The real Clarence Thomas Radical double agent

Derrick Bell

September 10, 1991|By Derrick Bell

AFTER a careful analysis of the civil rights writings and statements of Clarence Thomas, I am tempted to support his nomination to the Supreme Court. I have concluded that Thomas is not really a conservative, but, rather, a committed black revolutionary. I am convinced that he plans to use right-wing dogma to spark racial revolt, a revolt he evidently sees as a dangerous but urgently necessary response to this society's growing hostility to African-Americans.

Initially, I had a number of grave concerns. I was baffled by Thomas' opposition to affirmative action and other civil rights remedies that advanced his career.

I cringed at his advocacy of capital punishment when blacks are given that irreversible penalty in such disproportionate numbers.

I wondered how he could condemn his poor black people -- including his own sister -- for relying on government assistance to feed, clothe and house their children at a time when so many Americans are dependent on the government to spend billions of dollars to insure savings that have been put at risk by ill-managed banks and savings and loans.

Even his anti-abortion advocacy seemed to fly in the face of reality. State limits on a woman's choice contradict his espousal of free enterprise without government interference. Such limits also ignore the fact that state-mandated restrictions fall heavily on the poor, among whom black women are disproportionately represented.

Then I realized that Thomas' seemingly ridiculous statements must be part of a carefully conceived conspiracy. No black man with his roots and knowledge of the nation's dire employment situation could actually believe that today's poor can find a formula for success in a "self-help" ideology advocated by those born into wealth or privilege or both.

Many liberals hope that, if seated on the high court, he will take a more realistic and sympathetic position on issues concerning minorities and other disadvantaged groups. Large numbers of blacks also hope for a post-confirmation conversion. They support him based on his race and his impoverished childhood and despite his disavowal of all race-based selection processes. Such hopes are futile.

Indeed, his value as a revolutionary double agent depends on his strict adherence to the positions that persuaded President Bush to mock both merit and good sense by claiming he was the most qualified candidate.

An all-white Supreme Court hostile to racial issues is one thing. But a court with its lone black justice joining the majority in its anti-civil rights decisions will send a clear message: It is useless to continue seeking relief through law for America's still-rampant racism.

Militant arguments that blacks now have no alternative except disruptive protests and boycotts will be invulnerable to more moderate responses. The court's action will even give legitimacy to claims by some extremist leaders that black people must respond with violence to the violence inflicted on them by an uncaring society.

History reveals no precedent for a black man in a position of real power advocating racial policies that are so at odds with the convictions of a great majority of his people. Thus, Thomas must expect fierce criticism, first from blacks and then -- when they realize the racial chaos his decisions will create -- whites as well. His stand will require personal courage.

The brilliance of his scheme lies in the following: It will work even if he denies -- as he probably will -- that his conservatism really masks a radicalism to which most blacks do not adhere but to which an ever-increasing number will subscribe within months after he takes his seat on the Supreme Court.

Derrick Bell, on leave from Harvard Law School, is a visiting professor at the New York University Law School.

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