Clarence Thomas: A Silent Justice Speaks Out

Many white liberals, on the other hand, view him with disdain, questioning his intellect and qualifications — questions, incidentally, that aren't typically raised about Thomas by blacks. Even when presented with hard documentary evidence — memos and notes taken by Justice Harry Blackmun — that Thomas has been independent of Justice Antonin Scalia from the beginning and has influenced the Court in a number of areas, many white liberals refuse to acknowledge it.

Thomas views it all through a racial lens. He says he is not wounded by the criticisms of his fellow blacks that he is uncaring about other members of his race, which he dismisses as akin to a racial slur hurled from"from a bus driving by or a pickup truck on a rural road." But at the same time he says he is hurt — saying he wishes someone would just hear him and what he is trying to say.

"Why else would you take on virtually everybody, and take on the prevailing notions about race? Why would you take the criticism if you didn't care? I mean it's easy to go along with the crowd and sort of play that game — that doesn't require any courage or backbone," Thomas says. "It took a lot more to say, 'I think something is wrong.'"

Instead of being a hypocrite for opposing affirmative action after supposedly benefiting from it, a frequent charge, Thomas says affirmative action actually harmed him and that he believes he should be able to criticize it.

"Once we're set on something that's the accepted wisdom, other people like me, who have questions, suddenly become heretics — you can't talk about it, you can't say, 'Look, I have good intentions, too. I just don't agree with you,'" Thomas says. "Why wouldn't it be just as easy to say, 'Well, here's somebody who went through it, and he has some problems with it based on his experience, and his intentions are as good as the people who are the authors of the initial policy?' But that doesn't happen."

But Thomas is much more critical of the white liberals who have dismissed him as an intellectual lightweight.

"It's similar to what you had in the South, you know: 'you're stupid because you're black,' that 'you smell bad because you're black.' I mean, it's all the same thing," Thomas says. "And I don't understand why people … buy into it and don't see the long-term damage."

He believes whites again have created a system where blacks have to stay in a certain place — this time ideologically, not geographically. Slavery evolved into segregation; segregation evolved into an entrenched system of racial preferences, paternalism and condescension — a modern-day system, Thomas says, that also keeps blacks inferior and ideologically segregated.

"Whites can think anything they want, and we can have opinions about frivolous things, like I could be a (Washington) Nationals fan, as opposed to being an (Baltimore) Orioles fan, Oh, that's ok. But if it's important, if you're black, you all have to think the same thing," Thomas says. "Can you imagine someone saying that about whites, that, 'well, you're white, you're all supposed to think the same thing.' That would be considered ludicrous."

And the discussion of affirmative action, he says, is particularly damaging. It's become an issue that pits blacks against whites, liberals against conservatives — to the point that it's almost impossible to honestly debate its impact, Thomas said.

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