Thomas’ Perverse Opinion on Affirmative Action

Thomas’ Perverse Opinion on Affirmative Action June 28, 2013

If you haven’t read Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Fisher v University of Texas, the case involving affirmative action in college admissions, you really should read it. It makes one of the most staggeringly illogical and hypocritical arguments I have ever heard from a Supreme Court justice. He actually equates the arguments for affirmative action with the arguments for slavery and segregation. You think I’m joking?

Slaveholders argued that slavery was a “positive good” that civilized blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life. See, e.g., Calhoun, Speech in the U. S. Senate, 1837, in P. Finkelman, Defending Slavery 54, 58–59(2003) (“Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained acondition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. . . . [T]he relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two [races], is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good”); Harper, Memoir on Slavery, in The Ideology of Slavery 78, 115–116 (D. Faust ed. 1981) (“Slavery, as it is said in an eloquent article published in a Southern periodical work . . . ‘has done more to elevate a degraded race in the scale of humanity; to tame the savage; to civilize the barbarous; to soften the ferocious; to enlighten the ignorant, and to spread the blessings of [C]hristianity among the heathen, than all the missionaries that philanthropy and religionhave ever sent forth’”); Hammond, The Mudsill Speech, 1858, in Defending Slavery, supra, at 80, 87 (“They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves”).

A century later, segregationists similarly asserted that segregation was not only benign, but good for black students. They argued, for example, that separate schools protected black children from racist white students and teachers. See, e.g., Brief for Appellees in Briggs 33–34 (“‘I have repeatedly seen wise and loving colored parents take infinite pains to force their little children into schoolswhere the white children, white teachers, and white parents despised and resented the dark child, made mock of it, neglected or bullied it, and literally rendered its life a living hell. Such parents want their child to “fight” this thing out,—but, dear God, at what a cost! . . . We shall get a finer, better balance of spirit; an infinitely more capable and rounded personality by putting children in schools where they are wanted, and where they are happy and inspired, than in thrusting them into hells where they are ridiculed and hated’”…

Following in these inauspicious footsteps, the University would have us believe that its discrimination is likewise benign. I think the lesson of history is clear enough: Racial discrimination is never benign. “‘[B]enign’ carries with it no independent meaning, but reflects only acceptance of the current generation’s conclusion that a politically acceptable burden, imposed on particular citizens on the basis of race, is reasonable.”…The University’s professed good intentions cannot excuse its outright racial discrimination any more than such intentions justified the now denounced arguments of slaveholders and segregationists.

This is such a surreal equivalence as to be utterly perverse. As if the fact that slaveholders claimed that slavery was good for black people automatically invalidates every argument after that point in favor of any policy on the grounds that it would help black people. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Clarence Thomas himself was the beneficiary of affirmative action in getting in to Yale Law School, which means he literally would not be in the position he is today if not for affirmative action.

There are many things to admire about Clarence Thomas, and I mean this sincerely. He has overcome more than most of us can even imagine, having been raised in abject poverty (literally with no running water in his home, in the 1950s). He didn’t even speak English until well into elementary school, he spoke Gullah. That he went to college at all is pretty incredible. But he is, in fact, a living testimony to the benefits of affirmative action (not quotas, which were outlawed long ago in college admissions). Giving a bright but highly disadvantaged young person who is willing to work their butt off to succeed over a pampered kid willing to coast by produces exactly the kind of results that Clarence Thomas embodies, someone who is able to rise far above their meager beginnings. That Thomas walked through the door opened by affirmative action and now wants to slam it behind him to prevent others from doing the same is simply loathsome to me. He should be the loudest advocate of affirmative action, not its most strident and irrational critic.

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  • Slaveholders argued that slavery was a “positive good” that civilized blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life

    They were wrong. Next?

    Seriously, if somone on the supreme court is going to make such a silly argument it’s time to revisit the idea that being on the bench is a lifetime appointment.

  • Ing:Intellectual Terrorist “Starting Tonight, People will Whine”

    I think that when one proves themselves to be an unethical ladder kicker they no longer get to be admired for the struggles they overcame as they’re now shitting on their fellows.

  • slc1

    Uncle Thomas has forgotten where he came from. Nuff said.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “Slavery, as it is said in an eloquent article published in a Southern periodical work . . . ‘has done more … and to spread the blessings of [C]hristianity among the heathen

    First Amendment conflict right there; the court cannot consider the spreading of one brand of religion to be a good.

