Uncle Tom. Handkerchief Head. Sellout. Black Benedict Arnold. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been called all of these and more as he continues to solidify his position as one of the most despised men in the annals of black American history.
The man who served as the minister for the wedding of talk radiomeister Rush Limbaugh has been the deciding vote in an endless array of cases where civil rights have been attacked. Most recently, he has sanctioned legal affronts to redistricting, school integration and affirmative action.
The New York Times has called Justice Thomas the "cruelest" justice on the court, with good reason. In 1992, Justice Thomas and Justice Antonio Scalia argued that when a prisoner was hogtied to the floor and severely beaten by prison guards, it did not constitute a violation of the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. Given this record, it is doubtful that Justice Thomas would vote against reinstatement of the clause in the Constitution that designated slaves as three-fifths of a citizen.
Justice Thomas is part of a clan of prominent conservative blacks who have made it their mission in life to throw black America back to the days of separate and unequal. Rep. Gary Franks, R-Conn., went to Atlanta to testify against his House colleague, Cynthia McKinney, a progressive Democrat from Georgia, in a redistricting case where fundamental voting rights for African Americans were on the line. Justice Thomas and four other justices found Representative McKinney's district, designed after the 1990 census to give blacks voting strength, to be unconstitutional.
Justice Thomas has tried, unconvincingly, to repair his disreputable status among black Americans. He recently declared to a group of black reporters that he was not an "Uncle Tom." Yet, just as the most loyal slaves were rewarded with positions of authority over other blacks, Justice Thomas is on the court due to Republican affirmative action. He is also there because people such as the late Justice Thurgood Marshall opened doors that Justice Thomas now seeks to close.
Affirmative action remains under the greatest attack in its brief history, with Congress, the White House, Republican presidential candidates, governors and citizen initiatives all climbing aboard the bandwagon. One argument laughably put forth by conservatives is that parity has been reached and affirmative action is no longer needed.
If parity existed, there would be 66,000 more black mathematicians and computer scientists, 49,000 more black doctors, and 72,000 more black lawyers. Close to one million fewer blacks would be unemployed and close to 7 million fewer would be living in poverty.
The fact of the matter is that white males maintain their dominance across the board. White males constitute 37 percent of the adult population, but they are 95 percent of all CEOs, 65 percent of all physicians and 71 percent of all lawyers.
Justice Thomas also shows his lack of a sense of history in the battle over redistricting. Despite the large concentration of blacks in the South, white Southerners, left to their own devices, simply did not elect blacks to office. From the end of the last century up to the present, black political empowerment in the South has been the result of federal intervention. States such as Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana did not elect blacks to Congress for over 100 years. Without the 1965 Voting Rights Act and subsequent redistricting efforts, Congress would still be off-limits to blacks.
Justice Thomas has voted against political access for blacks on virtually every single case. He voted with Justice Scalia, the most reactionary member of the court, 90 percent of the time.
It is frightening that, with the retirement of Gen. Colin Powell and the loss of power of the Congressional Black Caucus, Justice Thomas is the highest-ranking black official in the nation. When Justice Thomas speaks or votes, unfortunately, the nation listens.
If Justice Thomas really believes that affirmative action is wrong, he should give back his law degree. Better yet, he should admit his inadequacy, declare himself an embarrassing token of racial preference and resign from the court. Only then might he win the thanks of the black community.
Clarence Lusane's most recent book is "African Americans at the Crossroads: The Restructuring of Black Leadership and the 1992 Elections." He writes from Washington, D.C.