Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas lamented how much Americans talk about race these days during a Tuesday speech at a Florida university. The conservative justice who, among other things, has written opinions supporting limits on Affirmative Action, added that "the worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”
The justice, who spent some of his childhood in a racially segregated Georgia, also equated racial injustice with the day-to-day unfairness of life, criticizing the amount of focus placed on racial issues in national discussions. Here's what he said to the students of Palm Beach Atlantic University, via Chris Moody:
My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. 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. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive.
If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them—left them out. That’s a part of the deal."
Thomas didn't elaborate on what, specifically, "northern liberal elites" did to him that is, in his opinion, worse than his experience as a black Catholic in 1960's Georgia, but it's almost certain that he's referring in part to the Anita Hill scandal. Hill used to work for Thomas. In 1991, she accused him of sexually harassing her a decade before that. The high-profile accusations became the center ring of Thomas's confirmation hearings to the Supreme Court in the Senate. The then-nominee testified at the time that the whole ordeal was a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves." He added, "it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree." Obviously, Thomas was eventually confirmed to the high court.
Thomas is famously, perhaps infamously, silent at the bench during oral arguments to the Supreme Court. But he's known as one of the court's most outspoken critics of Affirmative Action policies. In a 2013 concurring opinion on the issue, Thomas unfavorably compared the practice to slavery and segregation.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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