"'High-tech lynching' will be the most famous words Thomas ever utters"
August 8, 2022 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Looking for Clarence Thomas (Mitchell S. Jackson for Esquire)
posted by box (19 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This is quite the polemic!
posted by Going To Maine at 9:17 AM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed this essay for how personal it is, both about the author and about Thomas. A portrait of a powerful American. I'm not sure it works as political reporting, I don't know that I have any new insights into Thomas' legal thinking. But it sure paints a portrait of the man.

I didn't know Thomas wrote a memoir in 2007.
posted by Nelson at 9:19 AM on August 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

The podcast Behind the Bastards is doing a (4 part) series on Clarence Thomas right now. I've listened to part one so far, and it was fascinating. Thomas's life and how it shaped him, and how all of us in the US ended up under his power is something else.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

Another recent in-depth portrait is Behind The Bastards’ four-parter (pt. 1, pt. 2)…

on Preview: jinx!
posted by progosk at 9:48 AM on August 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

I'm interested in this article, and the story it has to tell but right now my involuntary response to him is not unlike Mrs. White, unable to form complete sentences when speaking about Yvette.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:45 AM on August 8, 2022 [8 favorites]

I had to read a full-length bio of him many years ago for work, and this was my takeaway: as a smart Black kid, all the white do-gooding liberals took charge of him and invalidated who he was, sending him to all-white schools and such, and that is why he hates liberals so much today. Oy.
posted by Melismata at 11:09 AM on August 8, 2022

Wow, Clarence Thomas grew up speaking Gullah in poverty. What a life of incredibly repressed rage at yourself.
posted by bluesky43 at 11:20 AM on August 8, 2022 [8 favorites]

This article picked up a Thomas quote from Juan Williams' 1987 profile that just makes me feel so very sad
You hate yourself for being part of a group that's gotten the hell kicked out of them.
(That whole article is worth a read; it's remarkable that another article 35 years later says so many of the same things.)
posted by Nelson at 11:49 AM on August 8, 2022 [7 favorites]

If you want to make your head explode, just read Thomas's memoir, My Grandfather's Son (link to archive.org online version).

It's sort of like those novels that have an unreliable narrator, and you are supposed to figure out what is really going on stringing together the various clues left in the text by the narrator, who is telling you one story in the text, but leaving a hefty string of clues and tells that allow you to figure out the subtext that is, in most important respects, at complete odds with the text.

So I always thought this was some kind of literary contrivance, completely unrealistic, and all that. How could any real person but so completely un-self-aware as to make such a thing possible?

Yet here it is, from an all-too-real person, live and in print.
posted by flug at 12:22 PM on August 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

Thomas hung with Black Panthers and even helped start the Black Student Union, though he wrote later that he half-wished he hadn’t been a part of Black students’ cleaving from the rest of the student body. (“Did we really want to do to ourselves what whites had been doing to us?”)

Hmmm. Mitchell pulls this quote from Thomas's memoir. Others have argued that Thomas is properly seen as a Black separatist.
posted by BrashTech at 12:33 PM on August 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

This is a remarkable essay. I wish it had treated Anita Hill with a tiny bit less periphery, but that’s a quibble.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by Mchelly at 1:03 PM on August 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Clarence Thomas grew up speaking Gullah in poverty.

This is honestly a bit thin - Thomas left Pin Point when he was six. I don’t doubt that it was formative to his life, but it seems markedly different from “growing up” there. The article itself kind of futzes with this by making it sound like he had a relationship with Pig. It seems much more likely that Thomas has barely any memories of the man.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:19 PM on August 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Yeah - having finished this article it’s definitely an impressive outpouring of anger but aside from that amazing opening block I’m not sure that it really highlights much new, about the man. I kind of wish it had just kept going back and wrapping around that interview quote with Juan Williams, using that as a lens for understanding him as self-hating. Instead it gets caught up with the arc of Thomas’s career, small details about how he is very nice in person, the notion that the white folks around Thomas must all secretly hate him, etc. There’s a lot more opining than exegesis in the second block, and that’s too bad.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:38 PM on August 8, 2022

Others have argued that Thomas is properly seen as a Black separatist.

Thanks for the link to Corey Robin's book, Brashtech. I was surprised not to see any of those arguments referenced. But maybe that would have watered down Jackson's polemic, which is very well done.
posted by col_pogo at 3:31 PM on August 8, 2022

posted by aiq at 3:51 PM on August 8, 2022

It's hard to top the drop-off in quality of person in the same job than going from Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas. (Although going from Obama to Trump...?)

Marshall represented the NAACP for decades starting in 1934. "Marshall won 29 out of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court." He served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1961 to 1965, when LBJ "appointed him to be the United States Solicitor General, the first African American to hold the office." LBJ then nominated him as the an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and he became the first Black Supreme Court justice. He was a titan of American jurisprudence.

Clarence Thomas was an assistant attorney general of Missouri from 1974 to 1977, then was a legislative assistant for the Senate Commerce Committee from 1979 to 1981. He became assistant secretary of education for the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education in 1981, then served as EEOC chairman from 1982 to 1990. TFA: "As chair of the EEOC, Thomas is criticized for ignoring class-action suits. He also says Black civil-rights leaders 'bitch, bitch, bitch, moan and moan, whine and whine” instead of trying to work with the administration.' George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1989, despite Thomas having never been a judge. He served 19 months on the federal bench before joining the Supreme Court in 1991. "Civil rights and feminist organizations opposed the appointment based partially on Thomas's criticism of affirmative action and suspicions that Thomas might not support Roe v. Wade." Thomas didn't ask a question from the bench during arguments before the court from 2006 to 2016.

From the Esquire article:
As I see it, an elemental part of Thomas’s rage is living with the empirical truth that, by and large, the people who should be his people despise him; that the white people for whom he has risked so much only pretend to love him; and furthermore, that to nurse the succor of that facade, he must do more harm to vulnerable people. The sacrifices he’s made for power and the compromises he’s made to salve his primal wounds have left him a man without a country or a true tribe.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:54 PM on August 8, 2022 [9 favorites]

Cry me a river
posted by gottabefunky at 4:37 PM on August 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

One of the most puzzling things about Thomas is this.
In the midst of being hustled from the luncheon to the reception, he stopped to engage a janitor and, while U. S. marshals stood by and event handlers urged him to leave, kept right on chatting with her. “When you talk to Clarence Thomas,” says Danforth, “it’s as though you are the only person in the world.”

Make it make sense that a man who cares for the individual seems to care so little for them when they comprise a group—for their rights, health, safety.
I heard a related story by a lesbian clerk at the Court who wrote about how well Thomas treated her and her partner. But at the same time, he's willing to take away their rights. I can't fathom it.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:16 PM on August 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

CheeseDigestsAll. If it is any help, while I know I am a weirdo, I have always found it easy to be personable and engaging with people I despise.
posted by Pembquist at 9:31 AM on August 9, 2022

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