  • David C Brayton

    He would retch at your arguments. He believes that the advantages given to him by affirmative action were outweighed by the fact that his colleagues throughout every stage of his career dismissed his abilities and thought of him as under qualified.

    So, Justice Thomas believes the argument that he should be grateful for the affirmative action, is just totally bogus. He lived through the snide comments and hurtful dismissals. And he was truly devastated by the Anita Hill hearings.He simply doesn’t believe that that benefits of affirmative action outweigh the stigma attached to it.

    The fact that a white person (that would be you Ed) is telling him that he should be grateful for the benefits that white folks, in all their generosity, gave him through affirmative action….well, I’m sure you can imagine how insulting he feels that is.

    Still, many people think of him as Scalia’s lap dog although he is clearly a very principled jurist. Many folks perceive him as a dim bulb because he doesn’t ask questions at oral argument.

    But I think he is living in a make-believe world. It is inconceivable that after hundreds of years of slavery and overt (and now covert) discrimination that suddenly the playing field between the races is now level. There needs to be assistance to help level the playing field.

  • CaitieCat

    As loathsome as Mr. Thomas’ rulings are and have been, and as gross as I found his sexual harrassment back when he was being confirmed, do we really need to use racialized insults for him?

    Given that “Uncle Tom” is pretty much only used about Black people, it’s kind of a loaded term to use. There are plenty of ways we can express our disapproval of his philosophies and rulings without reaching for racial slurs.

  • I’ve always said that being an investment banker is as denigrating as going to prison. In each case, people expect you to follow rules.

  • slc1

    Re Caitie Cat @ #6

    Uncle Tom is in no way, shape, form, or regard a racial slur, any more then JiINO is an antisemitic slur.

  • David C Brayton

    I’m with you CaitieCat. slc1 is usually a bit more temperate than that. To dismiss everything that Justice Thomas has to say on the subject by stating that a very intelligent and successful black man doesn’t appreciate the benefits bestowed upon him by affirmative action, well, that seems mighty white of slc1.

  • slc1

    By the way, Justice Sotomayor was in a similar situation to Thomas when she was accepted via affirmative action to Princeton. She barely spoke or read English at the time and yet was able to end up finishing 2nd in her class. I don’t don’t know what Thomas academic achievement were but I would be willing to bet that Sotomayor’s greatly outshown his.

  • culuriel

    So let me get this straight: racists were wrong to argue that segregation was good for black students in the past, but to re-segregate colleges now is the non-racist thing to do? My head hurts.

  • chilidog99

    It’s interesting that Thomas used those examples

    A Republican state legislator from Arkansas has used them as well

    Only he is promoting them as valid arguments.

  • slc1

    Re David C. Brayton @ #9

    I consider Thomas to be a self-hating black man and I don’t like self-hating black men hike him any more then I like self-hating Jews like Noam Chomsky. They deserve nothing but our contempt.

  • CaitieCat

    Check your privilege, slc1. It is most definitely a racialized slur, and it doesn’t take much work to find citations.

    Seriiously. Not an okay thing to do. Simple test: would you call Alito an “Uncle Tom” for going along without saying anything? No. You can only use it against him because Thomas is Black; a slur used only against Black people is, pretty much by definition, a racial slur, QED.

  • slc1

    Re CaitieCat @ #14

    I use the term “Uncle Tom” to refer to self-hating black men like Clarence Thomas. It is indeed, a derogatory term but, IMHO, is entirely appropriate for a putz like him. Clearly, the term would be entirely inappropriate in referring to, say, Barack Obama or Cory Booker or Devon Patrick.

  • CaitieCat

    So…you recognize it’s an insult, by your own listing you’d only use it for Black people, and you still say it’s not a racial slur? How does that track? I’m disappointed, honestly, I’d expected better of you given your comments on this site. I’m not saying “you’re a racist”, I’m saying “that’s a racial slur, can we avoid those here?”

    Different test: would you say it to his face? Within arm’s reach? Cause I sure as hell wouldn’t. But then, I wouldn’t use it anywhere, because it’s a racial slur, just even more I wouldn’t do it where it’d sure as hell get me punched in the face.

    Seriously – why is it important to you to defend it? You made a mistake, you say “Oops, sorry, didn’t realize”, you don’t do it again, endae’ problem. I’m not implying bad-faith use, or malice (well, beyond appropriate malice for an odious man), just a lack of cultural awareness on this minor issue.

