Silence and Segregation

by Corey Robin on February 14, 2014

Toward the end of his life the legendary French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan would lead his seminars in almost absolute silence. Though he suffered from some kind of aphasia, Lacan’s silences are often held to signify more than silence. In keeping with his theory, they mark a presence. Silence speaks.

I thought of Lacan when I read this statement from Clarence Thomas, which Jonathan Chait flagged the other day.

My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up. Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them — left them out.


Critics of Thomas like Chait see this kind of talk as either outright lies or utter foolishness. Can Thomas really believe that the segregated South of his youth was less race-conscious than today? Does he really believe that not talking about race (if southerners did in fact not talk about race) signifies the absence of race consciousness?

But the immediate pairing of these two sentences in Thomas’s talk—”I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up.”—is too suggestive to leave it at that.

Look carefully at what Thomas is saying: I personally desegregated a white school; we never talked about race. The juxtaposition is so jarring, it can only be read as a kind of Lacanian gap. That fissure is precisely where the secret of the sentences is to be found. However unintentional or unconscious, it signals the connection between absence and presence, silence and segregation.

If you think I’m over-reading this, remember that silence has long been a racially fraught topic for Clarence Thomas. He doesn’t ask questions during oral argument at the Supreme Court. Why? Because, he has said, he was teased when he was younger for speaking English in the Geechee/Gullah dialect of black slaves and their descendants. So he learned to keep quiet, as an undergraduate, at Yale Law School, and now on the bench. Silence was a protective mechanism against racist humiliation, a marker not of the absence of race but of the presence of racism.

There’s a structural, even causal, relationship between those two sentences of Thomas. And, despite his protestations, he knows it. Somewhere, somehow.

{ 56 comments }

1

MPAVictoria 02.14.14 at 8:40 pm

This thread has the potential to be a real train wreck. I hope Hey Skipper is busy.

2

Corey Robin 02.14.14 at 8:49 pm

Oh dear. That often happens to me here. What do you have in mind?

3

js. 02.14.14 at 8:56 pm

This is a nice take, and to an extent I’m inclined to agree. But one odd thing, if I’m reading this right, is that this makes, “Rarely did race come up,” all about Thomas’ silence. Whereas surely, the silences or otherwise of the White people around are equally relevant here.

4

Corey Robin 02.14.14 at 8:59 pm

Oh, I didn’t mean only Thomas’s silence (and didn’t interpret his comment to mean that). I think he was talking about everyone’s silence. I only elaborated in the following graf to make the point that silence, for Thomas, is in fact a fraught topic. Not merely his own silence but silence in general. Sorry that that wasn’t clear.

5

MPAVictoria 02.14.14 at 9:02 pm

“Oh dear. That often happens to me here. What do you have in mind?”

Sorry Corey I didn’t mean to imply it was your fault and I completely agree with your take on Justice Thomas’s remarks. I am just remembering the last time race relations in the US during 1950s and 60s came up at Crooked Timber. The thread got real ugly real fast.

6

Lynne 02.14.14 at 9:13 pm

MPAVictoria, I assumed you meant the Anita Hill allegations. That’s what I think of when I see Thomas’ name, and what I thought of when I read the quote in the OP that complained that “Everybody is sensitive….Every person in this room has endured a slight.”

7

Jamie Cohen-Cole 02.14.14 at 9:14 pm

So Thomas was teased when he spoke when he was young, when he was in college at Holy Cross, and in law school. So if teasing had anything to do with race, then no one in the school he desegregated ever teased him and this was the only place in his entire education where he was not teased. Or perhaps he was teased for his dialect there too but he does not count such teasing as having to do with race.

I wonder what the racial composition of Gullah speakers is.

8

MPAVictoria 02.14.14 at 9:19 pm

“MPAVictoria, I assumed you meant the Anita Hill allegations. That’s what I think of when I see Thomas’ name, and what I thought of when I read the quote in the OP that complained that “Everybody is sensitive….Every person in this room has endured a slight.””

Thomas truly is an awful human being isn’t he?

9

Plume 02.14.14 at 9:39 pm

From my experience debating conservatives on the issue of race, I’ve concluded that they see the discussion of race itself as “racist.” Obviously, I can’t know there motivations or their thought processes, but that’s what comes out in their speech all too often.

People who talk about racism in America, in their eyes, are the real “racists.” They get a lot of this, of course, from odious hacks like Limbaugh.

