Clarence Thomas: The Wrong Kind of Black Man

In reflecting on the recent United States Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality[1] of affirmative action in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College[2] and, more specifically, the subsequent, though not surprising, incendiary treatment by liberals, particularly black liberals, of Justice Clarence Thomas, I’m reminded that Thomas, despite having overcome no small amount of obstacles in his life, both professionally and personally, on his way to becoming a Supreme Court justice is, in their collective eyes, not the right kind of black man.

Though six of nine Supreme Court justices voted in favor of overturning affirmative action, it was only Justice Thomas who was the target of their vitriolic animus. One example of that kind of selective contempt is Joy Reid[3], host of the MSNBC program The ReidOut[4] who, in a June 30, 2023, article for The Huffington Post, said of Thomas, “And he wants to make sure that nobody like him ever gets that kind of help again because it helps his self-image so that he can lie to himself, and fool himself and maybe hate himself a little less for having gotten help all along his path to the Supreme Court.”[5]

Now, I’m no mathematician, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Still, I’m fairly certain that had Justice Thomas voted with the minority in Department of Education v. Brown, the outcome would have nonetheless been the same. The only difference is the decision would have been 5-4 instead of 6-3. So why disparage him, as opposed to any of the other five justices who voted in the majority with him, as if to suggest that if only Thomas had voted differently, affirmative action would have remained intact?

The irony that black liberals like Joy Reid do not view Clarence Thomas, a man who knows, perhaps better than she, what real injustice and oppression are like in daily life, as being the right kind of black man is that, historically, black liberalism has been grounded in the oppression and suffrage of black people in America. And yet despite Justice Thomas’ own life experiences, he remains a pariah within black liberal circles. That’s because within those circles there are two kinds of ‘black’: ethnically black and ideologically black.

The more I read, the less inclined I was to conform to the cultural standards that blacks imposed on themselves and on one another. Merely because I was black, it seemed, I was supposed to listen to Hugh Masekela instead of Carole King, just as I was expected to be a radical and not a conservative. I no longer cared to play that game. – Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather’s Son

During the Black Power era of the 1960s and 1970s,[6] being ethnically black, which is to say, being inherently and, consequently, immutably black from birth, would have sufficed to be considered authentically black within the so-called “black community.”[7]

But not anymore.

Today, to be black is as much a social construct as a biological one (if not more so). To be regarded and accepted as authentically black, a black person must check off both of the aforementioned boxes – ethnically and ideologically. In other words, being black is not merely a matter of melanin (how you look) but also of mindset (how you think). And within black liberalism, which is largely a hybrid social, economic, and political philosophy, there is only one way to understand the world, and that one way is most certainly not the way Clarence Thomas comprehends it.

In the book Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas, Thomas declares, “Life is not worth living without principles. . . . It’s not worth living without a backbone. If you don’t have a backbone you slither. You don’t walk upright.”[8] For what it’s worth, I concur with Thomas. But when I consider his words against the backdrop of what many black liberals think of him, I can’t help being reminded that black liberalism, as a worldview, would rather black people perpetually wallow in the challenges they face in life than persevere to overcome them.

Black liberalism is a philosophy of perpetual grievance.

It is a worldview in which there are only problems for black people, never solutions. That is why Clarence Thomas is so vilified by many black liberals. While not ignorant of the fact that America has not always treated black people equally, he never used that reality as an excuse. As Thomas said in his memoir My Grandfather’s Son, “As much as I hated the injustices perpetrated against blacks in America, I couldn’t bring myself to hate my own country, then or later.”[9]

The black people I knew came from different places and backgrounds – social, economic, even ethnic – yet the color of our skin was somehow supposed to make us identical in spite of our differences. I didn’t buy it. Of course we had all experienced racism in one way or another, but did that mean we had to think alike? – Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather’s Son

I’m personally convinced that at the heart of many black liberals’ disdain for Clarence Thomas is his refusal to harbor any hatred of America in his heart. That is what truly bothers black liberals about him. It bothers them that Thomas, unlike Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, whom black liberals adore for her skin color and gender, and who was one of the three justices that voted in favor of affirmative action, refuses to use his role as a Supreme Court justice as a way to mete out revenge on the nation which, despite its history of injurious maltreatment of black people, had afforded him, against all conceivable odds, the unique opportunity to serve in such an esteemed role.

To many black liberals, Clarence Thomas is not black at all. In fact, he is worse than even the white supremacists that made his life, and that of his ancestors, a living hell for so many generations in America.

As far as many black liberals are concerned, Clarence Thomas is just an irrelevant black man, donning a black robe, and wearing blackface. Actor George Tekai, who is not black, literally said as much, calling Thomas, “a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court.” Conversely, Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who is black, referred to Thomas, pejoratively, as “Uncle Tom.”

Tekai and Thompson are examples that unless you think black, it doesn’t matter at all that you look black.

Thomas is the wrong kind of black man because he is conservative.

That is his only crime.

And for that crime, he must surrender his identity as an ethnic black man to the myopic ideological tribalists who consider it anathema for any black person to see the world differently than they do.

Darrell B. Harrison

(Image credits: and and










2 thoughts on “Clarence Thomas: The Wrong Kind of Black Man

  1. Jeneen

    Written with grace and truth! Also, a nice rebuttal for Joy. I sure hope she gets a chance to read it. May God bless and keep you and your family.