The Demonisation of Clarence Thomas | Jonas Balkus
The overturning of Roe v Wade by the United States’ Supreme Court provoked extreme reactions from both left and right. From spuriously comparing the situation to The Handmaid’s Tale to calling for a federal ban on abortion as the next step; but one development in particular caught my eye as I scrolled through the headlines, and that is the singling out and relentless lampooning of Justice Clarence Thomas.
Thomas earned the ire of the ‘progressive’ left in his concurring opinion on the overturning of Roe v Wade. In this, after concluding that the Constitution did not guarantee a right to abortion, he began to question whether similar judgements such as Obergefell v Hodges and Lawrence v Texas— which established federal rights to gay marriage and homosexual relations respectively—were also constitutionally sound. Many, however, immediately assumed that he was out to remove the existence of gay people across the US, without stopping to think what sane political figure in the west would try to categorically ban homosexual relations in 2022.
Nonetheless, a petition quickly emerged on MoveOn calling for his impeachment after some muckraking brought tenuous claims that he had a conflict of interest in ruling on a case relating to the January 6 Capitol Riot. This petition amassed over one million signatures; it accuses Justice Clarence of pursuing a right-wing agenda on the Supreme Court yet does not take into consideration the politicisation of the Supreme Court by both left and right; something that has increased over several decades. Rather than genuine concerns, it seems that critics simply wanted to find an outlet to express their frustration at the legal overturning of Roe v Wade.
What was perhaps more worrying was the group of protestors who amassed outside of Justice Thomas’ house in the days following the overturning. The protestors chanted, yelled abuse, and generally attempted to intimidate the 74-year-old at his own home. Condemnations have also come from a number of public figures; for instance, Hilary Clinton called Thomas a ‘man of resentment, grievance, and anger’, and Samuel L. Jackson has repeatedly called him ‘Uncle Clarence’ to the point that ‘Uncle Clarence’ began trending on Twitter. This highlights the even uglier side of the backlash towards Thomas.
‘Uncle Clarence’ is a reference to the main character of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It has become a byword among some activists for a black person who is extremely subservient to a supposed white power structure. By comparing Thomas to Uncle Tom, Jackson and others are in effect labelling him a ‘race traitor’ for not having a particular set of beliefs. A similar attack has been launched against other black conservatives such as Candace Owens and Kanye West in recent years – the implication being is that African Americans are the political property of pre-established progressive causes.
A similar sentiment was echoed even more crudely by other Twitter users. For instance, in a now deleted tweet, a user called Thomas a ‘n*gger slave to his white nutcase wife’. Other Twitter users were cruder still, calling Mr Thomas a string of slurs such as ‘porchmonkey’ and ‘n*gger’.
Fuck Uncle Ruckus, Clarence Thomas is the biggest coon to be birthed— TWICE STAN ACCOUNT (@blcckcinderella) June 24, 2022
In each of the examples of abuse towards Thomas, it is surprising that plenty of it came from the progressive left-wing. Those internet activists who painted themselves as proponents of social justice and opponents of racism, with “BLM” in their bios, were now outwardly throwing racial slurs about on a public forum – dissident conservatives get banned for far less.
What makes the situation particularly strange is the context of Thomas’ background. Born into a poor family in Jim Crow-era Georgia, he rose through the judicial system to become the second ever African American to sit on the Supreme Court. One would have assumed that Thomas’ appointment would be viewed as a vindication of the trend towards racial equality from those bleak years of his childhood – much like how many viewed Barack Obama’s 2008 election victory. Instead, Thomas is demonised, and his ethnicity is questioned, as if it is dependent on political belief. The conditionality of the progressive ideology is nowhere more apparent than the treatment of Thomas. As an ethnic minority, he appears to forfeit his status as one by choosing to be a conservative. His protections are lost; thus some progressives feel legitimised in the use of dehumanising language. He goes from friend to enemy, from proletariat to capitalist, victim to enabler.
His singling out is perhaps the most worrying. Neither Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, nor Amy Coney Barrett received as much abuse as him. The fury of some progressives towards him is not just towards that of a simple enemy, but of a traitor, underpinned by incredulity that he would refuse their offer of ‘liberation’ from the oppressive power system. Indeed, he functions as a living refutation of the prevailing postmodern narrative— a highly successful black man who achieved his position through his own merit, not affirmative action, seemingly unharmed by ‘white privilege’. It is this contradiction which perhaps angers the ascendant ideologues the most.