I’m in my 50s and must admit I didn’t see that coming. It’s quite a clever maneuver. To try to shut down and delegitimize even the discussion of racism or the history of race in America by calling that racist.

This is where that silence and lacunae come in. Silence is victory. It speaks far more powerfully for the conservative view than actual speech. Speech on the subject is almost an admittance of defeat, of “consciousness” regarding race. But where things get all twisted up in knots is when a Clarence Thomas buys into all of this.

On a side note, regarding silence and its potential sublime . . . one of the greatest poets of metered silence was Edmond Jabes:

“WIDE, the margin between carte blanche and the white page. Nevertheless it is not in the margin that you can find me, but in the yet whiter one that separates the word-strewn sheet from the transparent, the written page from the one to be written in the infinite space where the eye turns back to the eye, and the hand to the pen, where all we write is erased, even as you write it. For the book imperceptibly takes shape within the book we will never finish.

There is my desert.”
― Edmond Jabès

10

Bruce Wilder 02.14.14 at 10:00 pm

I’m not a fan of Thomas, nor do I much like his authoritarian politics and jurisprudence.

That said, I think it is possible to understand sympathetically how silence was protective for him. The battle for desegregation was won by argument, but the peace was won by silent perseverance of people like Thomas, not re-igniting the war.

11

bob mcmanus 02.14.14 at 10:01 pm

Yeah, one of the few things I remember from Lacan is something “what is important is what is not said” Actually it may have been “the silences” Looking at Wiki, there is also by Lacan “The I is always in the field of the Other” (Sersly? Autre?). There is also of course the importance of what is taken for granted, the “naturalized” parts of the hegemony.

Taking that stuff seriously means in any given local discourse you’ll always be a troll.

12

js. 02.14.14 at 10:19 pm

CR @4:

Ah, I see. I was misunderstanding the relation between the penultimate and antepenultimate paragraphs. And although the only time I tried to read Lacan I ended up with a massive headache and tears in my eyes,* I would love further elaboration.

*It was that “Function and Field of Speech” essay that did it. I have nightmares about it.

13

Barry Freed 02.14.14 at 10:20 pm

I like this take a lot and hereby summon Scott Lemieux who has written very thoughtfully on Thomas to now appear in comments.

14

Patrick S. O'Donnell 02.14.14 at 11:09 pm

15

Opie Elvis 02.14.14 at 11:09 pm

Thomas’ claim to be the only black student in his Savannah High School is interesting.
This article http://savannahnow.com/news/2013-08-18/1963-desegregation-changed-lives-19-savannah-teens-society#.Uv6drn-9KK0. discusses the desegregation of Savannah’s high schools and would seem to somewhat contradict Thomas’ account. Wikipedia says that at 16 Thomas entered a seminary for the purpose of studying for the priesthood and that he was the first black there.
A Roman Catholic seminary is probably a bit different than Savannah’s heretofore segregated schools especially when it comes to how race was discussed. Thomas’ discussions of himself and his life often seem to have the characteristic of a script written with the intent of conveying a particular message.
As far as discussion of race in the Jim Crow south, there seems to be a theme around the idea that it wasn’t that big a deal, sort of along the lines of the recent thread on Phil Robertson. As someone who grew up in that time my memory is that a great deal went unspoken or was discussed in hushed tones. It wasn’t only race, alcoholism, divorce, and a whole set of behaviors that were considered socially unacceptable we’re not discussed openly.
The idea that everyone was happy and got along is a myth designed to let folks feel better about uncomfortable things.

16

LFC 02.14.14 at 11:38 pm

Thomas:
“To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school.”

I took this to be Thomas’s (somewhat vague) reference to the fact that he was the first black student to attend the private, Catholic school in Savannah that he attended as a teenager, not as a reference to the Savannah public schools. Wikipedia refers to “St. John Vianney’s Minor Seminary (Savannah) on the Isle of Hope.” I don’t know what a “minor seminary” is — a kind of prep seminary? At any rate not a public school, obvs.

17

LFC 02.14.14 at 11:43 pm

Toward the end of his life the legendary French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan would lead his seminars in almost absolute silence.

I wonder how that actually worked.

18

Matt 02.14.14 at 11:52 pm

He doesn’t ask questions during oral argument at the Supreme Court. Why? Because, he has said, he was teased when he was younger for speaking English in the Geechee/Gullah dialect of black slaves and their descendants. So he learned to keep quiet, as an undergraduate, at Yale Law School, and now on the bench.

