Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality

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I’m finally getting around to reading this collection of essays, pulled together in the immediate aftermath of Clarence Thomas’s ascension to the Supreme Court, by various intellectuals to give a Person-On-The-Street account of what the hell just happened. I say finally, because I learned about it in Fall 2014 reading Divided Lives, and am still enjoying the bounty of its bibliography.

Toni Morrison writes the introduction and edits the collection, starting with the disgusting quote, “I have never asked to be nominated… Mr. Chairman, I am a victim of the process.” — Clarence Thomas, Friday, October 11, 1991, followed immediately by “It would have been more comfortable to remain silent… I took no initiative to inform anyone… I could not keep silent.” — Anita Hill, Friday, October 11, 1991.

The scope of the essays touches on race, sex, politics, and continues to repeat the terrible “high tech lynching” comment that Thomas made in nearly every essay. One of the authors, Michael Thelwell, confesses that if the stakes hadn’t been so high, he would have taken a perverse pleasure in Thomas’s performance, “After all, here was a black man facing twelve of the most complacent, orotund, self-important–as only a U.S. senator can be–white men under creation. And there he was, bold-faced as you please, telling them in effect, “Yo’ ain’t shit. In yo’ face, Senators! Most potent, grave and reverend Segneurs, Ima tell you only as much as I want you to know. I shall from time to time utter statements that strain human credulity. More than that, I shall look you dead in the eye, grin and lie. And you gonna know I’m lying, and I and the world will know I’m doing it. And I dare you sorry mothers to do diddly-shit about it. I dare y’awl. In your face, you sorry mothers.

Most essays also touch on the absurd comment Bush made that Thomas was the best qualified candidate (bullshit!) and that race in no way factored into his nomination (double bullshit!). Morrison also brings up the disturbing comments by Senator Danforth when listing Thomas’s fundamental points as a person: “1. He is his own person 2. He laughs… I concede that there is something weird about Clarence Thomas. It’s his laugh. It is the loudest laugh I have ever heard. It comes from deep inside, and it shakes his body.” Morrison points out that duh, this isn’t weird at all. “Every black person who heard those words understood. How necessary, how reassuring were both the grin and its being summoned for display. It is the laughter, the chuckle, that invites and precedes any discussion of association with a black person… It is difficult to imagine a sponsor introducing Robert Bork or William Gates with a call to this most clearly understood metonym for racial accommodation.”

Coupled with my recent reading of Ta-Nahisi Coates’ Between The World And Me, I got an increasing awareness of how society treats black bodies. Even Thomas was dissected in the press pre-Hill accusations, the NYTimes talking about his weight lifting prowess. Morrison: “Like the unswerving focus on the female body (whether the woman is a judge, an actress, a scholar, or a waitress), the black man’s body is voluptuously dwelled upon in biographies about them, journalism on them, remarks about them.”

Also while reading this, I discovered the mass shooting that was tangentially related to the Anita Hill hearings. George Hennard, Jr. screamed at a TV screen while watching Hill’s first press conference, “You dumb bitch! You bastards opened the door for all the women.” The next day Hennard slaughtered 23 people, mostly women, in the largest mass-shooting in the U.S. that didn’t take place in a school (as of press time, 2016!).

Manning Marable’s essay reveals that Bush’s team were determined to keep the hearings from becoming a “referendum on sexual harassment,” and that Thomas should not be the “victim of two thousand years of male dominance.” WTF!

On Clarence Thomas’s clear lack of qualifications, several essays put forth evidence, but I enjoyed Claudia Brodsky Lacour’s detailed breakdown:

[Clarence Thomas was] a nominee whose record showed no demonstrable qualifications for that office but, instead, many demonstrably disqualifying actions: no body of legal writing, but a collection of inflammatory speeches attacking already instituted legal rights and liberties, the constitutional powers of Congress, and even those of the Court; no courtroom experience, but a brief tenure in a stepping-stone judgeship; indeed, no direct legal experience to speak of and no other form of constructive public work, but stints stewarding federal agencies with the purpose of rendering ineffectual, reducing, or terminating the activity of those same agencies; no evidence of confidence earned and bestowed either by the professional and academic legal community or the public at the ballot box, but a career fueled entirely by patronage; no indication of superior legal knowledge, or any degree of judicial prowess or analytic independence of mind, but a consistent history of political appointments to posts of bureaucratic oversight whose exercise was, at the very least, controversial, and about whose documented negligence, if not thwarting of the law, much could have been said.