14 votes

US Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas's radical vision of race

9 comments

  1. tempestoftruth
    (edited )
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    I never thought I would identify with Clarence Thomas, of all people, on this issue. As a person of color who attended an elite institution, he's absolutely right that simply having been there...

    I never thought I would identify with Clarence Thomas, of all people, on this issue. As a person of color who attended an elite institution, he's absolutely right that simply having been there does indescribable damage to your psyche and sense of self-worth. The markings of white supremacy abound, nearly every interaction is some form of mental violence or another against you, it is poisonous to be at these places as a person of color. The assertion that affirmative action is just part of white supremacy makes total sense to me, just for the white liberals to be able to say, "look at how good we are, letting them into our universities and letting them pretend for a while." I still support it, because it's at universities that people of color tend to get their first exposure to radical political thinkers that provide a framework for understanding oppression and a way forward, but it seems like Thomas became disillusioned with that, and I certainly can't blame him. It's been this way for a long time, the fundamentally white supremacist nature of American society, that is, and efforts to change it have come up short. To eliminate racism in American society would be to fundamentally restructure it in such a way that it would be completely unrecognizable, and that's a challenging task. Thomas appears to have conceded that it's an impossible one, but it only becomes impossible when we choose to accept it as such.

    8 votes
  2. [7]
    determinism
    Link
    When was Clarence Thomas on the left? I understand that there were strong left-wing currents in the black nationalist movement but is black nationalism inherently left-wing? His early influences...

    This vision is what sets Thomas apart from his fellow-conservatives on the bench, who believe that racism is either defeated or being diminished. It’s a vision that first emerged during Thomas’s early years, when he was on the left and identified, on a profound level, with the tenets of black nationalism.

    When was Clarence Thomas on the left? I understand that there were strong left-wing currents in the black nationalist movement but is black nationalism inherently left-wing? His early influences were Sowell and Ayn Rand? I'm not seeing it.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Thomas

    6 votes
    1. spit-evil-olive-tips
      Link Parent
      From the article: It reminds me of "horseshoe theory", the idea that far-left and far-right people have a surprising amount in common (namely, political radicalism). Thomas used to be a radical...

      From the article:

      His first trip to Washington was to march on the Pentagon and against the Vietnam War. The last rally he attended, in Cambridge—one of the most violent in the city’s history, in which two thousand cops assaulted three thousand protesters—was to demand the release of the Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale and the Panther leader Ericka Huggins. “I was never a liberal,” he said at a talk in 1996. “I was a radical.”

      It reminds me of "horseshoe theory", the idea that far-left and far-right people have a surprising amount in common (namely, political radicalism). Thomas used to be a radical who focused on causes popular among the left, now he's a radical who focuses on causes popular among the right.

      6 votes
    2. [5]
      Loire
      Link Parent
      It's debatable, especially because, now forgotten with Martin Luther King Jr.'s efforts representing the whole period, that significant sects within the black civil right's movement were...

      It's debatable, especially because, now forgotten with Martin Luther King Jr.'s efforts representing the whole period, that significant sects within the black civil right's movement were inherently conservative. Garveyism and it's offspring were segregationist in nature. Many of the civil rights activities of the time were religious in nature. There were at least three "islamic" bodies that I know of that played significant roles in the movement. Malcolm X and other members of the Nation of Islam met with and tried to work with the KKK in the south. The black panthers arming themselves is vaguely right wing in nature (at least from today's perspective).

      On the other hand we see all things related to pushing civil liberties forward as within the realm of the "left". The politicians and non-black allies of the movement at the time were all left wing as far as I know. Today the black civil rights movement is largely characterized as another in the many left eing movements of the time.

      4 votes
      1. moonbathers
        Link Parent
        Civil rights movements are some form of left-wing because by definition they're not conservative, they're trying to change things and not take them back to how they used to be. Even if the...

        Civil rights movements are some form of left-wing because by definition they're not conservative, they're trying to change things and not take them back to how they used to be. Even if the movements hold some form of conservative values otherwise, advocating for racial equality when there is currently none is by definition not conservative.

        2 votes
      2. [3]
        tempestoftruth
        Link Parent
        Segregationism isn't necessarily a conservative viewpoint, obviously some radical Black nationalist groups were advocating for it. It just so happens that there's a bit of an association between...

        black civil right's movement were inherently conservative. Garveyism and it's offspring were segregationist in nature

        Segregationism isn't necessarily a conservative viewpoint, obviously some radical Black nationalist groups were advocating for it. It just so happens that there's a bit of an association between segregation and the right, but segregation is just a political issue and within the left-wing, different political elements took different positions on the issue.