    I bring it up because, y’know, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

  • Alverant

    Thomas has forgotten (probably intentionally) the struggles he had to face along with the help he received and lucky breaks he has had on his way up. He thinks he did it all himself and anyone could do it. It seems like those on top forget how much luck and a rare opportunity was a factor in getting them to where they are and are now content to think everyone else had that same opportunity.

  • slc1

    Re CaitieCat

    So…you recognize it’s an insult, by your own listing you’d only use it for Black people, and you still say it’s not a racial slur?

    Actually, I have also applied the term to people like Noam Chomsky, and have referred to him as a Jewish Uncle Tom as he is a self-hating Jew, just like Thomas is a self-hating black man.

  • Alverant

    Brayton his confirmation hearing was more devastating to his victim who was slandered by the right wing. He had power and privilege and how dare some woman challenge him. What he did to Hill was far worse than what happened to him. Do you really think he cared about how he hurt her as much as he cared about his public image and how he was “persecuted”?

  • CaitieCat

    That’s just sad.” It’s okay because I also called Noam Chomsky that once?”

    You don’t see the difference between Noam Chomsky and the man whose first native language was Gullah, or why using racially loaded terms has a vastly different effect when used against one than against the other?

    I know you’re more intelligent than that, so I can only conclude you’re just stuck in really, really wanting to be able to use a racial slur, in the face of evidence that it is exactly that. Or maybe you just wanted the ‘clever’ shot of using his name, so you grabbed for the slur. Maybe someday you’ll start to wonder why that defence is so important to you.

    I’m done with this; I think the point’s been made for the onlooker. Really disappointed, slc1. You’ve come down a long way in my esteem here. I don’t expect you give a shit about that, so you can spare the sneering, but I wish it were possible to get you to see that using racial slurs, for any reason, makes the place where they’re used an unwelcoming one, to people against whom those slurs have had sometimes deadly consequences. Please consider, given you can express the very same ideas very easily without using it as you’ve shown above, whether it’s so important to you to use this slur that you’re willing to make FtB a little less welcoming to Black atheists – and likely to other atheists of colour, who would have to be wondering how far behind this slur will come one against them.

  • Noam Chomsky is not a “self-hating Jew”.

    “Self-hating Jew” is an odious accusation to make, usually by people who feel that they have the right to delineate the only acceptable positions Jews are allowed to take. Any Jew who strays from that path, who has the temerity to question the actions of other Jews in positions of power, is smeared as a “self-hating Jew.”

    I don’t know if it qualifies as a “racial slur” but it certainly is an ad hominem argument, intended to stifle debate by a personal attack.

    And no, opposing the Zionists who run Israel doesn’t make a person a “self-hating Jew” any more than opposing the IRA would make me a person a “self-hating Catholic.”

    There’s really a lot of evil tangled up in the phrase “self-hating.” Clearly Noam Chomsky doesn’t hate himself. Why would anybody think so? The accusation is only made by a person who cannot distinguish between his own thoughts and the the beliefs of his religion, or more to the point, to the beliefs of secular leaders who happen to share his religion. Somehow Noam Chomsky finds it possible to decry the actions of the political leaders of Israel without it being reflected in his own personal self-esteem. Why would anybody think that such a stance was impossible?

    One suspects projection is at work here.

    Nor does it seem reasonable to implicitly equate the violence that Israel exports to its neighbors with affirmative action, any more than it is reasonable to equate slavery with affirmative action.

  • velociraptor


    Clarence Thomas is successful because he is a toady for Right-wing interests. He is not very intelligenct, which is obvious given the shit he wrote in his ‘opinion’, is corrupt, and was not a very successful lawyer OR jurist (Scalia as well). The fact that he rarely says anything on the bench and rarely writes opinions for the courst makes his function there obvious.

    Kiss his ass somewhere else.

  • slc1

    Re CaitieCat @ #20

    See velociraptor’s comment @ #22. That sums up my reaction to Clarance Thomas to a tee. He’s a zero, a nothing.

  • chilidog99

    If Thomas puts on any more weight, would it be appropriate to call him “double stuffed?”

  • CaitieCat

    I don’t disagree. In fact, as I said @ 16:

    I’m not implying bad-faith use, or malice (well, beyond appropriate malice for an odious man), just a lack of cultural awareness on this minor issue.

    Bold emphasis added. Clarence Thomas is an odious dirtbag. His rulings are shit, much like his buddy Scalia.

