Topic A.Clarence Thomas said he was the victim...


October 16, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.


Clarence Thomas said he was the victim of a high tech lynching. He's wrong. What happened to him is more ancient than (and just as ominous as) lynching.

He was expelled from the tribe.

Being killed and hanged from a tree by one's enemies in order to intimidate and control the victim's people is bad.

Being thrown out into a hostile, lethal world from the protection of the clan by one's own people in order to force conformity within the clan is bad, too.

Representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that they opposed Clarence Thomas because, as one congressman put it, when he speaks now, people treat him as a spokesman and leader of American blacks. In the future, he feared the reaction may be: "You're just a member of Congress, Clarence Thomas is a Supreme Court justice, and he says the opposite."

That's why civil rights leaders exiled him. Then looked the other way while he was smeared. Some, I believe, hope that Justice Thomas will not be taken seriously now because of the charges leveled against him. No doubt they hope that the nation and the world won't think of him as Justice Thomas but as a sexually aggressive brute and buffoon.

I remember when a conservative Republican cabinet secretary was forced to resign for uttering a coarse joke so characterizing blacks.

I also remember when Democrats said Republicans were irresponsible demagogues for using Willie Horton as an issue because, as a black man who raped a white woman, his story stirred primitive fears and animosities. Now Democrats flaunt the image of "the sexual Negro."

Some members of the liberal black establishment opposed the Thomas nomination for another reason. As one put it, it is unlikely that a second black would be named to the nine-member court. A Democratic president in the future would not name a black to the Supreme Court since Thomas was already there. So one witness before the Judiciary Committee put it.

(Actually I would think that a Democratic president might nominate a second black justice to counterbalance Thomas. What is unlikely is that there will ever be a Democratic president again.)

* * *

Some blacks have expressed dismay at the Thomas hearings. They say the spectacle reinforced in the white imagination negative assessments of blacks.

Maybe, but in fact in this segregated society most white perceptions about blacks are formed in large part by television news -- on which most blacks are criminals, victims of criminals, athletes, entertainers or politicians.

Many whites who stuck with the Thomas hearings saw more stylish, poised, articulate, successful black professionals testifying for and against Clarence Thomas in one weekend than they had seen in a year of local news programs.

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