Doubt­ing Thomas

The rise of the Supreme Court’s most con­tro­ver­sial jus­tice.

The Washington Post Sunday - - Book World - Re­viewed by Kenji Yoshino

SUPREME DIS­COM­FORT The Di­vided Soul of Clarence Thomas

By Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher

Dou­ble­day. 422 pp. $26.95

Jus­tice Clarence Thomas is the Supreme Court’s most reclu­sive mem­ber, which is say­ing some­thing. Deeply dis­trust­ful of the me­dia, the jus­tice also al­most never speaks from the bench. As a pow­er­ful of­fi­cial who re­mains opaque to the pub­lic, he is a prime can­di­date for a care­ful, fairminded bi­og­ra­phy. In de­liv­er­ing it, Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher have done some quiet jus­tice of their own.

shows that two com­pet­ing, racially charged nar­ra­tives gov­ern how Thomas — like many black con­ser­va­tives — is per­ceived and treated. The first sto­ry­line is that of the Un­cle Tom: the race-traitor who sides with whites for per­sonal ad­van­tage. For Thomas, the con­se­quences of be­ing seen this way have been harsh. The book de­scribes how the Rev. Al Sharp­ton led a group of pick­eters out­side Thomas’s home, how some African Amer­i­cans have called for the com­mu­nity to stop nam­ing its chil­dren “Clarence” and how a wo­man stopped Thomas and a friend in the li­brary in his home town of Savannah in May 2001 so she could “see what a group of Un­cle Toms look like.”

If lib­er­als of­ten cast Thomas as a quis­ling, con­ser­va­tives tend to cast him as some­one who has achieved the Amer­i­can Dream by pulling him­self up by his boot­straps. Thomas, a mem­ber of the Ho­ra­tio Al­ger As­so­ci­a­tion of Dis­tin­guished Amer­i­cans, seems to find this nar­ra­tive more con­ge­nial, but it has its own bite. This sto­ry­line as­sumes a mer­i­to­cratic Amer­ica free of racial prej­u­dice — an as­sump­tion the jus­tice cer­tainly does not hold.

Lost be­tween th­ese two com­pet­ing sto­ries is the tale of an in­di­vid­ual, and that is the one brought to life by Merida and Fletcher, jour­nal­ists at The Wash­ing­ton Post. Their bi­og­ra­phy deftly puts paid to both con­ven­tional nar­ra­tives; af­ter all, we do not ex­pect Un­cle Toms to have en­gaged in rad­i­cal black stu­dent ac­tivism, nor do we ex­pect Ho­ra­tio Al­ger he­roes to be­lieve Amer­ica is ir­re­deemably racist. But that is too faint praise for Supreme Dis­com­fort. By the end of the book, we see the in­jus­tice that stock narra-

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.