    In no way do I disagree. I simply think using a racialized insult against him is a bad choice, as I would any comment on his appearance, or his baseball skills, or other irrelevant aspect. He’s a terrible judge – let’s criticize him for being a terrible judge, not for being a Black terrible judge.

  • slc1

    Re rickdesper @ #21

    I don’t want to hijack this thread to a discussion about Israel, which Brayton has commented upon negatively in the past but I can’t let desper’s comment go by without any response. Chomsky has made it very clear that he has no use for the State of Israel and considers it to be an illegal example of colonialism. This is in addition to his palling around with Holocaust deniers.

    The issue of the treatment of Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is another issue. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have shown they don’t understand nice as attempts by the Government of Israel to be nice to them have been rewarded with Qassems fired across the Gaza fence and homicide bombers attacking pizza parlors. Having shown that nice doesn’t work, the Government of Israel has been trying not-nice which seems to be working better.

  • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    In no way do I disagree. I simply think using a racialized insult against him is a bad choice, as I would any comment on his appearance, or his baseball skills, or other irrelevant aspect. He’s a terrible judge – let’s criticize him for being a terrible judge, not for being a Black terrible judge.

    Is it really insignificant that he doesn’t have the excuse of personal ignorance or privilege and still rules this way anyhow?

  • CaitieCat

    Does his “having an excuse” mean we aren’t unhappy with him for his shit rulings? Does it make Scalia somehow better, because he’s a white guy and thus doesn’t know what racism is like? That’s an odd line of reasoning, don’t you think?

    His rulings are crap because they’re crap, not because he’s Black. If you really have to bring in his background, then what’s wrong with, “This ruling is not only crap, but also surprising, given that Justice Thomas comes from a disadvantaged background, and thus might be expected to have more empathy.”?

    Why does it need to be an insult which focuses attention on his being Black? I can call him all sorts of things without ever needing to resort to a racialized insult. What advantage is gained by using the slur? A few pixels saved? Are we a Save-the-Freaking-Pixels-Already organization now? 🙂

  • D. C. Sessions

    Consider the political genius of appointing him as the token black Supreme Court Justice.

  • slc1 writes:

    I don’t want to hijack this thread to a discussion about Israel, which Brayton has commented upon negatively in the past but I can’t let desper’s comment go by without any response.

    As a wise person once said: “you can ignore all of a sentence up until the word ‘but'”

    You are not only monomaniacal, you’re boring as fuck and you could teach Clarence Thomas a thing or two about how to be intellectually dishonest.

  • slc1

    Re Marcus Ranum @ #30


  • francesc

    @26 “I don’t want to hijack this thread to a discussion about Israel, which Brayton has commented upon negatively in the past but I can’t let desper’s comment go by without any response”

    Neither do I, but… XD

    First time I’ve read anything about Chomsky’s being an holocaust denier, I suspect that he may have said that being -some of them- victims of the holocaust don’t allow Israel people to everything. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is really the other way around: holocaust deniers using Chomsky’s arguments when they fit with their cause (as we can see in europe racist people using “darwinists” arguments missunderstanded)

    So, are you calling Chomsky a self-hating jew in the same way you would be calling Snowden a self-hating american? Your problem being that he spoke “against” his people?

    “…they don’t understand nice…”

    I guess that by “nice” you mean that the state -or fundamentalist colons- is able to deprive you at any moment of your lands and income source, to be considered inhabitant of a country, but not citizens; not being allowed to vote -in autnomous territories, they can, althought if Israel doesn’t like their choice there will be represalies, in non-autonomous palestina most of them can’t, although “some” are allowed- and being randomly killed because you may live close to terrorists.

    By your definition south-african government was also being nice with all those black people in the apartheid, too

  • slc1

    Re francesc @ #32

    1. I said that Chomsky palls around with Holocaust deniers, not that he himself is a Holocaust denier. The reference is to Chomsky’s association with Robert Faurisson, a Frence Holocaust denier.

    2. Chomsky is a self hating Jew in the sense that he blames Israel 100% for the Palestinian situation, ignoring the fact that the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

    3. If francesc thinks that the Government of Israel is being beastly towards Palestinians, they could employ Hama rules and be a lot beastlier. Considering what’s going on in Syria, the Palestinians could be a lot worse off. There was an interesting talkback to an article several months ago in the Ynetnews about a claim that Knesset member Hanin Zoabi made to the Israeli Supreme Court that she was being oppressed. The talkback in question came from someone in Syria who suggested that she might want to consider relocating to Syria where she would find out what oppression really was.