| Editor's Note: In
a speech before the National Bar Association in Memphis in July, Supreme Court Justice
Clarence Thomas said he will not succumb to pressure to alter his conservative legal
views, even if it means being branded a traitor to his race. The following is excerpted
from his address.
As has become the custom, a wearisome one I must admit, this
invitation has not been without controversy. There now seems to be a broad acceptance of
the racial divide as a permanent state. As we once celebrated those things that we had in
common with our fellow citizens who do not share our race, so many now are triumphal about
our differences . . . Indeed, some go as far as to all but define each of us by our race
and establish the range of our thinking and our opinions, if not our deeds, by our color .
I, for one, see this in much the same way I saw our denial of rights as nothing short
of our denial of humanity. . .
It has struck me as odd that some think that there are cliques and cabals at the court.
No such arrangement exists . . . With respect to my following, or more accurately being
led by, other members of the court--that is silly, but expected, because I couldn't
possibly think for myself.
What else could possibly be the explanation when I fail to follow an ideological and
intellectual, if not anti-intellectual, prescription assigned to blacks? Since thinking
beyond this prescription is presumptively beyond my ability, obviously somebody must be
putting strange ideas into my mind and my opinions. The stench of racial inferiority still
confounds my olfactory nerves
. . . I, for one, have been singled out for particularly bilious and venomous assaults.
I have no right to think the way I do because I'm black . . .
Having had to accept my blackness in a cauldron as a youth . . . I had few racial
identity problems. I knew who I was and needed no gimmicks to affirm my identity. Nor,
might I add, do I need anyone telling me who I am today . . .
Despite some of the nonsense that has been said about me by those who should know
better . . . I am a man, a black man, an American . . .
It pains me deeply, more deeply than any of you can imagine, to be perceived by so many
members of my race as doing them harm. All the sacrifice, all the long hours of studying,
were to help, not to hurt.
I have come here today . . . to assert my right to think for myself, to refuse to have
my ideas assigned to me as though I was an intellectual slave because I'm black.
I come to state that I am a man, free to think for myself and do as I please. I'm a
judge not consigned to assert the opinions of others . . .
But even more than that, I've come to say: Isn't it time to move on? Isn't it time to
realize that being angry with me solves no problems? Isn't it time to acknowledge that the
problems of race have defied simple solutions, and not one of us--not a single one of
us--can lay claim to the solution?
Isn't it time that we respect ourselves and each other as we have demanded respect from
others? Isn't it time to ignore those whose sole occupation is sowing seeds of discord and
animus that is self-hatred? I believe that the time has come today.
Clarence Thomas was appointed to the Supreme
Court by President George Bush in 1991.