July 29, 2010

Things I Didn't Know About Black America: Clarence Thomas

Thanks to my fellow netizen Brokenbeatnik, I came across the Washington Post article about the opinion Clarence Thomas wrote supporting the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Chicago's anti-handgun law as an unreasonable restriction of the 2nd Amendment.

Now, ordinarily, I'm not big on gun rights (after all, as my brother always says, nobody in the hood manufactures Uzis), and I'm really not crazy about Clarence Thomas, but I've gotta say, he really caught my eye with this opinion.  If you look at the nearly 20 page paper he wrote, you see that his vigorous defense of 2nd amendment rights is founded in his own first hand experience, I'm sure, of growing up in the Jim Crow South.

Cue Wikipedia again.

I didn't realize that Thomas' home town was founded by freed slaves, or that Gullah (or Geechee) was the spoken language in his home.  I didn't realize the man didn't live in a house with in-door plumbing until he was 7 years old.  I didn't know that he dropped out of seminary after hearing his classmates celebrating Martin Luther King's assassination.

If I did, I shouldn't have been surprised that, in his mind, the Federally protected right to own a gun, unabridged by a local or state authority, was the only think protecting him & his family (heck, even his whole home town) from organized, often local government sanctioned, white racist terrorism from the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and God knows what else.  Justice Thomas practically echoes Rob Brown's book "Negroes With Guns", a tome of self defense that became the cornerstone of Huey Newton's thinking in founding the Black Panther Party.  I have huge problems with many of Brother Clarence's votes, and I'll disagree with him with a lot of things, but I doubt I'll ever question the sincerity of his intentions again.

It reminds me of how I used to think of Condolezza Rice:  she grew up with the same four Black little girls who were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963 that Spike Lee featured in his documentary "Four Little Girls".  I used to think, "How can she not be more super-pro-Black nationalist after having lived through the horrors of that era?"

But Thomas reminds me that, while many Black folks were radicalized by the internal terrorism of the late 50's and '60's, just as many were raised in households more aligned with Booker T. Washington's thinking than, say, my man W.E.B. DuBois.  That the best revenge was success & dignity in the face of the terror, and those children like Clarence Thomas or Condolezza Rice or Colin Powell owed it to the people who died to reach and strive as far as they could.  So many radicals who didn't have access to the opportunities they had ended up dead, incarcerated, or ostracized.

Huey Newton?  H. Rap Brown?  These are not stories with happy endings.

But are those the only choices?

One could argue that Clarence, Condolezza, & Colin and many others like them earned their success by turning their backs on the broader Black community.  Yes, they're all involved in charity and philanthropy, but when decisions were made in their midsts regarding economic policy, war policy, social policy, and the like that had a direct impact on African Americans at large, did they really do all that they could to protect their voiceless brothers and sisters?

I don't know.

Just like I don't know what sort of sacrifices they had to make in order to reach their positions.  Does their mere presence in those positions carry more weight than their actions while in those positions?

My generation came of age in the post-"Black is Beautiful" era.  We take our ethnic pride and abilities as a given.  But that has not always been the case.  Folks like Clarence and Ward Connerly and others carry the scars of de-legitimacy to this day.  And the memories of the horror probably never go away.

I find myself thinking a lot about "The Spook Who Sat By The Door" as I read about Clarence Thomas this week.

Just getting to the door has been so hard for so many.  But does simply sitting there make it easier for others to join you and/or walk through?  Or are you responsible for wedging it open, no matter the personal cost?

Spook Who Sat By the DoorNegroes With Guns (African American Life Series)UP FROM SLAVERY: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
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