“He says his critics — the people who question whether he is smart or qualified to be on the Court or who suggest he merely does what a white Supreme Court colleague dictates — are as also as bigoted as the whites of his childhood in the deep South.
“People feel free to say about me what they think about lots of blacks,” Thomas said in an interview in his chambers at the Supreme Court. “Because of the heterodox views I’ve taken, they have license to say it about me with impunity.”
…Thomas’s life and experiences — growing up in the Jim Crow South, integrating all-white public schools as the only black student, confronting more latent racism after he fled to what he hoped would be “utopia” in the North — clearly have influenced how he views the law and social policies like affirmative action. His brutal 1991 confirmation battle only reinforced those deeply held views. He says he believes every discussion of race in America is fundamentally dishonest.
“It’s even more dishonest than the ’60s,” he says.
He is adamantly opposed to affirmative action, but for entirely different reasons than white conservatives who drive the debate by arguing it’s unfair to white people. Thomas says affirmative action instead has hurt blacks. It not only sends them into environments in which they are doomed to struggle instead of soar, but it also perpetuates negative stereotypes that whites hold today that all blacks are inferior to them and don’t belong — just as whites in the South assumed 50 years ago.
“These ideologies that claim to be so warm toward minorities actually turn out to be quite pernicious,” Thomas says.
Under affirmative action, Thomas says, whites will forever believe blacks enroll in top schools or hold good jobs only because the institutions lowered their standards to accept them — regardless of whatever qualifications an individual may actually have. The assumption is that blacks, Thomas says, are not and cannot be as good as whites.
“Once you start making these decisions and judgments about people’s capabilities based on race, it is forever locked in,” Thomas says. “And you can see it play out throughout my confirmation and throughout the subsequent years that I’ve been on the Court.”
…He says he had to be “dehumanized” and “destroyed,” because he held views considered heretical for a black man — because, as he puts it, he was in a different ideological neighborhood and refused to buy into the views that whites had “disseminated as the prevailing view for blacks.”
“I saw it for what it was, and I still see it for exactly what it was,” Thomas says. “I think it was an effort to keep me in my place.”
…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.” — Clarence Thomas via ABC