THE ENIGMA OF CLARENCE THOMAS by Corey Robin

THE ENIGMA OF CLARENCE THOMAS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

For Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, racism in America can never be expunged.

Analyzing speeches, court opinions, and Thomas’ writings, Robin (Political Science/Brooklyn Coll. and CUNY Graduate Center; The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Donald Trump, 2017, etc.) argues persuasively that Thomas’ right-wing conservatism and black nationalism make him “the most extreme justice on the Supreme Court.” Thomas, writes the author, believes “that racism is permanent, the state is ineffective, and politics is feeble.” Noting that he rejects “virtually all of Thomas’s views,” Robin warns against dismissing them, and he presents them in detail along with critiques from other justices and analysts. Central to Thomas’ beliefs is the valorization of the black male provider and protector, “a figure of authority whose word is law for the women and children under his care.” Black men, “stolid, moral, responsible, authoritative, upstanding,” are essential to the black community. For Thomas, white racism and liberal politics combine to undermine black interests. Blacks, therefore, “should cease to look to electoral politics as a means of bettering their situation; any involvement in electoral politics will only confirm white power and reinforce black powerlessness.” Efforts such as affirmative action, for example, reinforce black powerlessness by failing to treat blacks and whites as equals, defining blacks as “inferior and deficient.” When Thomas considers the incarceration rate for blacks and liberals’ cry for judicial and prison reform, he counters that “the racist dimensions of the carceral state” actually benefit African Americans: Harsh policing protects black neighborhoods from crime, and stringent punishment fosters law-abiding behavior. Adversity—even slavery and society under Jim Crow—“helps the black community develop its inner virtue and resolve.” Acknowledging that we are all trapped “in the same historical moment” as Thomas, Robin asks readers to examine the premises underlying their own social and political views. Thomas’ “beliefs are disturbing, even ugly,” Robin acknowledges; “his style is brutal. I want to make us sit with that discomfort rather than swat it away.”

A penetrating profile of the Supreme Court’s longest-serving justice.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-62779-383-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2019