He has also said, if I recall, that he thinks the questions by the justices are often just showing off and not really that helpful. I’ll admit that I have more than a little sympathy with that. (Sometimes, with some of the justices, this is pretty obviously the case.) I think this shows that the case is, at least, over-determined, and that it’s not extremely plausible to put too much weight on any one thing.

19

Katherine 02.15.14 at 12:09 am

There’s no more effective a silencing technique than driving someone to silence themselves.

20

Michael H Schneider 02.15.14 at 12:34 am

There’s a causal relation between those two sentences, and it’s so obvious as to be unspeakable.

Naming something calls it into existence. We’ve known that since well before John opened his gospel with an affirmation of the power of a word. We affirm this principle every time we say ‘speak of the devil [and he will surely appear].’

This is the miracle of talk radio: the conservative spirit made flesh; it has given birth to The Homosexual Agenda, and Feminazis, and so many other devils that are now seen to roam the world.

Speaking of race brings racism into the world in the same way that speaking of domestic violence or sexual abuse brought those evils into the world. In the good old days, when men were men and goats were fun, those things were never spoken of. They didn’t exist. They were brought into this world by Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement.

Clarence Thomas knows this. He knows that this is the Big Bertha of the culture wars. But he also knows that to speak it would bring it into the world his enemies can see, and they might seize it and use it against him. So it’s unspeakable.

I don’t know from Lacan, but this is all made plain by a perhaps more accessible philosophical work: “Hogfather”

21

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 02.15.14 at 1:05 am

The battle for desegregation was won by argument, but the peace was won by silent perseverance of people like Thomas, not re-igniting the war.

You mean it’s over?

I don’t think the right in this country believes that, anymore than they believe that the battle for reproductive freedom is over. And these are the people who put Thomas on the Supreme Court.
~

22

jonnybutter 02.15.14 at 1:08 am

As someone who grew up in that time my memory is that a great deal went unspoken or was discussed in hushed tones. It wasn’t only race, alcoholism, divorce, and a whole set of behaviors that were considered socially unacceptable we’re not discussed openly.

I am the same age as Opie @15, and remember that time the same way. There was (and is) so much power in that kind of silence!

23

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 02.15.14 at 1:21 am

Similarly, “Talking about inequality is class warfare.”

Same approach…mention the class warfare that our owners have been waging on us since the Powell Memo, and you will be accused of waging class warfare.
~

24

PJW 02.15.14 at 1:31 am

the rest is silence.

25

Alan White 02.15.14 at 2:14 am

A pregnant pause is one thing; more extended silence might be well viewed as indicative of sterility. Though as noted above Thomas’ silence has overdetermined explanations, perhaps parsimony can help: he effectively stepped in Thurgood Marshall’s shoes, and in the same year when Marshall retired was appointed by HW Bush, rhetorically depending on references to racism and “lynching” to secure his appointment in prime ignoratio fashion against powerful harassment charges while depending on the very grounds of the recognition of racism as bravely fought for by Marshall, maybe Thomas finally realized he was not in Marshall’s league. Maybe he’s like a lot of us–afraid that we’re frauds, and afraid to be found out. Against the giant Marshall, Thomas certainly looks like a lock-step-voting conservative little ogre. Maybe deep down he knows that he is.

26

Main Street Muse 02.15.14 at 2:22 am

“If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah.”

That’s the key sentence. And he’s right. To rid himself of the South, in the era when he came of age, silence was instrumental.

And he’s right. His silence is his attack against affirmative action, against the notion that he’s deficient due to his race, that he’s somehow not good enough. Remember, Thomas is just seven years younger than Emmett Till. Silence has been a key weapon for blacks to survive the extreme racism of the United States.

For the last three years, I’ve taught in a southern university with a predominantly white student population. It has been interesting to see how race plays out in the classroom. People are significantly more honest about their feeling when there are no minorities around.

27

LFC 02.15.14 at 3:14 am

Alan White @25
…Thomas certainly looks like a lock-step-voting conservative little ogre.
Actually the “lock-step-voting” is something of a misconception; he doesn’t vote in complete lock step with anyone. He has his own jurisprudential views (some really wacky, some a bit less so) and is perfectly willing to file a solo dissent when no one else happens to agree with him. (See S.Lemieux on Thomas, linked by someone above.)

