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The outage of Ginni and Clarence Thomas

News item: Ginni Thomas, lawyer, conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas posted pictures of African-Americans claiming to have left the Democratic party. The problem is that the pictures were stock photos, and the quotes were fake.

In this era of “fake news,” bots and stock photos, this might seem par for the course. What makes this report particularly outrageous is that Ginni Thomas is the white wife of the sole African-American seated on the Supreme Court.

Similarly, in and of itself, an African-American being married to a white person is no longer news. Clarence Thomas, however, was put on the Supreme Court to replace one of the titans of American jurisprudence: Thurgood Marshall.

At the time, Clarence Thomas was a relatively undistinguished judge having spent just over a year on the federal bench. When then-President George H.W. Bush nominated him to replace Justice Marshall, Bush called him the “best qualified [nominee] at this time.” Given how many impressive jurists were on the Court of Appeals with him, including later-to-be-named Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, it is hard to imagine how Bush’s statement had any merit. Instead, it is likely that he was the only young, reliably conservative African-American Appeals Court Judge Bush could find at the time. To replace the civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall, Bush felt he needed to appoint an African-American, but he had so few conservative Republicans to choose from. Thus, Thomas got the nod.

Clarence Thomas’s hearings became big news upon the revelation of allegations of sexual harassment by lawyer and former EEOC staffer Anita Hill. Thomas’s prior government position had been head of the EEOC, and as such, he was Hill’s supervisor. Anybody involved in politics at the time believed Anita Hill — it took a serious case of denial to believe otherwise. But this was one of the first cases of sexual harassment allegations being leveled against a powerful man. 1991 was a long time before #MeToo.

For his defense, Thomas called Hill’s believable claims part of a “high-tech lynching,” using language that evoked the outrageous violence of KKK terrorism. These hearings were nothing like those lynchings, though. If anyone was browbeaten in that process, it was Anita Hill. Indeed, looking back on quotations by now-active feminists such as Joe Biden is shocking. Biden, in fact, worked to stop other witnesses from appearing before his committee who would have supported Anita Hill’s allegations.

For an African-American who had attacked the civil rights initiatives of the EEOC while he was there, and who never supported other civil rights efforts, it seemed incongruous that he would now end up on the nation’s highest court in large part due to his skin color. First, he was nominated because President Bush had to find a young, conservative African-American to replace Thurgood Marshall. Next, he pushed back against highly credible sexual-harassment allegations using language evoking the violent oppression of black people. If ever there were a case of affirmative action, it was his.

Thomas, though, has repeatedly fought against affirmative action on the Court. Apparently he believes he should be the beneficiary of that policy, but he wants to deny it to others.

That brings me to this latest news item. It almost seems as if Thomas has denied his African-American heritage except when it serves his ambitions. He has been the textbook case of the black person being held up by the Republican party as evidence that they are not racists. This point is reinforced by Ginni Thomas’s having to use clip art pictures to manufacture evidence of African-Americans leaving the Democratic party. One might argue that this is just part and parcel of the lifelong campaign of Clarence and Ginni Thomas to undermine the efforts of so many to address our nation’s institutional racism.

The blatant racism of President Trump and his supporters has only emphasized the need for people of all colors to stand against racism. An impressive array of African-American leaders powerfully make that case. But Clarence Thomas appears to believe that the only time he wants to emphasize his blackness is when it will benefit his career. Some might say that he has sold out his race for some gold pieces, but in fact, he has gotten a lot more than a few gold pieces in exchange.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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