While agonizing over the latest tragic and misguided decision handed down by the radically conservative Supreme Court majority, I came across an article written for The Hill. The author is interviewing Keith Ellison, one of a few black Muslims to serve in the United States Congress, and current Attorney General for the state of Minnesota.
When asked to proffer an opinion on Clarence Thomas, the second black man to serve on the Supreme Court, Ellison juxtaposes Justice Thomas with Stephen from Django Unchanged, a fictional slave narrative directed by Quentin Tarantino in 2012. After I’d finished laughing and snorting, I spent some additional minutes processing Mr. Ellison’s penetrating analogy. My admiration, once reserved for Clarence Thomas during my formative years, grew for Mr. Ellison, as his assessment of Justice Thomas is probably the most honest and appropriate.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Django Unchained, Stephen, played by the estimable Samuel L. Jackson, is the lead house slave, the contemptible lapdog for Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo Di Caprio. Calvin is the putative overseer of an expansive southern plantation, a place affectionately referred to as Candyland.
The rambunctious and wantonly sadistic Calvin Candie exercises brutal and undisciplined control over his plantation, as he regularly promotes and sponsors death matches between slaves with no agency, while punishing slaves who exhibit any hint of insubordination. Candie believes that black people are inferior, often citing phrenology, the defunct scientific theory, as justification for his beliefs and cruelty. At Candyland, the life of a slave is abjectly horrific, except for Stephen, who dutifully assists Calvin, reveling in the suffering of his brothers and sisters in bondage.
In an article for Slate magazine, Aisha Harris gushes over Jackson’s portrayal of Stephen, calling it one of the best performances of his distinguished acting career. In his haunting rendition of the character, Jackson radiates maliciousness, cruelty, and spite, his gimlet eye roving and searching for any sign of deviation from the established protocol. In addition to being a slave owner, Calvin Candie’s hedonist pursuits cause him to neglect his household.
Stephen is dependent on Candyland’s hierarchy, and recognizes that Calvin’s sloppy tendencies threaten his position. Therefore, he becomes the de facto second overseer of the plantation. Stephen is a lot worse the Calvin Candie. As I recently re-watched Django Unchained, I was dumbfounded by how damaged he was.
Justice Clarence Thomas (75) is about the same age as Stephen (79), and exhibits a slave mentality, although he is not a “traditional” slave. He is a Supreme Court Justice, one of the most prestigious positions one can attain as a federal employee. He is one of the nine ultimate adjudicators of current American law, making him powerful beyond measure. As the longest-serving justice, and as one of its six ultra-conservative jurists, Justice Clarence Thomas’s influence will extend for multiple generations.
Moreover, Justice Clarence Thomas is very financially stable. In addition to pulling in nearly three hundred thousand dollars a year as a Supreme Court Justice, he has written a best-selling memoir, taught law at George Washington University, and traveled the world as a coveted speaker. Thomas has lived a redoubtable existence, one that would be universally admired, if not for the fact that he is such a human pustule. More than a year ago, Justice Thomas exhibited the same psychology as Stephen when siding with the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, outdoing his conservative colleagues by arguing for the court to go further with restricting our bodily autonomy.
Unconsciously, Justice Thomas shares Stephen’s regard for black people, making him an enemy of millions of contemporary black Americans. When given the opportunity to level the playing field for black Americans, a traditionally disadvantaged group of people, Thomas has chosen to affirm white supremacy. He has voted to gut voting rights laws on several occasions, struck one of the final blows against affirmative action programs, and assiduously worked to undermine the agenda of the first black president.
While issuing his concurring opinion on affirmative action, he scolded Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black female Supreme Court justice, accusing her of focusing too much of her dissenting opinion on race and racism. Of course, Thomas was projecting his obsession with race onto Justice Jackson, mirroring the modus operandi for the majority of conservatives. Justice Thomas, and other black conservatives who believe as he does, constantly project their psychology onto other black Americans, accusing us of “living on the plantation” because we vote with the Democratic Party approximately ninety percent of the time.
Of course, I, and other black citizens, take offense to the plantation metaphor, because we do not exist on plantations. We can read and write, we have obtained college degrees, and we own our own homes too. We own our businesses. And, we do not kowtow to white supremacy to get ahead. A significant number of black democrats have risen to the top of their professions, and unlike Thomas, provide examples for children to emulate.
Thomas attempts to portray an honorable image in public, consistently extolling his supposed probity and respect for the common person. However, ProPublica, a respected investigative reporting organization, has published a smorgasbord of reporting detailing Justice Thomas’s predisposition for the finger things in life. Despite earning a substantial amount of money, Justice Thomas covets a life that his earnings cannot support. Therefore, he relies on certain people to finance his high-flying lifestyle, conservative billionaires who benefit from the decisions he has handed down from the bench.
Specifically, Harlan Crow, a collector of Adolph Hitler memorabilia, is Clarence Thomas’s most prolific benefactor. Thomas met Crow in 1996, five years after he was confirmed to the court by the United States Senate, and invited Thomas to travel with him on his private jet. The two men bonded on the plane ride, forging a relationship that would prove to be mutually beneficial.
During their twenty-seven-year “friendship”, Crow has used his money to engender Justice Thomas’s abject subservience to the conservative cause. Crow has feted Thomas with multiple private jet trips and all-expense-paid vacations, hosted Thomas at his private home in Dallas, paid for the house Justice Thomas’s mom is living in, and paid the private school tuition for Thomas’s grandnephew. Though he has claimed ignorance of ethics rules, as a member of the Supreme Court, Thomas should know that accepting these gifts from Crow creates a conflict of interest. Moreover, the suspicion surrounding Thomas exacerbates, becoming a thick fog, because he purposely omitted these expenditures/bribes from his financial disclosure forms.
Harlan Crow is not the only conservative rich man to subsidize Thomas’s expensive lifestyle. Jerry Jones, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys, handed Thomas a Super Bowl ring worth more than one hundred thousand dollars. And recently, ProPublica has unearthed evidence linking Justice Thomas to the Koch Brothers, conservative billionaires who will have business before the Supreme Court this fall. Thomas has no intention of recusing himself from hearing the case involving Charles and David Koch.
Tragically, Clarence Thomas has not lived up to his promise. As a historical black man, he could have done so much to propel his people forward. Instead, to appease his white billionaire benefactors, he has attached himself to policies that harm black Americans. Indisputably despised in the black community, Justice Thomas relies on the goodwill of racist conservatives, with some exhibiting their temerity by suggesting that Ellison’s criticism against Thomas was racist.
Thomas has become what he has routinely railed against, a hopeless dependent whose very existence buttresses white supremacy: a modern-day slave. Every day he serves on the court is anathema to the rule of law. He is an embarrassment to the black community and the federal judiciary, and needs to retreat from the public space forthwith.