28

Alan White 02.15.14 at 3:42 am

LFC–

I acknowledge that Thomas views himself as a Randian individualist apart from the culture of a Marshall anti-segregationist that ironically made the small room of self-perceived bootstrapping so that he could see himself as exceptionalist and thus a new archetype of non-racialism, and the dissents concatenate from there. That does not make him right or even rational. Just a navel-gazing lucky guy. Unlike Anita Hill.

29

TGGP 02.15.14 at 4:26 am

I think Thomas has claimed that the judges have already made up their mind before oral arguments, so anything they say there is just showboating, and others in the know have not disagreed. I suppose that would then raise the question of whether every other justice is a showboater.

Reading his account of childhood reminded me of the Daily Show segment with John Oliver on conservative commentators talking about the good old days of their childhoods.

30

Belle Waring 02.15.14 at 4:31 am

Alan White: if you acknowledge this then I think it’s important not to refer to Thomas as a “little,” “lock-step” voter. It is a charge often brought up against his and–although I’m not accusing you personally of being racist in saying so–it is more or less a racist one. The implication is that, not being a great mind, Thomas was chosen solely for the color of his skin, and that he realizes his mental, jurisprudicial deficiencies. To cover them up, he just tags along as Scalia’s wingman, remaining silent where he can, and following Scalia’s lead religiously where he cannot. This is just a false view of his jurisprudence, setting aside the fact that he is a bad Supreme Court justices and holds pernicious views. Thomas holds his own, bad pernicious views and is a more principled justice in many ways than Scalia, who is willing to throw all his stated principles overboard in the service of being tough on crime or something.

31

T 02.15.14 at 4:32 am

The Wiki has his biggest influences as Sowell, Rynd and Richard Wright (!?). Thomas said, Native Son and Black Boy “capture[d] a lot of the feelings that I had inside that you learn how to repress.” Help. Any actual or faux psychologists who can make sense out of that along with the OP quote? Or is this a fools errand?

While not quite “I was reading Toynbee this morning while shaving,” the OP’s “I thought of Lacan when I read this statement from Clarence Thomas…” is pretty damn good.

32

godoggo 02.15.14 at 5:17 am

That list of influences is bad wikipedia writing, I’d say. If you go to the source, he mentions Wright (as well as Ellison) mainly in connection to the trial, and says that Native Son was his biggest influence as a young man, when he “read and reread” it. I goes into more detail then that one quote. I’d be generous enough to say he related more to the bit about being falsely accused of raping a white woman than the bit about murdering the girlfriend.
http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=3665221&page=1&singlePage=true

33

godoggo 02.15.14 at 5:25 am

And I guess I could see how that might inspire a young man to want to be a lawyer.

34

T 02.15.14 at 5:40 am

32

Thanks for the link. Looks like the quote was from 1988, before the SC nomination in 1989. So it doesn’t seem like it was some ex post posturing. From your link: Thomas had read, and reread, both throughout his formative years as a young man. In a 1988 interview with Reason magazine, he said Wright had been the most influential writer in his life, and that the author’s Native Son and Black Boy “captures a lot of the feelings that I had inside that you learn how to repress.”

I still don’t have a clue.

35

T 02.15.14 at 5:45 am

32

Just to get the dates right: ’89 nomination for the Court of Appeals and ’91 for the SC. My bad.

36

clew 02.15.14 at 7:03 am

My most powerful memory of the Brown decision is that I have no memory of it being rendered or mentioned by my parents, teachers, or preachers. In my rural southern black community, there was a conspiracy of silence about Brown. It was completely invisible.

http://www.blackpast.org/perspectives/remembering-brown-silence-loss-rage-and-hope

Via 3quarksdaily.

37

Alan White 02.15.14 at 3:53 pm

Thanks for the remarks Belle; actually there’s little you say that I could disagree with. Still, Thomas’ appointment was (I’ll say) more the result of the politicization of that process that really took off under Reagan than anything else. Such a process doesn’t make it the highest priority to acquire the best scholars, although I have to agree that anyone nominated has to have some chops to get through. I overstated my case; thanks for calling me out.

38

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 02.15.14 at 7:01 pm

Belle Waring:

How about, “Clarence Thomas has reliably supported the interests of a very small group of very wealthy people in this country, just as his backers in the Reagan Administration hoped he would.”
~

39

Plume 02.15.14 at 8:03 pm

From what I’ve seen of Scalia, he’s an idiot. I don’t think he ever had much in the way of intellectual chops, and he pretty much gets the conservative home town discount on that score.

