubic hair on a Coke can.
She was an extremely credible witness. And too often like Black women in this society, Hill was not believed. She was lambasted, denigrated and smeared, her credibility and motivations questioned. And some of Hill’s Black critics accused her of trying to bring the Black man down. The 14 white men in that Senate judiciary committee panel, some of them such as Ted Kennedy, with their own problematic history with women, remained silent or treated Hill like a criminal. And as others have said, former vice president Joe Biden owes Hill an apology for his role in the hearings and allowing the Republicans to interrogate her as if she was the one on trial.
Although ultimately Thomas was confirmed, Hill performed an invaluable public service as a pioneer, in moving the ball forward and shining a light on sexual harassment. More women were elected to the Senate and Congress as a result.
If the Thomas confirmation hearing had taken place in 2017 and Hill had testified against him, it is hard to imagine that he would be sitting on the nation’s high court. Similarly, if Hill had been a white woman in 1991, it is inconceivable the white boys’ club of the Senate would have allowed their boy to sit on the high court as a paragon of bootstraps Black conservatism.
After all, this country has a history of lynching Black men over rumors regarding much less. Thomas benefited from the sexism and racism of the day, and yet, he called the proceedings “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.”
In the two-and-a-half decades since Clarence Thomas has been on the court, much has changed, but then again, much has remained the same. Men still prey on women, but one thing that has changed is the public’s awareness of sexual harassment and assault–thanks in part to Anita Hill–and growing intolerance for that type of conduct.
The days of the dirty old man soon be over. I speak of the gatekeepers, the guardians of the casting couch who pressure women to give it up if they want to get ahead. Other men of status are now compelled to reckon with their violation of women and girls, and for all we know the President of the United States may very well have his comeuppance.
Why should Clarence Thomas get a pass, as if he is grandfathered in, because the misconduct took place so long ago? The real question is, what type of people do we want to lead society? Who do we want in charge and in judgment of us–dirty, predatory old men? Is this what we want for our daughters?
Besides, Anita Hill was not his only accuser.
There was Angela Wright, who like Hill, was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate judiciary committee. But it never happened because the Senate shut it down. Then Sen. Alan Simpson said Wright got cold feet. According to Wright, Thomas made unwanted sexual advances on her, harassed her, made comments about her body and other women’s bodies, even came by her house unannounced. Eventually, she was fired.
At the infamous hearing, Sukari Hardnett, Thomas’ special assistant at the EEOC, told the senators that his behavior toward his assistants was not as a father or mentor: “If you were young, black, female and reasonably attractive, you knew full well you were being inspected and auditioned as a female … Women know when there are sexual dimensions to the attention they are receiving. And there was never any doubt about that dimension in Clarence Thomas’s office.”
Lillian McEwen, who was in a relationship with Thomas and worked with Hill, said Thomas “was always actively watching the women he worked with to see if they could be potential partners,” she said, noting he asked one woman her bra size. “It was a hobby of his,” she said. McEwen also corroborated Hill’s account of Thomas’s behavior, that he was obsessed with porn and enjoyed talking about it.
And Moira Smith, a lawyer in Alaska, claims that Justice Thomas groped her at a dinner party in 1999, grabbing and squeezing her buttocks several times.
Clarence Thomas has been a sorry excuse for a Black man on the Supreme Court and has been both a source of embarrassment for the Black community and a threat to the safety of vulnerable, disenfranchised and underrepresented Americans. He has been a protector of the wealthy and a standard-bearer for white nationalism in blackface.
Many who had their eyes open at the time, particularly civil rights groups, knew Thomas would be no good for the justice system. But we don’t even have to go there. That he sexually harassed women should have been enough of a red flag and a barrier to entry.
As long as powerful men are clearing their desks in the halls of power over sexual assault and harassment, Clarence Thomas should join them. It’s never too late. The original high-profile sexual harasser, the allegations against him did not go away simply because over 25 years have passed. His departure would be right on time.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.