When Clarence Thomas Talks, People Groan

February is the wrong month to excuse American racial insensitivity

Clarence and Stephan_Where Excuses Go to Die

Speaking this week at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, African-American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas bemoaned what he believes to be today’s oversensitivity to issues of race and differences among us. Thomas may have been aiming his criticism at the deterioration of personal responsibility (as in, I’m a victim, you’re a victim, wouldn’t you like to be a victim too?), but if he was referring to entitlement and victim culture instead of mitigating racism, perhaps those are the words he should have used. ‘Cause the controversy his arguably broad statements set loose won’t be going away any time soon.

The good news is we’ve been given fresh meat dialog regarding how we process our racial differences. And when better than Black History month to offer such a gift to society (besides every other day)?

The bad news  –for Clarence Thomas–  is that he chose February to tell Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and Jordan Davis supporters to chill out.

I’m of the age where just the mention of Thomas’s name brings to mind Coca-Cola, specifically cans of the stuff. But I’m not going there. Thomas, we know, can be credited for updating our awareness of workplace sexual harassment (at the expense of Anita Hill). Enough said.

Coke Clarence_Where Excuses Go to DiePalm Beach Atlantic University didn’t allow cameras, but apparently something called Yahoo! News managed to come away with his honor’s personal observations about how infrequently the issue of race came up when he was the first black attendee of a Savannah, Georgia school before and during the civil rights era. “Now,” says Thomas, “name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something…” Reading the excerpts, I half expected to find, “Dopey broads can’t take a joke!”

And again, if the Supreme Court Justice was talking about our current age of entitlement he’d have a point. But he fails to distinguish between crybabies, drama queens, emotional vampires, and genuine victims of racism.

Isn’t this guy supposed to know better? Doesn’t he have handlers to discuss with him what should leap from his public mouth? I mean, this is the man who, in one day, coined the phrase “high-tech lynching” AND testified before Congress that his workplace references to old timey porn star Long Dong Silver had been “taken out of context.”

He’s a friggen’ lawyer! Shouldn’t he be supremely well-versed in context?

(I know, I vowed not go down the Long Dong Silver road, but get character or become one, y’all!)

Thomas’s comments weren’t a gaffe. No microphone was accidentally (or purposefully) left on. He flat out said, publicly, that we should stop having hissy fits over racism. And from where I sit, African-American or not, Clarence Thomas isn’t the guy to tell us we talk too much about race.

Supreme Court Justice or not, I’m free to doubt the man’s common sense, as many have since 1990. And still, my head just can’t get around him sounding off this way. Even if it’s just for the sake of argument  –and tact–  you don’t go generalizing everyone’s personal sensitivities and experiences and measuring ’em upside only your own (superior) views.

Yet this is exactly what Thomas did, showing how unaware  –or unconcerned–  he is with the fact that anyone under 30 interprets intolerance and issues of race in an entirely different setting and an entirely new world of social communication. And Supreme Court Justice or no, who needs an old man of dubious achievement telling you to relax?

Kathleen Cleaver