That’s the discount given to conservatives who really can’t go toe to toe with leftist intellectuals, but people want to be “fair” or appear to be “fair.” So they elevate them.

We’ve had too many recent studies on the conservative mind — Chris Moody’s, among others — for us to keep giving that discount.

Obviously, there are exceptions to everything, but in general, conservatives tend to think in far less complex terms, operate more on fear, see threats when they don’t exist, consistently score poorly in matters of empathy and moral compass. There have even been recent studies that show that when we drink too much, we become “conservative” in our thinking.

Again, exceptions. But, in general, conservatives can’t hang intellectually with lefties. And Scalia is not that exception. I haven’t seen (or read) enough of Thomas to draw the same conclusions.

40

LFC 02.15.14 at 8:13 pm

@Plume
I disagree strongly w Scalia on about 90%-95% of things, but he’s clearly not an idiot. All one need do is read a few of his opinions to see that. He’s not a hundred percent consistent in his (so-called originalist) views but that doesn’t make him an idiot. If here were an idiot he’d have done less damage; plus he’d never have gotten to the Court.

41

LFC 02.15.14 at 8:14 pm

correction: “if he were an idiot…”

42

James Wimberley 02.15.14 at 8:16 pm

Gullah is now considered a creole, with English as the dominant contributor and large admixtures of various African languages, and not SFIK a dialect of English like the varieties of American English including even BUV. This makes little difference to the stigma, but Thomas would have had a travel a greater linguistic distance than Jesse Jackson or Martin Luther King to become proficient in standard highbrow English.

43

Plume 02.15.14 at 8:27 pm

LFC,

Every time I hear him make a public comment, it’s clearly idiotic. Perhaps he just can’t speak in front of people . . . but his comments just don’t inspire respect for his intellect. Far from it. At least not from me. The opposite is inspired. I despise the creep.

Also, I don’t think election to the Supreme Court has anything to do with brainpower. It’s all about political power. And Scalia has been one of the best fighters/shills/cheerleaders for the 1% in American history, as far as the Court goes.

Again, I think he got the conservative home town discount, and we’re all supposed to respect his brainpower because . . . because . . . . based on what, exactly?

The illusion of intellectual strength, based on one’s title. History is loaded with people who have achieved power and powerful titles while being nothing more than “clever.”

44

Plume 02.15.14 at 8:29 pm

Btw, those Supreme Court justices do very little of the actual work on their cases. They have large workforces to do the research and collate the material. It’s very similar to Senators in that respect. The real intellectual work is done by barely paid staff and interns. The Court Justices just make the final decisions with all of that intellectual grunt work done for them.

45

LFC 02.15.14 at 10:02 pm

Btw, those Supreme Court justices do very little of the actual work on their cases. They have large workforces to do the research and collate the material.

The Justices have clerks, around four each on average I think; typically they are people who graduated at or near the top of their law school classes, generally (prob. with a few exceptions here and there) from the “top” law schools; many of them have previously clerked for a lower federal judge. These clerks are smart, presumably, but they are not a “large workforce” nor do they do all the work. Sometimes they will draft opinions that a Justice will then rewrite or fiddle with or whatever, but in Scalia’s case he pretty clearly writes his own opinions: they usually, or at least often, have a distinctive voice.

As to how much work each Justice does, I’m not in a position to know precisely and I’m sure it varies. I wd guess they probably each put in roughly at least a 9 to 5 day, reading briefs, working on opinions, etc, and during crunch time probably longer. Do they have time to go to social and cultural etc events in the evening and all that stuff? In general, I wd think sure, at least those without young(ish) children do, but I think not all of them want to be on that circuit. Some are and some aren’t.

They don’t work in the same way in the summer when the Court isn’t in session, and some of them do find time to write books, give lectures, etc., have cushy teaching gigs when the Court’s not in session, whatever. But they do work. They have to read briefs, prepare for oral arguments, go to the conferences, cast a vote on the case etc. The clerks and the staff help but they don’t/can’t do everything for them.

Anecdote: Some years ago I was walking, in the morning (forget the exact time), from the Union Station subway stop to the Lib of Congress (where I was at the time doing some work). My route took me past the entrance (at the back of the bldg) to the Court’s underground parking. Who should I see pulling in but Sandra Day O’Connor, driving herself, just the way any other commuter might drive to work.

