Fear and Loathing in Black America: Clarence Thomas and Barack Obama

This is the last in a series I started two weeks ago on black conservative opinion on Barack Obama here at The Black Snob. I appreciate everyone reading the series even if the people I wrote about made you want to froth at the mouth. I hope everyone learned something from it.

While I do not always agree with what many black conservatives have to say, I do not believe them to be the racial bogeymen they are often made out to be. I wanted to hear what they had to say about Obama and the presidential race because all too often we put ourselves in individual echo chambers where the only views we ever hear are our own. This last piece is on Clarence Thomas. Justice Thomas has never divulged any opinion from what I could find on Obama, but that wasn’t entirely necessary. This last piece is more on the sickness of racism and the self-imposed racial prisons we put ourselves in. Thanks again for reading.

It would be easy to demonize my last subject. Mostly because he rarely says anything so people often free to project whatever amount of craziness they desire.

Sex crazed schemer? A white wannabe? Uncle Ruckus from Boondocks? Mad man riding Justice Antonin Scalia’s coattails? Captain contradiction?

He is a caricature on both sides of the political aisle. To Republicans he is a refutation of affirmative action, discrimination and racism, although he has never said racism was dead and remains scarred by it.

And he’s been labeled by many black Democrats as a turncoat, a Judas, a sell-out, an Uncle Tom, an Oreo, an uppity “House” Negro and a host of other symbols of betrayal and black self-loathing.

A lot of that comes from Thomas’ objection to Affirmative Action. The common charge is that he’s a hypocrite because he benefited from the program through a minority scholarship to Yale. In 1996, discontinued black political magazine Emerge went as far to feature a cover illustration of Thomas as a grinning lawn jockey. Next to him read the words “Uncle Thomas, Lawn Jockey for the Far Right.”

Thomas attempted to confront this hostility in a frosty 1998 reception at the black lawyers’ National Bar Association’s convention in Memphis. He told the group that he wanted to “assert my right to think for myself, to refuse to have my ideas assigned to me, as though I was an intellectual slave.”

I’ve found during my almost 20 years in Washington that the tendency to personalize differences has grown to be an accepted way of doing business. … I for one have been singled out for particularly bilious and venomous assaults. These criticisms, as near as I can tell, and I admit that it is rare that I take notice of this calamity—have little to do with any particular opinion, though each opinion does provide one more occasion to criticize. Rather, the principle problem seems to be a deeper antecedent offense. I have no right to think the way I do because I’m black.


During the speech, Thomas said being spurned by his own pained him “more deeply than any of you can imagine.” He said all his efforts were meant to help black people, not hurt.

Thomas is the patron saint of black conservatism.

Enigmatic and tortured, his life story, detailed in his biography “My Grandfather’s Son,” is one about succeeding at everything, and failing anyway. No matter the fight he puts up he can do nothing because everything is tainted with his blackness. He can’t win living amongst the racism he can not change.

I selected Clarence Thomas as they last person I would look at in this series because he and the person who started the series, political strategist Amy Holmes, were the individuals who made me want to write it in the first place.

Thomas’ biography convinced me that while I don’t agree with his political ideology he truly believes he is doing what is best for black Americans. Therefore his ideas should be attacked, not his intent. And Holmes, despite being labeled quickly as a sell-out was among the chorus of black conservatives who wanted shock jock Don Imus fired after his made lewd comments about black players on the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team.

After that I began to notice that most black people, on a sliding scale, were in agreement on what racism was. The debate broke down along perception. It devolved into a childish shouting match of black conservatives calling black Liberals hustlers, fearmongerers and schemers while black Liberals called their conservative halves hypocrites, sell-outs and tools.

Despite being more than 22 million of the US population, blackness can be very rigid in thought. Hundreds of years of racism and isolation has created real and manufactured boundaries to keep everyone on message all the time. It’s not always successful and while some get a pass others catch hell. There is not a lot of wiggle room for dissent and the slightest thing can put you on the outs.

