Thomas spoke at length about how his own experiences as a black conservative and a black justice prove his point. Because he was admitted to Yale Law School under affirmative action after graduating with honors from Holy Cross, he said people have questioned his qualifications and discounted his achievements. Even as a Justice, he says, people continue to believe he merely has "followed" Justice Scalia because a black man couldn't possibly hold those views or be smart enough to come up with them on his own.
"Give me a break. I mean this is part of the — you know, the black guy is supposed to follow somebody white. We know that," Thomas says. "Come on, we know the story behind that. I mean there's no need to sort of tip-toe around that … The story line was that, well I couldn't be doing this myself, he must be doing it for me because I'm black. That's obvious.
"Again, I go back to my point. Who were the real bigots? It's obvious," Thomas says.
Centering the debate on affirmative action also distracts attention from more pressing problems within the black community, where the vast majority of poor kids don't get far enough to even consider college, much less ever see a "benefit" from affirmative action, he says.
"We'll expend huge amounts of energy over affirmative action, but very little over what's really happening in the classroom for the bulk of these (other) kids or what's happening in the home or the lack of home environment," Thomas says. "So yes, you care about them in theory, as long as it's this racial theory (you) agree with, but do you really care about them as individuals? Do you care where they go at night, what they're doing, how they're learning, what's in the school, etc.? And you don't see any passion expended on the latter."
Thomas's dissents opposing affirmative action and minority contracting programs, as well as efforts to draw voting districts along racial lines, prompt harsh criticism from African American leaders that he doesn't care about black people and just follows the white conservatives. But Thomas raises different concerns about those programs than whites do. And in other race cases, he often writes dissents focusing on exactly the groups he talks about — poor blacks who are trying and struggling against high odds.
When Thomas was nominated to replace liberal icon Justice Thurgood Marshall, civil rights leaders were outraged, saying the conservative Thomas wasn't worthy to replace Marshall, who as an attorney with the NAACP, had argued Brown v. Board of Education and had done so much to advance the cause of blacks in society.
"I mean, who are they? Justice (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg replaced Justice (Byron) White. Did anybody say she was unworthy to replace Justice White?" Thomas asked, referring to the liberal Ginsburg taking the place of the more conservative White. "They were different. They're quite different.
"So why do you ask that question about black people?" he says. "That's absurd…and the amazing thing to me is people don't see the absurdity of it, that a white can replace a white and there's no question. They're quite different. But you never say, 'Are they worthy to replace this particular person?'"
To continue on to Part II: The Integrator, please click here.