‘Cre­ated Equal’ de­tails Thomas’ hero’s jour­ney

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NEWS - John Kass Lis­ten to “The Chicago Way” pod­cast with John Kass and Jeff Car­lin — at www.wgn­ra­dio.com/cat­e­gory/wgn­plus/thechicago­way. [email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @John_Kass

What hap­pens in Amer­ica when a black in­tel­lec­tual who was born into the crush­ing poverty of the Jim Crow South dares stand up to chal­lenge white lib­eral Demo­cratic or­tho­doxy?

He is marginal­ized, so­cially ham­strung, ridiculed in ugly racist terms and com­pared by a lead­ing lib­eral jour­nal­ist to “chicken eat­ing preach­ers” tak­ing “crumbs from the white man’s ta­ble.”

He is de­picted in racist car­toons as a smil­ing lawn jockey and a grin­ning shoeshine boy pol­ish­ing a white man’s boots.

This is how Amer­i­can pol­i­tics re­vealed it­self to con­ser­va­tive Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas Jr.

“Li­cense is given to oth­ers to at­tack you any way they want to. You’re not re­ally black be­cause you’re not do­ing what we ex­pect black peo­ple to do,” Thomas says in the stir­ring and deeply emo­tional doc­u­men­tary on his life, “Cre­ated Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words.”

The film is in the­aters, re­leased at the be­gin­ning of Black His­tory Month. It will not re­ceive a me­dia buzz, be­cause Thomas’ story is deeply threat­en­ing to the lib­eral or­tho­doxy.

And it threat­ens Joe Bi­den, now cam­paign­ing for pres­i­dent, who was one of those white lib­eral Demo­cratic sen­a­tors who tried to de­stroy Thomas and failed.

The cli­max is Thomas’ con­fronta­tion with white Se­nate Democrats, lib­er­als who sought to de­stroy him us­ing un­proven, un­cor­rob­o­rated al­le­ga­tions by Anita Hill that he was a sex­ual predator.

As he was be­ing ex­co­ri­ated in those hear­ings, Thomas was asked if he con­sid­ered with­draw­ing his nom­i­na­tion. He said he’d rather die than with­draw.

“Cre­ated Equal” is the story of the jour­ney of a hero, of lost archetypes and lost faith, and of one man’s de­scent into anger and vi­o­lence.

In his ha­tred of racism as a young man, Thomas quit the sem­i­nary and em­braced the rad­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion­ary left. He was later re­born in a re­newed Catholic faith. At Yale Law School he be­came what he called a “fuzzy lib­er­tar­ian,” and ul­ti­mately, a con­ser­va­tive.

The doc­u­men­tary draws on his mem­oir “My Grand­fa­ther’s Son.” He tells about liv­ing in a shack in Ge­or­gia as a boy, the smell of open sew­ers waft­ing around him, al­ways hun­gry, later mov­ing on to the soul-crush­ing slums of Sa­van­nah in the Jim Crow South.

But he was saved when his mother turned Thomas and his brother over to their grand­fa­ther to raise. My­ers An­der­son was a stern, hard­work­ing Ro­man Catholic, an un­let­tered man who mem­o­rized large swaths of the Bi­ble. Upon meet­ing the boys, he told them that “the damn va­ca­tion is over.”

The two words grand­fa­ther An­der­son hated to hear were “I can’t.”

“Old Man Can’t is dead,” he’d say. “I helped bury him.”

I watched the film the other day and will watch it again. Yes, I be­came emo­tional. And yes, it caused me to weep. I will take my wife and sons to this film and see it again with them, and I ask ev­ery­one I know to see it.

The Washington Post film critic Ann Hor­na­day re­viewed it, ad­mit­ting she’s not a Thomas fan, but she was fair enough to write this:

“Thomas’ life story is riv­et­ing, from its roots in the Gul­lah cul­ture of coastal Ge­or­gia to in­ter­gen­er­a­tional psy­chodrama wor­thy of the an­cient Greeks. Al­though I hadn’t changed my views of Thomas’ opin­ions by the time the movie ended, I felt I at least un­der­stood the man and his con­tra­dic­tions far bet­ter than when it be­gan.”

What was es­pe­cially jar­ring was to re­visit the me­dia at­tacks against Thomas for his op­po­si­tion to lib­eral pa­ter­nal­ism and pol­icy: wel­fare de­pen­dency, forced bus­ing and af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion.

Thomas be­lieved lib­eral so­cial en­gi­neer­ing hurt the very peo­ple it was sup­posed to help — poor African Amer­i­cans.

As a black con­ser­va­tive, there was open sea­son on him. Lib­eral jour­nal­ist and for­mer White House ad­viser Hod­ding Carter Jr. wrote this, and Thomas reads it with con­tempt.

“As a south­erner, Mr. Thomas is surely fa­mil­iar with those chick­e­neat­ing preach­ers, who gladly par­roted the seg­re­ga­tion­ist line, in ex­change for a few crumbs from the white man’s ta­ble. He’s one of the few left in cap­tiv­ity.”

Chicken-eat­ing preach­ers? In cap­tiv­ity?

Thomas pauses af­ter read­ing that, and adds rather acidly, that “Not a sin­gle civil rights leader ob­jected to this nakedly racist lan­guage.”

The other day, I in­ter­viewed the film’s di­rec­tor, Michael Pack, on “The Chicago Way” pod­cast I co-host with WGN ra­dio pro­ducer Jeff Car­lin.

“Jus­tice Thomas was get­ting tired of be­ing de­fined by his en­e­mies — by half-truths and out­right false­hoods,” said Pack, a one­time lib­eral who turned con­ser­va­tive. “I re­searched his life. Didn’t know much more than watch­ing his con­tentious nominating hear­ings.

“But I learned that he is a great Amer­i­can hero. And he has a great story, a clas­sic Amer­i­can story, com­ing from re­ally dire poverty to the high­est court in the land, and it was a story I wanted to tell.”

Thomas and his wife, Ginny, sat with Pack for 30 hours of in­ter­views, re­liv­ing the pain in­flicted upon them by Demo­cratic Sens. Ted Kennedy and Bi­den.

Rather than cower and with­draw, Thomas re­lied on the mem­ory of his late grand­fa­ther. And against ad­vice, he de­liv­ered his fa­mous speech an­grily declar­ing that what was hap­pen­ing to him was a noth­ing but a “high­tech lynch­ing for up­pity blacks.”

As he re­lives those ugly days, you can see the hurt and anger hasn’t left him. But why would it? Why would it ever leave him?

If you’ve ever told your­self that di­ver­sity is im­por­tant in Amer­ica, then see this film about the price that is paid for true free­dom of thought.

To find out where it’s play­ing, go to www.jus­ticethomas­movie.com


Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas ap­pears in the film “Cre­ated Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words.”

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