46

Plume 02.15.14 at 11:05 pm

Yeah, Wiki says four. But I’d like to know what other kinds of staff they have beyond law clerks — and if the law clerks have help, etc.

Bottom line. It’s not as if they do all the work themselves. They don’t do grunt work and sleuthing at that point, once they reach that level . . . They write opinions based upon the work done by others, which is, apparently, far more politicized now than prior to the 80s. The law clerks are political like never before, etc.

47

Eli Rabett 02.16.14 at 12:54 am

Thomas is probably the least self aware person on Earth and it is one of the things that allows him to survive

48

W R Peterson 02.16.14 at 1:31 am

I am under the impression that Margaret Thatcher adopted an accent associated with a class higher than the one she learned language in.
Thomas’s limited speaking is also more or less expressly an attempt to not be associated with his upbringing.
In both cases I would characterize their actions as exhibiting a kiss-up-kick-down approach to (successfully) climbing the socioeconomic ladder.

49

Shatterface 02.16.14 at 3:09 pm

I wish advocates of silence as a political tool would shut the fuck up .

50

godoggo 02.16.14 at 9:28 pm

@Shatterface: well, I can’t help but notice the lack of recent posts at this blog.

51

Dr. Hilarius 02.17.14 at 1:07 am

One of my law professors attended Yale law with Clarence Thomas. Far from being silent or reticent about his background, Thomas was described by his classmate as sometimes wearing rustic clothing like bib overalls and spouting African nationalist ideas. Was this playing against the perceived biases of other law students? Possibly, but it wasn’t silence.

Does anyone know whether Thomas actually was an affirmative action beneficiary in his admission to Yale? He has certainly been vocal and bitter about that perception. But it’s hard to exclude race as a factor in Thomas’ rise to the Supreme Court. He was in the middle of his law class with a decent but humdrum legal career. His gravitation to right-wing politics does distinguish him from most black lawyers of my acquaintance.

52

LFC 02.17.14 at 1:20 am

But it’s hard to exclude race as a factor in Thomas’ rise to the Supreme Court.

Race was obviously, unquestionably a factor in Thomas’s selection for the Court. There is nothing racist in pointing that out. Nor would it be racist to say that Thomas votes all the time with Scalia if it were true. It just so happens that it’s not true and that he has his own, in some cases more radical/extreme, constitutional views than Scalia, as was pointed out upthread.

As for whether Thomas benefited from affirmative action in his admission to Yale Law School, I don’t know. (For one thing, I don’t know what his undergraduate record was like.) But it certainly would not be at all surprising if it were the case. Which doesn’t mean that he wasn’t qualified to go to Yale Law, which presumably gets tons more qualified applicants than it has seats for.

53

Wonks Anonymous 02.18.14 at 10:22 pm

I don’t know if it’s correct to say that Scalia deviates from originalism so he can be more right-wing than Thomas either. Often enough when they reach different conclusions, it’s Thomas who’s more right-wing and Scalia balks at letting originalism override precedent (or simply common norms) to that extent. They also have a formalist vs pragmatist divide which is orthogonal to left vs right politics.

54

godoggo 02.18.14 at 10:52 pm

So is that top vs. bottom or front vs. back and which is which?

55

Erik 02.18.14 at 10:59 pm

I remember _Strange Justice_, a bio of Clarence Thomas, as being fascinating. A biopic of his life could be amazing, but he is so complicated, and his life so bizarrely tied up with the civil rights movement, it would take a great writer to put it together.

And yes, if it’s true – and it seems to be – that Thomas’ first language was Gullah – or “Sea Island Creole English”, as ethnologue calls it – he probably was exposed to merciless teasing if he hadn’t learned much standard or African-American vernacular english when he went to school.

56

fill 02.19.14 at 5:35 pm

#9
Plume 02.14.14 at 9:39 pm

From my experience debating conservatives on the issue of race, I’ve concluded that they see the discussion of race itself as “racist.” Obviously, I can’t know there motivations or their thought processes, but that’s what comes out in their speech all too often.

——

When conservatives call you racist all you have to do is ask them WHY… they can’t really explain WHY something is racist or provide any support, historical or otherwise for their claim. (Many conservatives will go out of their way to say racism doesn’t even exist anymore.) Its part of the cognitive dissonance, reactionary thing that hangs them up… Often times they’ll just try to shut you down by yelling and repeating their claim that your racist.

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