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?”