This isn’t just the case with black conservatives. As a black “Liberal” I’ve received nasty looks for being pro-gay rights and I’ve been called a Lesbian for saying I was a feminist. There are so many suffocating, confining rules of blackness I was curious to see who among these loathed black conservatives, right-leaning centrists and Republicans were really “dangerous.” How many of them held views that were actually harmful to black Americans and how many were like me, simply going against conventional wisdom?

That’s sort of where the “Obama test” came from. Too often people label individuals they don’t agree with as if they are a monolith. In the case of Thomas Sowell, Larry Elders, Armstrong Williams, et al, I had some people write me that every individual on my list were irrational puppets of their white masters.

But there was another side to this test. Barack Obama was once considered not “black enough” by the grand doyens and doyennes of blackness because he did not come out of the black protest movement tradition. He was biracial. And because his father was Kenayn he was accused of not being a real black American. Obama did not have the historical DNA of slavery built into his conscious.

For many, that was enough of a reason to ignore him.

It’s very strange to say, but Clarence Thomas and Barack Obama have a lot in common. Their political beliefs are incredibly different, but their struggle with both acceptance of and rejection by the most exclusive North American cult of identity. In their quest to find themselves they asked to be judged as men and were promptly told no, by everyone, regardless of political ideology, ethnicity and financial status.

That’s the paradox. How can you be judged as a “man” in racialized American culture? How can you be post-racial when you may be the only one who thinks that way? Who but other blacks can understand what it is like if you are dark and hated like Thomas or biracial and beloved like Obama? Our experience in America is singular and no amount of fame or money can allow you to fully escape racism. You cannot escape discrimination and you can not escape the binds placed on you by worlds both white and black. You only have two choices: Ignore it or jump through the hoops.

Obama’s running for president, so obviously he’s chosen some perilous hoop hoping. Thomas’ leaping days passed long, long ago, but both still combat the famed “twoness” WEB Du Bois once wrote about.

When I was in elementary school I was taught and memorized this poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask.”

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile

When you look at Clarence Thomas and Barack Obama you are looking black America squarely in the eye. You are looking at the past and the present, the pro and the con, the good and the bad, the id, ego and superego. You are looking at all the contradictions and contortions, truths and lies, loves and self-hatred.

We beat these internal beasts because we are these internal beasts.

If we purport to believe in Democracy, as we black Americans claim, we should be able to handle a cadre of conflicting black intellectuals without ululating Judas over and over. We should be able to have a reasonable debate and choose to dislike them without reducing the discussion to name calling and taunts. If their ideas are bad, attack the ideas. If you think they are in bed with other diverting interests, attack that. But I gave up damning the psychology of minds I could not read long ago. It seemed odd, myself who has been accused of not being black enough, to call someone the worst of the worst, a Judas, unless I had some proof to back up that vision of grease paint faces grinning like Cheshire cats in the dark, gaining pleasure off the pain of folks dark as they, then curl up like Tomcats at the toes of their masters.

It’s sort of like calling a person who’s for universal healthcare a Nazi – it’s both historically inaccurate and a gross hyperbole.

Clarence Thomas wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama, but I hope he wouldn’t call him greasy, Chicago-style politician benefiting from black misery either. I’d hope he’d just call him wrong and leave it at that.

I know I can call Thomas wrong and leave it at that too.

Have no life? Read all the previous entries on The Black Snob!

Sunday: Amy Holmes
Monday: Condoleezza Rice
Tuesday: Ward Connerly
Wednesday: Shelby Steele
Thursday: Alan Keyes
Friday: JC Watts
Saturday: Colin Powell
Sunday: Armstrong Williams
Monday: Michael Steele
Tuesday: John McWhorter
Wednesday: LaShawn Barber and Herman Cain
Thursday: Star Parker and Eric Wallace
Friday: Larry Elder and Thomas Sowell
Saturday: Juan Williams
Sunday: A final analysis, “Who Would Clarence Thomas Vote For?”

