There were six Supreme Court justices who voted to overthrow Roe v. Wade last week. The majority opinion was written by Judge Samuel Alito. In the aftermath of the verdict, however, there was an intense and particular focus on another justice: Clarence Thomas.
Shortly after the court delivered its decision, some free agency advocates began hurling outrageous and overtly racist remarks at Thomas (including liberal evocations of the “N-word” on Twitter) — often to the acclaim of a number of other left-aligned whites.
Thomas’s embrace of the Republican Party reflects a deep distrust of white liberals, the institutions they control, and the policies they try to promote in the name of “social justice.”
The comments were so ubiquitous that “Uncle Clarence” began trending on Twitter, a reference to the eponymous character from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” who emerged as a symbol of black men who are too submissive to whites.
In practice, the term is mainly used against black people who take positions that elite liberals find distasteful. For example “Uncle Tim” rather trending on Twitter after the rebuttal of President Joe Biden’s inaugural address to a joint session of Congress, black Republican Senator Tim Scott.
On the other hand, in other cases, minorities who violate liberals’ preferences and sensibilities are literal explained be white instead. To the extent that Thomas and Scott are branded as race traitors, critics still recognize their race.
There is, however, a deep irony in characterizing Thomas as an “Uncle Tom” (or worse) as, before entering public service, he identified with black nationalism† He is currently married to a white woman and has joined the GOP. However, as political theorist Corey Robin has shown in his book “Clarence Thomas’s riddleHis views on race and racial issues have remained very consistent throughout his life.
Indeed, Thomas’s embrace of the Republican Party reflects a deep distrust of white liberals, the institutions they control, and the policies they seek to promote in the name of “social justice.”
This distrust was widely shared among black activists of his generation – and is consistent with Thomas’ Supreme Court decisions, including the overthrow of Roe. The racist attacks many liberals directed at Thomas in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling at least confirm the pessimistic view of race relations that prevailed among many of the black thinkers who shaped Thomas’s worldview and exhibited by Thomas himself.
It was, of course, Malcolm X who was famous… explained that: “In this deceptive American game of power politics, the Negroes (i.e., the race problem, integration, and civil rights issues) are nothing but tools, used by a group of whites called liberals against another group of whites called conservatives, i.e. to gain power. or stay in power.”
He argued that white liberals and white conservatives only differ in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor.” He continued, “By gaining the Negro’s friendship, allegiance and support, the white liberal can use the Negro as a pawn or a tool.”
A 2019 New Yorker profile reported that Thomas also supported Black Panther leader Kathleen Cleaver and Communist Party member Angela Davis, who were both wanted by police.
“When asked during his hearings what his major was, Thomas said, ‘English literature.’ When asked what he was under, he said ‘protest,'” the article notes, noting that his first visit to Washington was to march against the Vietnam War and the last rally he attended demanded the release of two Black Panthers “I’ve never been a liberal,” the article quotes him as saying during a 1996 lecture. “I was a radical.”
Thomas seems to have been put on this path by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. King had put forward a particularly optimistic view of white liberals and interracial advocacy. However, in the months leading up to his death, even he was forced to… to admit that “Negroes have taken the premise that equality means what it says, and they have taken white America at their word when they spoke of it as an objective.”
In contrast, he wrote, most whites “start from the premise that equality is a loose expression for improvement. White America isn’t even psychologically organized to close the gap – essentially it’s just trying to make it less painful and less obvious, but in most ways to preserve it. Most of the scrapes between Negroes and White Liberals stem from this fact.”
The political theorist Robin notes that in the aftermath Of King’s murder, which took place while he was a student at Holy Cross in Worcester, “Thomas has the realization, according to his own report, that no one is going to do anything for black people. And by nobody he means white liberals and white leftists.”
By the time Thomas arrived at Yale Law School, he was militant in racial affairs and more or less completely disillusioned with mainstream liberalism. Hillary Clinton, who recently overlapped him in the early 1970s explained that as long as she knew Thomas, he was always filled with ‘grievances’, ‘anger’ and ‘resentments’. Unspoken, but critical context: these were feelings Thomas faced white liberals in particular (like Clinton herself), who dominated Yale at the time and who still dominate the elite spaces today.
Thomas noted in a recent interview that people regularly assume that he has problems with other black people because of his politics. “It’s the exact opposite,” he stated. “The only people I’ve had issues with are white, liberal elites who see themselves as the anointed and us as the retarded…I’ve never had any issues with members of my race.”
In fact, there have been many prominent black intellectuals and leaders whose black nationalist distrust of white liberals ultimately led them to conservatism† for Thomas, it was the work by black economist Thomas Sowell who eventually helped him channel his doubts about “white saviors” into a coherent, right-wing political philosophy.
There is a deep irony in characterizing Thomas as an “Uncle Tom” (or worse), as he identified with black nationalism before pursuing public service.
However, black nationalist impulses continue to influence his judgments and philosophy of law. For example, core to Thomas’ thinking, according to Robin, is “a belief in black self-defense.” this commitment bottom purlins Thomas’ staunch support for the Second Amendment. It also plays a role in his opposition to abortion.
Thomas has repeatedly said that his aversion to abortion is: significantly informed through his deep and long-standing ties to racial eugenics programs. It should be noted that these eugenics initiatives were: heavily pushed by white liberals of the times, also in the name of helping the marginalized and underprivileged. Thomas is not confident that similar social justice rhetoric is being used by abortion rights advocates today.
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Instead, the responses that many contemporary liberals have directed toward Thomas have been for deviating from their preferred abortion policies — including an unabashed embrace of racial slurs and insults, no less in the name of advocacy for social justice! – seem to be a clear justification for black nationalists’ longstanding suspicion that, in essence, many self-proclaimed “allies” are themselves deeply racist and are simply using the black cause as a convenient means of bolstering their own power and influence.
As cultural critic Yasmin Nairo put it in a tweet on Saturday: “Clarence Thomas is not your ‘I could be a racist’ card, folks.” This is something that should never even be said to those who are supposedly committed to social justice. The fact that it apparently should to be said is significant.