Monday, July 07, 2008

What Barack Obama owes Clarence Thomas?

Hat tip to Booker Rising

Sometimes you read stuff and go WTF?

What Barack Obama owes Clarence Thomas:

Lately, I've had the most spirited debates with my students and friends, and I always come away feeling like the loser.

Is Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court appointment the biggest development in U.S. race relations since the civil rights movement? I, for argument's sake, draw a straight line between Barack Obama's White House aspirations and the embarrassing spectacle of Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation.

As soon as I dare utter "Thomas" in the same breath as "Obama," I'm often hooted into silence. But my reasoning is sound.

Since the end of the '60s, Republicans have dominated the White House, and since the middle '90s, they've pretty much held sway in Congress and on the Supreme Court. That's given rise to some fairly prominent black Republicans, such as Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Contemporary televised images of Justice Thomas, Mr. Powell and Dr. Rice have bounced around the globe so much that almost nobody remarks upon the fact that for two decades, African-Americans have wielded global power – for good or evil – on behalf of the United States. It has also made thousands of white Americans less fearful of black leaders.

Granted, an image of the GOP version of a black leader is a far cry from the stereotypical notion of black leaders – self-serving preachers in the clutches of left-leaning Democrats. But such stereotypes were never the whole truth.

History proves that Justice Thomas' appointment and the public spectacle of his hearing, followed by his installation and rulings from the High Court, constitute the most significant development in U.S. race relations since the end of the civil rights movement.

And, as if I needed establishment support for this opinion, a recent Washington Post article supports this view. In it, this quote by David Nasaw, a City University of New York historian, made me pause: "When Strom Thurmond ushered Clarence Thomas [then a nominee to become the second black person on the Supreme Court] and his white wife into the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room ... that signaled that something was happening in American culture."

That's precisely what I've been arguing for years with students in my race, politics and pop culture classes and with friends in my barbershop. What so many of my friends find hard to swallow is that they hear me giving Justice Thomas credit for a positive development in the race and cultural changes transforming our country.

But you must give the devil his due. Justice Thomas proves that, yes, not all black Americans are liberal and march in lock-step with the Democrats.

Indeed, the myth of black American unity has a powerful hold on our self-image. But that's as real as unicorns and leprechauns. At no point in history have black folks – for that matter, any group of whites, women, Jews or whatnot – been united as a cohesive force with a single purpose or method to achieving any social goal.

That includes the heyday of the civil rights movement, when older, more conservative, Southern black preachers tried to ignore the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who they feared was too radical and would bring the wrath of the KKK upon their flocks. That includes the late '60s, when militant black organizations failed to win the hearts and minds of masses of black people, even as they captured media headlines and scared the crap out of whites.

But this stillborn hope for black unity has followed black Americans like a storm cloud hovering above a Freedom Day picnic.

Justice Thomas – black, conservative, affluent, educated and Republican – drove a stake through the heart of the ignorant assumptions about all black folks – liberal, poor, dumb and Democrats.

And the nasty affair of his confirmation hearing ripped away the fa├žade of racial unity that so many white people assumed and so many black folks wanted white folks to assume. There's power in sustaining myths.

But if there's to be a President Barack Obama, then all bets are off. Everything we thought immutable about America will have changed and, indeed, it should.

Whether you like Clarence Thomas or not, he deserves credit – or, perhaps, blame – for reshaping popular notions of what it means to be black and American.

And, win or lose in November, Mr. Obama is already a historic beneficiary.

I've always respected Sam Fullwood, III.

I still don't know what to think of this one.

So, I'm going to open it up to Mirror On America.

You agree or disagree with Fullwood?

Personally, I believe, if Obama owes any Black Republicans, it's Colin Powell and Condi Rice. Yeah, I'll never give Uncle Clarence credit for anything. I admit it.


Brian said...

Sam Fullwood might be out of his mind.

The paths of Clarence Thomas and Barack Obama couldn't be more divergent. Thomas gained his position through his Republican political connections and was a convenient tool for George H.W. when Marshall stepped down. He was barely qualified.

Obama came up from the grassroots...not from political appointments. Although both men are cut from the same hard work/personal responsibility/pull yourself up tradition. The similarities end there.

Part of Fullwood's argument seems to be that Clarence Thomas helped reshape the White perception of Blacks, because he is a Conservative. According to Fullwood, Thomas showed Whites that Blacks are politically and socially diverse, or that Blacks could hold high positions without being threatening to them, and because of that, Obama owes a debt to Thomas. But there were plenty of other examples of this long before Clarence Thomas. Douglas Wilder, Ralph Bunche, Booker T. Washington, Bill Cosby, and Frederick Douglass come to mind, although not all were "Conservative".

Thomas probably helped to reshape the perception.... but Obama certainly doesn't owe him anything.

Obama is much closer to the mold of Ralph Bunche, Douglas Wilder, A. Philip Randolph, and Harold Washington (he's like a combination of the four...with a little JFK, RFK & Thurgood Marshall sprinkled in there, in terms of his outlook on the World and Politics). He is walking in their shadow. All of the above Black men appealed to White Americans, or appealed to Whites just enough, without compromising their core principles. And they recognized where so-called "White" interests and "Black" interests intersected....and they knew how to use that to their advantage. (and today those interests intersect more often than ever).
Thomas, on the other hand, is a different story. Everything that he does, his core beliefs, seem designed to please his appointers. I don't really see where Clarence Thomas fits in. I can't make the kind of connection that Fullwood was reaching for.

rikyrah said...

Sam Fullwood might be out of his mind.


You just cracked me up.

As someone else wrote on JJP, if Obama owes anyone, it might be Bush 41 and 43, for bringing us Powell and Rice, who have been the face of National Security, Diplomacy of the United States of America for the past 7 and a half years, and add in Powell's tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (The Military) and Dr. Rice's tenure under Bush 41.

I'm just not willing to believe that Uncle Clarence has benefitted any Black person other than himself.

Anonymous said...

Nothing that Black People, or partially Black People like Barack, accomplish positiviely should be associated with that Super Tom, Thomas. He has made it very clear that he, and only he and other Toms like him liken their thoughts and/or accomplishments to the Black Race. I chose to think he is a disgrace to both his mama and daddy.
I like Sam, but he is off the mark on this one!