9 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in Black America: Clarence Thomas and Barack Obama

  1. Excellent post! I won’t say much because I am in the middle of my exams,(reading this was my study break), but you present a very concise, clear depiction of Thomas and his complicated logic of on race.Your piece here helped to fill gaps in the “Uncle Tom” post I had a little while ago.Keep doing your thing…like I said, I wish I could write more, but time won’t allow.

  2. [quote]Thomas’ biography convinced me that while I don’t agree with his political ideology he truly believes he is doing what is best for black Americans. Therefore his ideas should be attacked, not his intent.[/quote]Black Snob:With all due respect – this is 100% BACKWARD from what should be the case.It is ‘GOOD INTENTIONS’ that allow people to enjoy POPULAR reception among our people as leaders in our community while failing to register measurable advancement in our schools, public safety and business districts that they preside over.For me as one of those vile “Black Conservatives” it is all about the differences in METHODOLOGY that distinguishes me from my “Black Quasi-Socialist Progressive-Fundamentalist Racism-Chaser” brothren. I assure you that my end goals are identical – Safe Streets in our communities, Academic Attainment to allow our people to become well rounded human beings, Economic development so that our demands for goods and services are met and healthy lifestyles so that we live long, disease-free lives – are the same as most.The only hope we have to purge INEFFECTIVE METHODOLOGIES that are hoisted upon our community as policy is to put aside one’s INTENTIONS and to make a dispassionate review of the RESULTS that the path which one METHODOLOGIES have lead us down.The reason why I originally challenged your motivations for this entire piece is that, in my view, the short list of “Black Conservatives” that threaten the POPULAR consciousness of Black America are severely dwarfed by the long list of Black NON-conservatives that make up the long list of the 10,000 Black elected officials that are in office today. Combinging this list with those of other non-Blacks that preside over our communities and the fact remains – WE NOW HAVE MORE PEOPLE OF OUR OWN CHOOSING PRESIDING OVER OUR COMMUNITIES THAN EVER BEFORE IN OUR HISTORY. The popular damnation of the Black Conservative as the THREAT while the Black Media remains silent in their MANAGEMENT of those who actually do have power in our community is nothing short of criminal fraud and complicity.I will close out this series by asking my original question:WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE PURPOSE OF THE “BLACK POLITICAL ADVOCACY AND ACTIVISM”?If someone tells me that TODAY it is to “insure that the BEST INTERESTS OF BLACK PEOPLE is delivered into our community”…….I would say that “they have little evidence to bear this out” WITHIN THE BLACK COMMUNITY.Is someone said it was to empower the Democratic Party – with the assumption that with them in power the “Black Interests” will be delivered – I would agree that the FRONT END of this two part equation HAS BEEN DELIVERED. I am only waiting to see the SECOND PIECE delivered.

