Monday, May 10, 2010

Extended Tweet: Clarence Thomas and Blackness

Here is an attempt to expand on a discussion that started on Twitter. Here are some quotes from the back and forth we had:
  • hemantmehta: Black people don't really claim [Supreme Court Justice] Clarence [Thomas]. Just saying.
  • dcox21: Why's that? Must one think a certain way to be considered 'black?'
  • hemantmehta: I think that's what a lot of the black community would say, but you'd have to ask them!
  • dcox21: Am I the only one who sees the irony in that? "You're different from us so we exclude you." Seems like we're moving backwards.
  • me: There is no irony in folks disliking a judge with politics that are opposite theirs. Thomas is conservative. Most blacks are not.
  • dcox21: But aren't most blacks conservative when it comes to moral issues?
This dialog kept on for a while, but eventually I decided that I needed more than 140 words for my reply.

Let's face it, when we look at the Supreme Court, diversity comes up as an issue. White people make mention of Thomas' blackness as if it is a nod to racial diversity on the court. In my opinion, this is very superficial. The value of diversity in any governmental entity is not to have a group picture that looks like The Mod Squad. The value of diversity is to represent a broad range of values and perspectives.

When hemantmehta indicated that blacks don't claim Thomas, he meant that most blacks don't believe that he shares their values. When it comes to anyone in government, that's a pretty important consideration: Do people in power share your values? Thomas is pretty conservative, but most blacks are pretty liberal. It's true that many religious blacks have some morally conservative inclinations, but overall, their politics are still liberal (regardless of the race of the candidate).

Does this mean that blacks exclude Thomas from black society? No, he's still a brotha (even if he's a hypocritical one), but it means that blacks will always bristle at the idea that he represents us in any way on the Supreme Court. I know that justices aren't supposed to represent any constituency, but the fact is that he was selected because of his skin color, yet his jurisprudence doesn't reflect any values to which most blacks can relate. Trading Marshall for Thomas was a pretty brutal downgrade.

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