Don't banish Thomas for having an opinion

June 08, 1996|By Gregory P. Kane

Follow this closely. It gets tricky.

First, the PTA of the Thomas G. Pullen Creative and Performing Arts School in Landover invites Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to speak at an eighth-grade graduation ceremony scheduled for this Monday. The principal of the school approves the invitation.

Jerome Clark, the school superintendent of Prince George's County, rescinds the invitation after school board member Kenneth E. Johnson threatens to protest the appearance of THAT HORRIBLE NEGRO at the commencement exercises. After a bit of dillydallying, certain parties decide to reinvite Thomas, but neither the school board nor Clark wants to take the responsibility of reinviting the justice.

Finally, at a hearing Tuesday, the board votes to reinvite Thomas.

Got all that? If not, don't trouble yourself trying to make sense of the details. The bottom line to the controversy is that once again, Clarence Thomas has been depicted by some blacks as public enemy No. 1 of African-Americans.

Johnson wants to hold Thomas accountable for the justice's votes on affirmative action programs. Others in Prince George's County said there is still that Anita Hill cloud that hovers over Thomas' head. I think the latter group is on stronger logical grounds, assuming you believe Anita Hill's story about sexual harassment, and I'm not sure I do.

But it's one thing to have a passion for affirmative action, quite another to use it as a litmus test of racial loyalty. Johnson, to his credit, attacked only Thomas' position on affirmative action but didn't pin the race traitor label on him. Others have not been as kind.

"Uncle Tom" is the label many blacks have pinned on Thomas. The term was originally used to describe a black person who was servile to whites, which shows the people who use it really haven't read the novel. (Uncle Tom died resisting a white man.) Lately, it is used by those in black liberal/nationalist circles to describe anyone with views opposing their own, black conservatives mostly. Apparently, members of the black liberal/nationalist clique figure someone died and appointed them the official thought police for all of black America.

I say it's at least 30 years past due for African-Americans to abandon this nonsense. We should have seen the absurdity of it when the trend first started, back in the early 1960s when Malcolm X and other Nation of Islam leaders charged traditional civil rights leaders with being Uncle Toms. They included Whitney Young of the Urban League, Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, James Farmer of CORE, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and labor leader A. Philip Randolph.

Whitney Young an Uncle Tom? His Urban League found jobs for many blacks who needed them. Martin Luther King an Uncle Tom? Racist extremists bombed his house when he was leading the Montgomery bus boycott. James Farmer an Uncle Tom? He risked life and limb to ride buses with Freedom Riders through Alabama and Mississippi. Roy Wilkins an Uncle Tom? He donned a sharecropper's clothes to investigate lynchings in the South back in the 1930s.

A. Philip Randolph an Uncle Tom? The federal government once considered him the most dangerous black man in America for his leftist views. He advocated armed self-defense for blacks during the lynching period that immediately followed World War I. "It is better to be a good shot when shooting is needed," he wrote in a self-published newspaper, "than the best Homeric scholar in the land."

Clarence Thomas an Uncle Tom? No, he's simply a black man with a very conservative worldview. I disagree with his Supreme Court rulings that seek to roll back affirmative action, that dismantled a predominantly black voting district and that sought to reverse a ruling that police officers have to read suspects their Miranda rights. I agree with his decision limiting court-ordered school desegregation. His dissenting opinion with Justice Antonin Scalia arguing that prison guards can beat the stuffing out of inmates as long as they don't do serious injury I found simply weird.

But I wouldn't drum Thomas out of the race for his views. Black syndicated columnist Carl Rowan wrote that Thomas is "close to a pariah in black America." That's quite a charge, coming as it does from the man who all but did the funky chicken on Malcolm X's grave. But black America has indeed reached a sorry state if an opinion and not some heinous deed can make you a pariah.

But if we're determined to be in the business of banishing other blacks from the race, let's do some banishing that might do some good. Here's one for starters. Black criminals, whose victims are mostly black, should from this day forward get the heave-ho. But don't expect that to happen. For reasons yet nTC unexplained, it is the black criminal element that the black liberal/nationalist clique has taken most affectionately unto its bosom.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Pub Date: 6/08/96

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