  3. One final thought on Affirmative Action – the great litmus test.If we put Affirmative Action up for inspection by considering it using the filter of COMPREHENSIVENESS and EFFECTIVENESS we could determine if in pursing this as the crown jewel of the civil rights movement circa 2008 is valid.Typically those defending AA will make note of the fact that if “one more Black student” has access to a college education then that is “one more than would be the case without the program” and thus it is worth it.For me I choose to apply a certain framework to my evaluation. I choose to consider the matriculation of all of the Black 9th graders today over the next 10 years in their lives. Of these 9th graders how many of them will be benefited by Affirmative Action?The answer is – only the ones who apply to certain colleges that have highly competitive admissions policies. Beyond this our hyper focus and then bereavement over the loss of the program fails to consider its relevance to the broad spectrum of our people who are pursuing an education and who’s academic progression will positively affect our community’s standing – economically and with regard to the prevailing rate of organized thought and skills.The sad fact of the matter is that there is too small of a percentage of our people that enter the doors of a college. In focusing on 9th graders it becomes clear that the greater need is to focus on doing everything that is necessary to make those who are not “college material” today to be so via having adequate high school preparation. We need to focus on a macro-level shift upward in our academic attainment bell curve. More of those who face a life with only a high school diploma will at least have the preparation necessary to perform in college. This would also increase the now small of high performing students that compete for slots in these elite schools. Absent AA these students will STILL go to college somewhere. They are not at risk. The Black kids in the “Wide Middle” who are between HS diploma and college admission need the most focus.Clarence Thomas and other conservatives are correct in that the Black community in recognizing the value of this higher academic attainment should EXPRESS this value via our willingness to restructure the priorities WITHIN our community. The activists seek to have the college admissions people to change so that more Blacks can be admitted.It is clear to me that an organic change within will benefit more than just the students applying for college at elite schools.When AA is inspected with respect to comprehensiveness – its primary focus cannot be substantiated. I personally would rather have 500,000 more Black graduates from solid, mid-level state schools around the country than 50,000 more Black graduates from elite Ivy League schools. Their placement in the workforces across America would do far more for our people than the connections that the Ivy league graduates can leverage for their own benefit.

  4. constructive feedback: The final piece stated what the whole point was. We should be able to talk about issues in the black community from all points of view without resorting to childish taunts and name calling. That was the point. That we should be open-minded. Like how I read your posts, but I don’t yell at you in all caps when I don’t agree. You have the right to say what you want to say. I should not perceive that as a threat, rather I should listen, make my own judgments based on my own experiences and knowledge then move on. It’s pointless to debate and not listen to both sides. Being a black conservative does not make you a traitor. That’s all I was ever trying to say.Like I imagine in real life you don’t go around all day fuming about present “black leadership.” You probably have friends and a job and enjoy your life. You probably care about other issues. I accept that you can’t accept my reason why I wrote the series. I think that’s a little silly, given I accept your POV and haven’t accused you of having ulterior motives other than being a little pushy. And do find it odd still that you are quasi demanding I write about John Lewis, Maxine Waters, Charles Rangel, et al, when I was writing about differences in political ideology. I’ve criticized the stagnation in black identity politics on this blog before (I don’t know whether you skipped over my MLK entry on the 40th anniversary if his murder or not). But I guess I can’t accuse you of why you’ve chosen to belabor this blog series. You obviously feel very strongly about present “black leadership,” and have somewhat of a hostility towards people who want to talk about black conservatism even if it isn’t a screed demonizing them.I really encourage you to find some platform to write at length on the subject of flaws in black Liberal thinking. It just seems odd to demand a black Liberal to do what you’re asking. It would be akin to me screaming at Sean Hannity or Armstrong Williams to write about the demons in their closets. It would make more sense for you to carefully craft and develop your own content and find a proper venue for it rather than harp on mine. But as I said before. I respect your feedback. I’ll take it in consideration, but I typically write what I’m curious about or what makes me happy.

