Corey Robin, "The Enigma of Clarence Thomas," with Rebecca Traister
October 24, 2019, 7:00 PM
The Enigma of Clarence Thomas is a groundbreaking revisionist take on the Supreme Court justice everyone knows about but no one knows.
Most people can tell you two things about Clarence Thomas: Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment, and he almost never speaks from the bench. Here are some things they don’t know: Thomas is a black nationalist. In college he memorized the speeches of Malcolm X. He believes white people are incurably racist.
In the first examination of its kind, Corey Robin – one of the foremost analysts of the right – delves deeply into both Thomas’s biography and his jurisprudence, masterfully reading his Supreme Court opinions against the backdrop of his autobiographical and political writings and speeches. The hidden source of Thomas’s conservative views, Robin shows, is a profound skepticism that racism can be overcome. Thomas is convinced that any government action on behalf of African-Americans will be tainted by racism; the most African-Americans can hope for is that white people will get out of their way.
There’s a reason, Robin concludes, why liberals often complain that Thomas doesn’t speak but seldom pay attention when he does. Were they to listen, they’d hear a racial pessimism that often sounds similar to their own. Cutting across the ideological spectrum, this unacknowledged consensus about the impossibility of progress is key to understanding today’s political stalemate.
Corey Robin is the author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump and Fear: The History of a Political Idea. He teaches political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Robin’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Harper’s, and the London Review of Books, among other publications, and has been translated into thirteen languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Rebecca Traister is writer at large for New York magazine and author, most recently, of the New York Times bestseller, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger. A National Magazine Award winner, she has written about women in politics, media, and entertainment from a feminist perspective for The New Republic and Salon and has also contributed to The Nation, The New York Observer, The New York Times and The Washington Post. She is the author of All the Single Ladies and the award-winning Big Girls Don't Cry. She lives in New York with her family.