As a child in Pinpoint, Georgia, Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was hazed by his classmates with the moniker “America’s Blackest Child.” Such hazing may have had long-term effects, rendering Thomas incapable of transcending his background. It may have given him an inferiority complex that expresses itself in his self-hatred, hatred of other Black people, and self-absorption.
While I’m no psychologist or psychiatrist, watching someone who used affirmative action to get into Yale Law School so vociferously attack the policy is fascinating. But, as Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson noted in her dissent in the two Students for Fair Admissions (a misnomer if I ever saw one), Thomas has carried out a “prolonged attack” against affirmative action. His June opinion in Students for Fair Admissions was just one of his many attacks on affirmative action.
His distaste for affirmative action seems to stem from his own experiences at Yale, an experience that none of his classmates have verified. Thomas seemed to feel that white students assumed he was an affirmative action admit (he was) and thus not as capable as they were (there is no evidence of that). Thus he thinks affirmative action stigmatizes Black students, so the Supreme Court should eliminate it. Many of us who were affirmative action admits (I was) don’t much chafe about any stigma.
Instead, we celebrate the opportunities affirmative action offered, realizing that while affirmative action opened the door, it did not pass our comprehensive exams, our bar exams, or any other qualifiers. Affirmative action opened the door to some elite institutions, but it did not do the work to get us out.
Thomas has a way of making public policy personal. People look down on him, he thinks, and he is hurt and angry, just as he was when people called him America’s Blackest Child. To make himself feel better, Thomas has surrounded himself with the wealthy elites of the Horatio Alger Society, which believes that hard work is all you need to get ahead in this country.
Some of the hardest-working people I know are moms who receive public assistance, but Thomas and his ilk would look down on these folks and describe them as lazy (just as he did to his own sister during his confirmation hearings). In his narrow mind, he was looked down on. Thus, he must prove that he is “fair,” “colorblind,” and a proponent of “equal protection.”
If there were fairness and equal protection under the law, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wouldn’t be sitting on the bench at all. Not only did he use affirmative action to get into Yale Law School, but he also used old-fashioned political patronage to get him on the bench. His patron, Senator John Danforth (R-MO), aggressively championed his career, making sure he got plum assignments, including the chairmanship of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (where he once said that affirmative action made a difference in his life) and a judicial appointment that teed him up for the Supreme Court nomination. Several other, better-qualified Black jurists were far more qualified than he, but undoubtedly Senator Danforth put his thumb on the scale by embracing that nomination.
Black America was ambivalent, but Thomas effectively used his “up from poverty” backstory to convince folks like Dr. Maya Angelou that he would represent Black interests on the court. Instead, the New York Times described him, in 1992, as “the youngest and the cruelest” justice.
In the Supreme Court case Hudson v. McMillan, a Louisiana inmate, Keith Hudson, sued after Jack McMillan and other prison guards beat him so severely that they broke his dental plate while it was in his mouth. Seven of the nine justices agreed that the brutal and malicious beating was “cruel and unusual punishment,” outlawed by the Eighth Amendment. Thomas, joined by Antonin Scalia, dissented from the majority, saying that the beating was not severe and that the Constitution did not protect prisoners.
The facts of this case are jarring, especially as a supervisor witnessed McMillan and a colleague beating Hudson and told them “not to have too much fun.” In his confirmation hearings, Thomas said he brought “something different” to the court, namely his empathy for the downtrodden. Instead, he brought an unusually intense self-hatred, which spills over to how he deals with cases involving Black people.
All Americans must deal with this self-hating justice, whose outdated opinions threaten civility, inclusion, and decency in our nation. Black America is significantly affected by his antiblackness. Hopefully, the Department of Justice will investigate Thomas’ financial shenanigans and remove this depraved man from the Supreme Court.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA. juliannemalveaux.com