Clarence Thomas Is Also Race Conscious

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave a speech this week at
Florida’s Palm Beach Atlantic University and, as Chris Moody

reports at Yahoo News
, complained that “we are probably today
more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I
went to school…. Everybody is sensitive.” Citing his own
experiences, Thomas added, “the worst I have been treated was by
northern liberal elites…. 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.”

not the first time Thomas has said something controversial about
race and it won’t be the last. But his comments do highlight a
significant fact about the conservative justice. His complaints
about “race and difference-conscious[ness]” notwithstanding,
Clarence Thomas is himself extremely race conscious.

Take a look at Thomas’ speeches and writings, and you’ll find
them steeped in African American history and tradition. His
statement about “northern liberal elites,” for instance, echoes
Malcom X’s famous observation in his Autobiography that
unlike the “honest” Southern white, who “bares his teeth to the
black man,” the “Northern white man, he grins with his teeth, and
his mouth has always been full of tricks and lies.” As Thomas
Reason back in 1987, “I’ve been very partial to Malcolm X,
particularly his self-help teachings. I have virtually all of the
recorded speeches of Malcolm X.”

That emphasis on race frequently discomfits Thomas’ liberal
opponents since it challenges the standard narrative equating the
advance of racial equality with the triumph of progressive
politics. Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker, for example,
Thomas for finding “a racial angle on a broad array
of issues, including those which appear to be scarcely related to
traditional civil rights, like campaign finance or gun

Given the fact that America’s earliest gun control laws were
in place
to keep blacks unarmed, and that the 14th Amendment
was drafted in 1866 in part
to prevent
the former Confederate states from disarming the
freedmen, it turns out to be Toobin whose views are “scarcely
related” to the topic at hand, not Thomas.

As for the point about race and campaign finance, Thomas also
has history on his side.

In recent years, Thomas has taken issue with the
post-Citizens United valorization of the Tillman Act of
1907, a pioneering campaign finance regulation sponsored by
Democratic Sen. Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman of South Carolina. As
Thomas likes to point out, Tillman made an early name for himself
as the leader of a Klan-like terror group that killed and menaced
black Americans. “Tillman’s contributions to campaign finance law
have been discussed in our recent cases on that subject,” Thomas
referring to Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent in Citizens
. “His contributions to the culture of terrorism that
grew in [the post-war South] had an even more dramatic and tragic
effect.” Indeed, Thomas later told an audience at Stetson
University, “Go back and read why Tillman introduced that
legislation…as I hear the story he was concerned that the
corporations, Republican corporations, were favorable toward
blacks, and he felt that there was a need to regulate them.”

Despite his comments earlier this week, Clarence Thomas has
repeatedly shown that he too understands the need for race
consciousness in American politics.

from Hit & Run

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