What Society Would Look Like If Clarence Thomas Had His Way

The author of a new book about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas paints what he calls a “dark vision” of what society would look like if Thomas had his way.

Thomas’ “goal is not to make society easier,” Corey Robin, author of The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, told the CUNY podcast Book Beat. “In fact, it’s actually to make life harsher.”

“The goal is not to kind of get rid of obstacles. Thomas thinks that that has been a terrible thing that society has done because it has weakened the will of black people, particularly black men, to overcome those obstacles.”

It’s a vision that “sees survival, persistence, as really the end game.”

Thomas took his seat on the Supreme Court in 1991 after headline-making confirmation hearings. Anita Hill, a former aide, accused Thomas of sexually harassing her when they worked together. Robin, a professor at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, CUNY,  says Thomas’ views about Hill are also part of his larger notion of black women as “the weak link in the black community, and that they were in alliance with white liberals and government, and that they were going to bring down black men, and with black men, the whole black community.”

Thomas’ ideal world would be a “deeply segregated world,” said Robin. It would be a world in which black people did not aspire to inclusion in white institutions … It would be a world where black people look to themselves and each other.”

Robin’s book traces the way in which Thomas’ youthful embrace of left-wing black nationalism transformed into a conservative philosophy espousing black self-reliance above all else. But Thomas became “the most conservative justice on the court without necessarily forsaking or abandoning many of the ideas that originally animated him when he was on the left,” Robin said.

For example, Thomas supports the ideals of black entrepreneurship, black-owned businesses, and black educational institutions. But he’s become a darling of the right for rejecting policies designed to protect the interests of people of color, including the Voting Rights Act and criminal justice reforms.

Thomas himself has written about his grandfather, a successful small businessman in the Jim Crow South, as a formative influence. “Under Jim Crow, if you succeeded, you could attribute all of your success to both yourself and to other blacks,” Robin said.

In contrast, Thomas sees policies like affirmative action and diversity quotas as “undermining black achievement,” Robin said. Thomas himself benefited from affirmative action as a student at Yale Law School, but felt that “white people there never stopped reminding him” of how he got there.

Thomas’ vision, Robin said, is “that black people have a set of interests and a set of aspirations that cannot be accommodated by the U.S., which is a white society; and that black people have a destiny essentially that lies apart from dominant mainstream white America.”