  5. [quote]I really encourage you to find some platform to write at length on the subject of flaws in black Liberal thinking. It just seems odd to demand a black Liberal to do what you’re asking.[/quote]Black Snob – I don’t have any hostile feelings when I dialogue with you. Honest.For me it is not even a matter of the flaws of “Black Liberal thinking”. Not at all. In my studies of the subject “Why are my people in this particular pattern in our communities and what needs to change?” I realize that I can’t come in promoting “conservative” viewpoints. Hell – I just watched C-SPAN this past weekend and a Black Stanford Law professor who wrote the book “The Race Card” had a conversation that at the end got focused on “conservatives” (Whites) and how THEIR antics undergird all of the problems that Black America has.Do you REALLY think that a people who are so inclined to believe this is going to be trying to hear anything from anybody that has a t-shirt “I’m a conservative” written on it?It is not about ME (and I am not yelling – this is my style – for emphasis purposes) trying to tell YOU what to think.It IS about ME attempting to document what Black people CLAIM that we want to achieve out of our political activism in its present form and then HOLDING A MIRROR UP TO OUR COLLECTIVE FACES and asking the question…….”ARE YOU HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU SEE?”Do you see that the worst possible thing I could do is to try to have someone to FOLLOW ME. I am only asking that my people BE MORE TRUE TO THEMSELVES and what they consider to be their DEFINED BEST INTERESTS.There is no “hatred here” Black Snob. I actually appreciate you and the forum that you have provided. For me it’s like this – the quality of the content provides the attractiveness for my attention. Unfortunately there are too many Black themed blogs that are the same old same – name calling and thought enforcement without any more depth than their belief that it will be the AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM, having been duly changed…..is going to lead to a revelation among Black people. There is more of a documented track record among the various cities that represent the plateaus that this political machine had “conquered” with the primary focus being on “government take over” but not economic reality and the means of maintaining law and order on the streets and the schools up to par that indicate that this plan to take over the next plateau will render roughly the same results than I am lead to believe that the CHANGE that is promised will be much different.This is not PESSIMISTIC – this is an attached observer who is tired of being used for someone else’s purposes.Good luck on your venture again. (I am not the enemy – the failure to focus on our OBJECTIVES as a people IS)

  6. constructive feedback: Well I gathered that you liked the blog. I’d hate to think someone shows up here every other day just to start a fight. So I’m flattered. I am trying to appeal to different viewpoints and getting people to laugh at themselves a little. After I started reading more black political blogs I noticed that some could be a tad screechy with the indignation. I just don’t see that squabbling as a good use of time. Especially since it’s not fair to lump anything label “conservative” as a bad idea. I’m a feminist, but I’m anti-gross promiscuity. I mean, go nuts if you want, just don’t be surprised if I think you’re a little disgusting. I’m also a “contradiction” by some standards because I’m for abstinence (at least until you’re old enough to deal with the consequences) and for every form of contraception short of castration.Plus, black intellectuals, conservative, centrist or liberal, tend to get the crap beat out of them by people who perfectly happy to wallow in ignorance. Like me learning how to read was a way to make them feel inadequate.

  7. Black Snob I love you. One addition: when you attack Clarence Thomas's ideas please state which specific idea you disagree with. As for me I disagree with his position on discretionary life-without-the possibility-of-parole for juvenile offenders. However, I agree with the dicta from Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena (US 1995). " There can be no doubt that racial paternalism and its unintended consequences can be as poisonous and pernicious as any other form of discrimination. So-called "benign" discrimination teaches many that because of chronic and apparently immutable handicaps, minorities cannot compete with them without their patronizing indulgence." To me that is pure beauty, pure genius. Also, I have had to deal with "patronizing indulgence" too long and I am fed up with it. Balck Snob, I disagree with you that Thomas is the patron saint of Black conservatives. He is too unpopular generally to be anybody's patron saint. In my opinion he deserves respect. The history books will treat him much more kindly than we Black Americans treat him now. As a matter of fact his decisions are in fact better for Black Americans than were Marshall's. Thurgood Marshall as a justice was really a celebrity-politician at that point in his career. In his decisions you can see him "hamming it up" for his constituency: liberal America. He really just wanted to get invited to the best cocktail parties – the Katharine Graham parties. As a lawyer Thurgood Marshall was a warrior. As a SCJ he had a profoundly negative impact on American culture and jurisprudence. "De mortuis nil nisi bonum," 'but I cannot resist in this context. History will prove that as a SCJ Thomas was a better man. Then again, perhaps that is just the sort of reasoning that is holding us back. Why am I comparing Thomas to Marshall at all? Because they both happen to be Black? Legal historians will hopefully compare Thomas to other libertarian conservatives and Marshall to other extreme left-wing radical-liberals. It would be an intellectual fallacy and small-mindedness to compare the two. Notwithstanding what I just wrote. Black Snob, I disagree with you that Clarence Thomas is the patron saint of Black conservatives. Thomas Sowell is the undisputed patron saint.

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