Some area blacks see debate as women's issue, for others it's an unfair attack

October 15, 1991|By Arch Parsons and Ginger Thompson

WASHINGTON -- There was something unreal about it. After the glare and tension of the Senate Caucus Room, where Judge Clarence Thomas and Anita F. Hill had engaged in a war of accusations that would scar them for life, sunlight and warmth bathed the Howard University campus yesterday as students played cards on the lawn and discussed what the war was all about.

"I really don't think this was a black thing," said Tracy McFerrin, a 21-year-old senior from Saline, Mich. "Clarence Thomas' comments about lynching and black stereotypes -- that just wasn't applicable. This was a women's issue."

Last Friday, Judge Thomas angrily told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Ms. Hill's charges that he had sexually harassed her had turned the hearing into "a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks." The next day he said that he had become victim of "bigoted, racist stereotypes . . . language about the sexual prowess of black men . . . about the sex organs of black men."

But Ms. McFerrin, a psychology major at the nation's best-known predominantly black university, seemed less concerned about charges of racism than satisfied that the issue of sexual harassment had been brought "into the open."

Gerald Cook, 21, a pre-med senior from Lubbock, Texas, said that if the Senate rejects the nominee, "it shouldn't be based on Anita Hill's charges." Mr. Cook said he had more of a problem with Judge Thomas' conservative politics.

Keith Jenkins, 26, an architecture major from New York City, said that the televised proceedings have brought about a kind of unity: "Everybody knows about sex harassment now. We're forced to take a deeper look at it now. We can't just shrug it off."

If there appeared to be a unity of opinion among Howard students, there was a variety of opinions among black professionals in Baltimore.

Harlow Fullwood Jr., a black businessman, said he didn't see a racist attack on Judge Thomas -- but he saw an unfair one. "I don't care whether he's black or white. Fairness is fairness, and this wasn't fair," said Mr. Fullwood, who owns several Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants.

"Here's a man who worked hard all his life to make something of himself, and it was destroyed overnight," he said. "Thomas isn't only being accused. He's being assassinated. I expected efforts to be made to dishonor the man -- not because he's black, but because of the position he's trying to get."

Jacquelyn Hardy, acting director of public relations for Baltimore city schools, said she was upset that "people were sort of enjoying the whole thing like a soap opera."

"I had to remind them that these were real people's lives," she said.

Judge Thomas' allegation of "a lynching" didn't go down with Detective Vernon Holley of the city homicide squad. "When [Judge Thomas] said that, he was just scrapping for a defense," he said. "Small minds can make this a race issue, but it's not."

Detective Holley said that black men should not squirm any more than white men over the sexual harassment issue. "I don't think any honest man could tell you that he has not tried to approach a woman at work who he was sexually attracted to," he said.

City Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, said that after watching the hearings for several hours, she stopped caring whether Judge Thomas had done what Ms. Hill said he had. Instead, she said, she began to see the Senate committee's interrogation as an attack on a black man.

"I was embarrassed as a black person that we devoted so much time to this stuff," Mrs. Dixon said, adding, "It seems like [blacks] have to be stripped all the way down. I don't know how this would have been handled had it been a white nominee. I think it would have been kept quiet."

Rosetta Kerr, a legislative liaison aide for the Baltimore Department of Education, said she encouraged her three college-age daughters to watch the hearings so that they would be aware of the realities of sexual harassment in the work force. She said she also wanted her daughters to see some of the "positive black role models" who testified.

"I was very impressed with black professors who spoke on behalf of Hill and Thomas," Mrs. Kerr said. "Here we had educated lawyers and professors from Yale and Harvard. I saw it as an opportunity for blacks to have a nationwide audience and present positive images."

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