This week we mark the twentieth anniversary of the appointment of Justice Clarence Thomas as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Judge Thomas was thoroughly “borked”, a verb now in common usage after the savage hearings that brutalized the eminently qualified Robert Bork and refused him his appointment to the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas survived the liberal vitriol and personal attacks of tumultuous Senate confirmation hearings to become one of the best respected ‘originalist’ voices for strict constitutional interpretation of American law. He succeeded Thurgood Marshall and as an African American conservative continues to be a lightning rod for the left.
After serving as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Ronald Reagan, he was appointed first as a Federal judge on the Washington, DC Circuit Court of Appeals, then to the Supreme Court by President George H. W. Bush. For twenty years he has served with distinction and hopefully will continue to do so for another twenty.
In his autobiographical, “My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir”, Justice Thomas writes eloquently about his young life when he learned about personal responsibility and persistent work from his grandfather, as well as the value of education from the nuns at parochial schools in Savannah, GA. His earliest language was Gullah, an African dialect spoken by his parents, descendents of slaves. He went on to Holy Cross College and Yale Law School. His spoken English now is evocative of the powerful cadences of James Earl Jones after disciplining himself for many hours in college language labs when a Jesuit professor and mentor warned his brilliant student that the Southern patois of his youth would limit his opportunities. Justice Thomas at his core fervently believes in equal opportunity for all citizens and in the hard work necessary to take advantage of them.
As a strict interpreter of the original intent of the writers of the Constitution, he reserves special disdain for those laws which use race as a determinant of results such as affirmative action. He has called the culture of affirmative action and racial biases favoring minorities by lowering standards for them as the modern version of the old slave holding plantation. In Adarand v. Pena (1995) striking down racial quotas in government contracting, he wrote, affirmative action is “racial paternalism” whose “unintended consequences can be as poisonous and pernicious as any other form of discrimination.” The unexpressed presumption in this condescending racism is that minorities cannot achieve equal results without props and winks. For a person of Justice Thomas’ achievements, this is particularly galling.
Shelby Steele, an African American author, scholar and documentary film maker, is a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute and another conservative opponent of all things racist, with racism being defined as treating people differently because of their race. Professor Steele is widely published, and his book “White Guilt” is the best exposition of the case against affirmative action I’ve read. In peril of my sounding too “sixties”, “White Guilt” is full of those consciousness raising ideas that forever change one’s preconceptions. His writing is clear and alive, not pedantic or pompous as some academic works can be; I commend “Grandfather’s Son” and “White Guilt” most highly to anyone looking for well thought out counterpoint to politically correct jargon about race.
To presume a very brief synopsis of “White Guilt”: after the Civil Rights Act in 1964, by admitting of the terrible wrongs throughout prior American history done by whites towards blacks, whites diminished greatly their moral authority necessary to continue to lead and govern. To address this loss and threat to power, rather than encouraging blacks to earn the breakthroughs codified by law in their new found equal rights and opportunities, whites attempted to preempt the moral high ground by a series of actions starting with President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislation. The “Great Society” promoted guaranteed equal results, including affirmative action and a debilitating welfare program that systematically undermined black family life. Black leaders like Julian Bond, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton chose to leverage white guilt by espousing a self serving victimization attitude for blacks, by identifying themselves through their race rather than their accomplishments and by viewing the self sacrifice of personal responsibility necessary for permanent gains as a further oppression rather than freeing. In terms of lasting impact on the black community, the net results have been decline with negligible impact on black poverty and truly awful impact on black families.
The statistics are condemning. In 1960, 22% of black children lived in single parent family homes; today 66% do, and 80% of black children will spend a significant portion of their youth not in contact at all with their fathers. The sad facts are these: black male irresponsibility enabled by the Great Society programs after fifty years has resulted in 53% of black males dropping out of high school. In NYC, there is a 72% drop out rate. If a person takes three specific actions, only 8% of them will end up below the poverty line. They must graduate from high school, not have a baby before they are married, and not have a baby before they are 20 years old. If they don’t do all three, 79% will be in poverty.
We need to listen to Shelby Steele and Clarence Thomas, not Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, if we ever hope to see the equality and opportunity enshrined in our Declaration of Independence enacted for all of us, irrespective of race.
Quote from “White Guilt”: “No worse fate could befall a group emerging from oppression than to find itself gripped by a militancy that sees justice in making others responsible for its advancement.”