        Many of the civil rights activities of the time were religious in nature.

        Yep, religion isn't necessarily conservative either. There is such a thing as a socialist reading of the Bible, (or the Qur'an, I imagine), there's liberation theology, etc.

        Malcolm X and other members of the Nation of Islam met with and tried to work with the KKK in the south.

        Again, this doesn't make them conservative. It appears to just have been a temporary convenient "alliance" (if you can even call it that) against liberalism, or if we're speaking in the right-left political dichotomy, then the center.

        The black panthers arming themselves is vaguely right wing in nature (at least from today's perspective).

        Totally depends on who's doing the violence and for what reasons. Just because we associate conservativism with gun rights doesn't make the support of gun rights a conservative viewpoint.

        I don't think there's any need to try to explain Thomas's earlier positions as having been conservative, so as to suggest that he hasn't really changed much at all. People undergo changes influencing their political beliefs, and it seems like he was on the left and later became disillusioned.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          Loire
          Link Parent
          I mean I respect your arguments and see where you're coming from but it all comes down to "not necessarily". We can play that game with any topic. The fact of the matter is religion, both...

          I mean I respect your arguments and see where you're coming from but it all comes down to "not necessarily". We can play that game with any topic. The fact of the matter is religion, both Christian and Islamic is typically conservative, while there are socialist readings, the churches that were pushing black civil rights were not of those perspectives. Segregation, in this case the idea that blacks and whites simply can't live side by side, is a conservative belief. It's a belief that goes back to early America. It's a backwards looking philosophy. It's conservative by definition. Finally in their meetings with the KKK Malcolm X and the NOI were explicitly pursuing the concept that blacks and whites can't be together. They were explicitly calling their MLKesque brothers in the movement "Uncle Tom's", they were explicitly calling desegregation a plot by the Jews to weaken both races. If that's not a right leaning, then nothing is.

          I know you don't want to associate any aspect of the civil rights movement with the right for obvious reasons, but the truth many of the members of the movement were pursuing their own rights from a conservative perspective.

          1. tempestoftruth
            Link Parent
            I mean, as much as I hate to say it given that I consider myself to be a member of the left, anti-Semitism is not exclusive to Nazis and white nationalists. There have been plenty of "left"...

            I mean, as much as I hate to say it given that I consider myself to be a member of the left, anti-Semitism is not exclusive to Nazis and white nationalists. There have been plenty of "left" figures who were racist, homophobic, and otherwise had problematic viewpoints on a lot of things we consider cut-and-dry today.

            Segregation as a concept did not originate nor is it unique to the United States, and conservativism is not necessarily the support of long-standing policy or resistance to change, right? The tax bill was a pretty radical shift on federal tax policy, and plenty of people we call conservatives supported it.

            I understand the terms we use in political discussions are just approximations, and that this is a bit of a semantic discussion, but it's important to look at the positions people are taking and avoid the generalizations sometimes. I think this is one of those cases.

  3. Thunder-ten-tronckh
    Link
    Honest expression requires empathetic reception, and I just don't see how this mindset can co-exist with the way that racism has been tabooed in society at large. When people are labeled racist...

    Whites—Southern and Northern, liberal and conservative, rural and urban—are racists. Racism, Thomas would tell students at Mercer University, in 1993, “has complex and, to a certain degree, undiscoverable roots.” Not knowing its beginnings, we can’t know its end. The most that can be hoped for is that whites be honest about it. Honesty is demonstrated through crude statements of personal animus or intellectual suggestions of racial inequality. Dishonesty is demonstrated through denial of one’s racism and sympathetic extensions of help.

    Honest expression requires empathetic reception, and I just don't see how this mindset can co-exist with the way that racism has been tabooed in society at large. When people are labeled racist (legitimately or not), they stand to lose friends, social currency, status, and jobs. Unless we can create a culture of empathetic understanding for those brave enough to be honest with themselves about implicit bias and privilege—rather than a culture of equating all forms of racism and vilifying anyone accused of it—honest expression will only be punished.

    On a related tangent, I've felt for a while that the term "racist" needs to be de-weaponized and diversified. Racial inequality and discriminatory ideas take so many different forms that one umbrella term can't possibly represent it all. A woman subconsciously clutching her purse and a Klansman burning a cross could both be labeled "racists," but the nature of their discrimination clearly isn't equal. If we're talking about dishonesty, automatically lumping that woman in with the most extreme forms of racism by terminological limitation feels dishonest.

    Idk. I'm conflicted on some of this stuff. Happy to discuss if anyone cares to expand.