|There is very little about which Clarence Thomas and I agree. The
ultraconservative Supreme Court justice is a hard-line opponent of affirmative action. I
am an unflinching supporter of affirmative action, recognizing it as a legitimate remedy
for the racial discrimination that still exists. (Thomas' criticism of affirmative action
has drawn fire not only because he is black, but also because he is a hypocrite; he was
admitted to the Yale University School of Law as a beneficiary of the very programs he now
Thomas opposes a woman's right to choose an abortion. I am a vigorous
supporter of a woman's right to choose. Thomas is untroubled by the caprice and biases of
a criminal justice system that punishes black men more severely for crimes for which white
men get little or no time in prison. I believe those biases to be a contributing factor to
the destruction of the black family in America, since so many black men of marriageable
age end up in prison, and, because of their prison records, are virtually unemployable
when they get out.
However, there is one critical principle upon which Thomas and I are in complete
agreement: black Americans, like any other Americans, are individuals free to choose their
political ideologies, religious beliefs and personal affiliations.
Thomas is no less "black" because he is ultraconservative. The notion that
all blacks should think alike is ridiculous, stereotypical and demeaning--an idea that too
many otherwise intelligent black Americans have picked up, unthinkingly, from the
catechism of white supremacy. Like Thomas, I will never give in to that warped and
I also admire Thomas' decision to wade into the lion's den by accepting a controversial
invitation to speak to the National Bar Association, the nation's largest organization of
black lawyers. After the group's officials asked Thomas to speak to their convention in
Memphis, some prominent members threatened to have the invitation rescinded. Others
suggested a protest should Thomas dare to show up.
The invitation was not rescinded, and Thomas came to address his critics, unrepentant,
even defiant: "I refuse to have my ideas assigned to me because I am black . . . I do
not need anyone telling me who I am today. This is especially true of the psycho-silliness
about forgetting my roots or self-hatred."
In keeping the engagement with the National Bar Association, Thomas underscored not
only his individualism but also another fundamental American tenet: the importance of
spirited and uncensored debate.
I wish those whose political inclinations are closer to my own would learn something
from Thomas' appearance: Meet your detractors with a vigorous and thoughtful defense of
your position, as the nation's great black orators, from Frederick Douglass forward, would
have done. The petty insults and sophomoric name-calling--"Uncle Thomas,"
etc.--with which Thomas' critics greeted him did not diminish his arguments, but rather
cast doubt on their own.
Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor of the
Atlanta Constitution. This article was reprinted with her permission.