It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Clarence Thomas.
That would be Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Yale Law '74, the least competent and most enraged member of the nation's highest judicial body and author of a vitriolic new book in which he lays himself out for a martyr's funeral as bitterly as any fatherless gangbanger who ever took a full clip in the chest.
I've not read Thomas' book, My Grandfather's Son; it seems to me that the lifesaving work of chronicling black American male rage has always been better left to possessors of actual talent and conscience: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Sekou Sundiata.
But from what I have heard, Thomas is one pissed-off brother, if he doesn't mind my use of the b-word. Excerpts of his new screed sound like the spittled outbursts of a man fast on his way toward the stroke unit of Shock Trauma. Here is one anecdote from the book, as pithily detailed by former Washington Post reporter and columnist Ruth Marcus:
"Whoop-dee damn-doo," Thomas relates telling his wife when she interrupted his bath to report that he had been confirmed. "Mere confirmation, even to the Supreme Court, seemed pitifully small compensation for what had been done to me."
Damn, Mr. Justice Clarence. You're starting to sound like one of those poor-me black guys your conservative colleagues complain about.
"What had been done to him," for those of you who were not old enough to watch at the time, was the spectacle of the televised hearings for Thomas' confirmation in 1991, at which (black) subordinate Anita Hill came forward with explosively detailed charges of sexual harassment against Thomas, including the infamous "pubic hair in my Coke" allegation. (If this is news to you, go to the Wikipedia write-up; I couldn't even begin to describe it here.) Suffice it to say that Hill's charges of Thomas' sexual advances and porn-baiting (since corroborated by others, including his coworkers and classmates) nearly torpedoed his Supreme Court confirmation. Worse, in the ensuing years, his eagerly undistinguished and regressive (some of us might say Scalia lapdog) service on the Court has left him with a public image just this side of Stepin Fetchit (another trip to Wikipedia if you need it).
In other words, Justice Clarence Thomas is one pissed-off black man.
This is too bad, because it gives pissed-off black men in general a bad name.
I mean, being pissed off has been an occupational hazard of being black and male in the New World since approximately 1500 A.D. It has, of course, also been an occupational hazard of being black and female. But right now we are discussing the particular rites of passage that gave the likes of Clarence Thomas a sense that they were entitled to sit around the fire and rage with the rest of us brothers. To start with, there was that business of being stripped of our family names and male initiations as well as our culture in general. Then, on top of our having to work from sunrise to sunset, for free, at the end of a whip, there was our having to stand around while our wives or daughters were raped at will by the master or his son -- or to die trying to protest. And our having to deal, in the presence of white women, with the whole Puritan Caucasian big-black-penis Freudian thing, which often served as a theme for popular white (and family-friendly) outdoor parties where the main attraction was the ceremonial hanging of a black man and the bloody severing of his genitals. Mix all of that white mainstream guilt and penis envy with post-slavery black joblessness, poverty, street crime and adolescent black male bravado and you get what we've now got: A society that is hot for the chocolate stylings of the NBA, the NFL and corporate hip-hop's Next Angry Nigga but hateful and fearful toward the actual black men who throw and catch balls, who stand on street corners, and who smile in elevators from within business suits.
So a certain amount of rage -- along with a higher risk of chronically elevated blood pressure and resulting consequences -- tends to come with this black male territory. And our license as black males to carry and try to healthfully express this rage comes with a few hundred years' worth of historical documentation.
But now along comes Clarence Thomas, an unremarkable intellect who uses Affirmative Action to gain a foothold at Yale, and who then does a neat racial reverse-flip by which he voices newfound contempt for Affirmative Action to gain prominence as a black functionary in a rightward-tilted presidential administration, and who then, when publicly confronted by a black woman and a Senate panel with charges of sexually abusive and lewd behavior, has the surreal audacity to turn and yell, "Lynching!!"
We brothers don't appreciate that, Mr. Justice Clarence.
You don't get to quit a club, to badmouth a club for years, brother Clarence, and to then suddenly rejoin it in a pinch. The defense of black maleness doesn't work that way.
Certainly, brother Clarence, go ahead and be mad. Be as enraged as you need to be in that nasty little just-published selective-memoir of yours. Lash out at those who roll their eyes behind your back as you and your wife, who is white, awkwardly nudge your way through the Washington conservative insider circuit. Sneer at the blacks who sneer at you. Smolder inside at the whites who nod at your agreeably right-wing Court opinions while they privately snicker at you and your plebeian legal credentials and your attempts at good-Negro defiance. Call Anita Hill every vile name in the book if you want to. Go ahead and be angry, Clarence.
But don't lay your rage at the doorstep of black manhood. It looks to me as if you left yours on the steps of someone's grand pillared plantation manor long ago.