October 8, 2007

Not Your Stereotypical Black

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In an era where speaking out against the excesses of affirmative action can generate accusations of racism and one too many things can be blamed on whites, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s only African-American, provides a fresh perspective on racial issues. Although he certainly has faced the evils of racism growing up, Thomas took a different path, questioning the value of affirmative action and refusing to think like your stereotypical black. In return, his nomination to the Supreme Court was almost derailed by allegations of sexual harassment in what Thomas refers to as a “high-tech lynching,” and over his career, many blacks (and whites) who have clamored for diversity have at the same time lambasted Thomas for setting diversity back and disgracing his own race. And even though Thomas finally decided to speak out against all these ridiculous accusations in his book My Grandfather’s Son, New York Times Op-Ed columnists Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich have decided to revive these ridiculous arguments all over again in two recent op-ed pieces.

Even though both opinion pieces supposedly rip apart Thomas for his hypocrisy on the issue of race, they somehow both manage to blame Thomas for stopping the 2000 Florida recount and stealing the election from Al Gore. I do not see the connection between racism and the 2000 election, so it sounds like both columnists have more of an axe to grind than a point to make. Not only do they blame Gore’s defeat on the “neither qualified nor honest” Thomas, when in reality the swing votes were Justices O’Connor and Kennedy, but they also forgot the inconvenient truth that a nonpartisan study from the National Opinion Research Council found that Bush likely would have won even without the Supreme Court’s intervention. Worst of all, Dowd even goes so far as to accuse Thomas of lynching Al Gore, which makes absolutely no sense not only because Bush v. Gore had nothing to do with race, but also because the victim of the lynching, Gore, is white. Honestly, Dowd needs to get off her holier-than-thou podium and discover what real lynchings were like before she ever makes such an idiotic and insensitive comparison again.

Now although I will give credit to Rich for not using such a ridiculous lynching analogy, he unfortunately does not have much to offer either. He somehow claims Thomas voted against a “voluntary desegregation program” when the exact article he links to says the program “required schools to maintain a minimum black enrollment of 15 percent and a maximum of 50 percent.” I would like to see the logic on how a school can voluntarily require these enrollment levels. In fact, this idea sounds eerily similar to the racial quotas that an older Supreme Court (which did not include Thomas) outlawed in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978. Putting all of this together, we can conclude that Thomas aided Bush in his plan to betray blacks and “tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education” simply because he followed the precedent of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

Now I discussed this in more detail in a previous blog, but the reason these programs were ruled unconstitutional was, on one scale or another, they gave preferences to minorities based solely on the color of their skin. In fact, a twin pair of rulings in 2003, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, affirmed the general concept of affirmative action while rejecting Michigan’s point system which automatically gave more points to blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans. As much as we should value diversity, skin color alone should never give an individual the upper hand.

Justice Thomas frequently complained that his law degree from Yale meant nothing to employers because they dismissed him as the beneficiary of affirmative action. He even went so far as to place a fifteen-cent sticker on his diploma. Unfortunately, Thomas probably was right to some extent, and that certainly explains his thinking in all of these race-based Supreme Court cases. People who want to demean a minority’s achievement because of affirmative action would have had hard evidence had Thomas thought like a typical black. In the case of University of Michigan, they would have had 20 reasons—one for each point blacks automatically received. While Thomas does acknowledge the racism he experienced, his fifteen-cent diploma nonetheless gave him another perspective on how the proposed solution, affirmative action, can backfire and possibly reinforce racial stereotypes. Thomas may not advocate the usual black perspective on affirmative action, but no one who criticizes him for it should overlook his rationale.

Given all the criticism Obama has received about being not black enough, one can only imagine what Thomas has endured. Thomas defies the stereotype of a typical black, but promoting diversity should not reinforce stereotypes; it should break them down. Although Thomas’s views may differ from a “typical” black, that does not make them any less valuable. Since Dowd and Rich have invested so much effort in defending racial diversity, maybe they should take more time to appreciate the diversity within a race. They may not agree with Justice Thomas, but Thomas deserves much more respect for his views.

Mike Wacker is The Sun’s Assistant Web Editor. He can be contacted at mwacker@cornellsun.com.