Thomas' call for tolerance from fellow blacks futile

August 05, 1998|By Gregory Kane

SUPREME COURT Justice Clarence Thomas went before the National Bar Association July 29 and pleaded for reason.

Thomas told the gathering of black lawyers that he had a right to think for himself, that his fellow blacks have "singled [me] out for particularly bilious and venomous assault" and that his being black didn't mean he had to think a particular way. Then Thomas posed a question.

"Isn't it time to move on, to realize that being angry with me is no solution?" the justice queried. "Isn't it time that we respect ourselves and each other as we have demanded respect from others?"

That time will never come. Thomas isn't just a Supreme Court justice. He's a conservative black. It's time he realized the role conservative blacks play in this society. There are blacks in America with a pathological need to hate other blacks. Conservative blacks fill that need. Without us, the bilious and venomous ones the good justice referred to probably couldn't sleep at night.

It's time Thomas got comfortable with that fact. Tolerance of opinion is not exactly a great African-American tradition. W. E. B. DuBois, the renowned scholar, historian and author who helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, discovered this in the mid-1930s when he had the gall to suggest that blacks develop their own institutions rather than try to integrate white ones. NAACP leadership nudged him toward the door.

Even as recently as 1996, the president of the Yonkers, N.Y., branch of the NAACP found himself suspended after he questioned the wisdom of busing black students to integrate schools.

Banishment is reserved for the more liberal blacks who don't adhere to the notion that there is only one official way for blacks to think. For conservative blacks, the goal is to silence us completely. One way is name-calling. Our opponents figure that if they call us Uncle Toms, sellouts, traitors and Sambos often enough, we will be intimidated into silence. If that doesn't work, the more unhinged ones have an ultimate plan, as one voice mail message I got indicated.

"You're a house nigger of the highest order," the deranged Negro fumed. "I hope you, J. C. Watts and your cousin Clarence Thomas all meet the same fate: I hope you all find yourselves between the cross-hairs of a 30.06 one day."

What's our crime? Having thoughts not in accord with the rest of black America. For that, someone should go out, get a 30.06-caliber rifle and blast us into eternity. Mind you, had the fool who left the message -- and others of his ilk -- bothered to do that to the street-level drug dealers, muggers, rapists and murderers who terrorize law-abiding black citizens daily, there would be virtually no street crime in America's black communities.

But some black folks believe thought crime is a more serious affront than street crime. Thus Thomas is vilified and depicted on the cover of Emerge magazine as a lawn jockey and a handkerchief-head, while the thug who broke into civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks' home in Detroit and terrorized her is viewed as merely a misguided lad.

Such a double standard graphically illustrates the depth of a lingering black self-hatred. We can't possibly loathe a man who would burglarize Rosa Parks' house. Such hatred would be understandable. But to hate another black person for having an opinion you can't countenance -- now there's a hatred the blacks with a deep loathing of themselves can sink their teeth into. It's a trait that distinguishes African-Americans from every other racial and ethnic group in the country.

During the fall semester of 1997, I taught an opinion-writing class in the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. It was a predominantly Jewish class of 12 students, some of whom worked for the John Hopkins Newsletter.

One class discussion involved a heated debate over whether two Jewish editors of the Newsletter should have printed an ad by a Holocaust revisionist group asserting most Jews didn't die in Hitler's gas chambers. One of those editors defended his position, over the stern objections of a Jewish woman in the class. The discussion was lively and scorching but nonetheless civil, taking up much of the two-hour class period. At no time did one Jewish student accuse the Jewish editor who ran the ad of not being Jewish.

I sat there and lamented that black students couldn't have had a similar discussion. Within 30 seconds, the words "Uncle Tom," "sellout" or "traitor" would have entered the debate. Someone's "blackness" would have been questioned.

They never would have experienced the subversive but ultimately liberating and exhilarating feeling that they could have disagreed and everyone still have been black.

Pub Date: 8/05/98

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