Commentary: Clarence Thomas’s Strange History Lesson

The only Black justice on the United States Supreme Court offers some strange reflections on race in America.

Posted: 02/12/2014 06:40 PM EST

Over his years as a justice of the United States Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas has developed a well-known reputation as being the member of the court who speaks the least and opens his mouth on the rarest occasions, if ever, in the deliberations of matters before the justices.

It’s a shame that Thomas doesn’t take that same approach to his life outside of the court.
The lone African-American judge on the high court recently offered his romanticized reminiscences of his days growing up in the South, saying that the issue of race “rarely” came up. By comparison, he said, people in the Northeast are obsessed with the topic and treated African-Americans horribly by comparison.

“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites,” Thomas said. “The absolute worst I have ever been treated.”

In his most recent musings, Thomas sounds a good deal like Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, who recently said that African-Americans in the days of segregation seemed happy as they could be and offered not a peep of discontent regarding their second-class status.

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school,” Thomas said. “To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up. Now, name a day it doesn’t come up.”

He added that, in today’s world, "everybody is sensitive" about sex and race, or if "somebody doesn't look at you right, somebody says something."

More than anything, the justice’s comments reveal again something so cynical about this man, a product of affirmative action who condemns any semblance of that practice. Thomas is a man who seems so deeply divided within himself that is makes his logic completely unfathomable to all but the right-wing conservative zealots who rejoice so wildly about his place on the court.

As the commentator Marc Lamont Hill put it so accurately, “He’s had a long history of walking through doors and closing them behind him.”

Clarence Thomas was born in the South, in Georgia, in 1948. That means that when he was seven and eight, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was in full swing in a state where, like his own, African-Americans sat in segregated sections of the bus. He was eight when Emmett Till was savagely beaten and murdered. He was 13 years old when Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter integrated the University of Georgia in his beloved home state.

The best thing for Clarence Thomas’ reflections would be for him to assume the role in his public discourse that he takes in his behavior in the bench, where less is definitely preferable.

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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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