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Essayists' verdict: loved her, hated him


There is a certain repetitiveness in "Race-ing Justice En-gendering Power," a collection of 18 essays that analyzed the televised testimony by Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill during the nomination hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

After all, the writers did not have much to chew over: a few days of nearly round-the-clock televised hearings, Mr. Thomas' public speeches -- including ridicule of his own sister -- and articles, his record as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the American public's reaction.

But "Race-ing Justice," edited by author Toni Morrison, goes beyond the American public's visceral reactions to explore the implications of race and gender for the black community, white feminists and ultimately, American society, as a result of the hearings.

Most of the essays loved her, hated him.

Nell Irvin Painter in "Hill, Thomas, and the Use of Racial Stereotype," condemns Mr. Thomas because he "portrayed his sister, Emma Mae Martin, as a deadbeat on welfare."

Others reflect the attitude voiced by many black admirers of Mr. Thomas' predecessor, Thurgood Marshall, a respected civil rights lawyer: President Bush nominated you, Clarence Thomas, because you are black and conservative, and you should adopt the civil rights agenda because you hold the "black spot" on the bench.

A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., a former senior circuit judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, writes a gently admonishing "whence you came" article in a reprint from a 1992 volume of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

Most of the essays were devastating in their criticism of the hearings.

In "The Private Parts of Justice," Andrew Ross writes: ". . . what was striking . . . was not simply their merciless expose of the political chicanery underlying every aspect of the nomination and confirmation process. . . . The law itself may have been on trial during these hearings, but the hearings themselves were only important because it was the law's definition of public and private spheres, challenged at every level by the charge of sexual harassment, that was at stake and under scrutiny."

"Race-ing Justice" effectively advances the discussion of intra-racial relations in the post civil-rights era.

Manning Marable, in "Clarence Thomas and the crisis of Black Political Culture," explores how blacks'strong belief in racial solidarity could work against their own self-interests.

Christine Stansell points to the hearings as an opening for white feminists and black women to reconcile their differences.

However, I think Wahneema Lubiano missed her mark with in "Black Ladies, Welfare Queens, and State Minstrels: Ideological War by Narrative Means." In attempting to describe how political power was used in the hearings, she ascribes sinister motives to the juxtaposition of photographs of Mr. Thomas and Ms. Hill in the New York Times, for example.

At first I dismissed Ms. Lubiano's arguments as ludicrous. I must admit I was put on the defensive: I am a journalist, and a layout editor at The Sun, and I am part of the media she criticizes.

I do not disagree that the media is a reflection of the society in which it operates and that it influences us in numerous subtle ways, just as Ms. Lubiano says. But I just cannot agree with all of the implications that she describes.

I found the essays by Kimberle Crenshaw, "Whose Story Is It, Anyway? Feminist and Antiracist Appropriations of Anita Hill," and Paula Giddings' "The Last Taboo," most clearly articulated the rampant sexism in the black community.

"The silences and dissemblance in the name of a misguided solidarity must end," Ms. Giddings concludes in her essay. "Race-ing Justice" breaks the silence about Anita and Clarence, and the forces of race and gender in the black community. It's about time.


Title: "Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power. Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality"

Author: Edited and with an introduction by Toni Morrison

Publisher: Pantheon

Length, price: 475 pages, $15 (paperback)

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