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When Affirmative Action Worlds Collide: Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Brown Jackson

When Affirmative Action Worlds Collide: Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Brown Jackson

It’s not hard to imagine why Thomas was offended at the stereotypes of oppression used by KBJ.

In connection with the recent SCOTUS affirmative action decision, Clarence Thomas took special care to offer a critique of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s dissent in the case, as discussed in Professor Jacobson’s post entitled, “Clarence Thomas Reading His Epic Takedown Of KBJ’s Affirmative Action Dissent Left Her ‘Visibly Angry.’” From Thomas’ description:

JUSTICE JACKSON’s race-infused world view falls flat at each step…. A contrary, myopic world view based on individuals’ skin color to the total exclusion of their personal choices is nothing short of racial determinism …. Worse, the classifications that JUSTICE JACKSON draws are themselves race-based stereotypes…. “

Here’s more of what Justice Thomas had to say on the matter.

I find it particularly interesting to look at the backgrounds of Justice Thomas and Justice Jackson, the two black justices who are on such opposite sides of this issue. Although they may have ended up serving on the same Supreme Court, they started out in very different places.

While we’re on the subject, who had the privilege and who didn’t? Who appeared to have been more oppressed by racial discrimination?

Clarence Thomas is 75, and was born under segregation in the deep South. Ketanji Brown Jackson is 52 and was born in unsegregated DC and grew up in unsegregated Florida. But that’s just the beginning of how different their early worlds were.

From Clarence Thomas’ Wiki profile [emphasis mine].

Thomas was born on June 23, 1948, in Pin Point, Georgia. Pin Point was a small, predominantly black community near Savannah founded by freedmen after the Civil War. He was the second of three children born to M. C. Thomas, a farm worker, and Leola “Pigeon” Williams, a domestic worker. They were descendants of enslaved people and spoke Gullah as a first language.

Thomas’s father left the family when Thomas was two years old. Though Thomas’s mother worked long hours, she was sometimes paid only pennies per day, struggled to earn enough money to feed the family, and was forced to rely on charity. After a house fire left them homeless, Thomas and his younger brother, Myers, were taken to live in Savannah with his maternal grandparents, Myers and Christine Anderson.

Thomas experienced amenities such as indoor plumbing and regular meals for the first time while staying in Savannah. Myers Anderson had little formal education but built a thriving fuel oil business that also sold ice. When Thomas was ten years old, Anderson started taking the family to help at a farm every day from sunrise to sunset. He believed in hard work and self-reliance, and counseled Thomas to “never let the sun catch you in bed”. He also impressed upon his grandsons the importance of a good education.

More can be found here on Justice Thomas’ background experiences. His mother was eighteen when he was born, and they lived in “a one-room wooden house near the marshes. It had dirt floors and no plumbing or electricity” [emphasis mine]:

A devout Catholic who created his own fuel oil business in Savannah in the 1950s, [Thomas’ grandfather] provided the example of self-motivation in the face of segregation that would inspire his grandson. Through hard work and a refusal to submit to the poverty and degradation of menial work, he “did for himself,” as one of his favorite expressions went. He fed and cared for Clarence and Peanut and paid for their education at St. Benedict the Moor; at this all-black grammar school, white nuns exercised firm discipline. The racist vigilante group known as the Ku Klux Klan often threatened the nuns, who rode on the backs of buses with their students and demanded hard work and promptly completed assignments.

It’s not hard to imagine why Thomas is offended at the idea that a legacy of slavery hampers every single black student today.

Clarence’s favorite retreat was a blacks-only library in Savannah—the Savannah public library was for whites—funded by the Carnegie family. His browsing there helped to formulate his ambition: He would one day have the sophistication to understand magazines like the New Yorker.

Remember that Justice Thomas’ first language was Gullah.

Justice Thomas had direct experience of affirmative action and its effects:

In his memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” Thomas says he felt “tricked” by paternalistic Whites at Yale who recruited Black students.

“After graduating from Yale, I met a black alumnus of the University of Michigan Law School who told me that he’d made a point of not mentioning his race on his application. I wished with all my heart that I’d done the same,” he wrote.

“I learned the hard way that a law degree from Yale meant one thing for White graduates and another for blacks, no matter how much anyone denied it,” Thomas wrote. “As a symbol of my disillusionment, I peeled a fifteen-cent price sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of my law degree to remind myself of the mistake I’d made by going to Yale.”

Justice Thomas’ early hardship is a contrast to that of Justice Jackson, whose story is rather different, to say the least:

Johnny and Ellery Brown, Jackson’s parents, have been married for 54 years.

Intact family.

Both Miami natives, [Brown Jackson’s parents] were raised in the Jim Crow South, attended segregated primary schools, before graduating from historically Black colleges and universities, according to her White House biography. They settled in DC and both worked as public school teachers.

So it’s actually Justice Jackson’s parents who are of Justice Thomas’ raised-in-segregation generation (although perhaps not so poverty-striken as Thomas’ rather extreme situation), and they became teachers. Then her father went to law school.

“My parents taught me that, unlike the many barriers that they had had to face growing up, my path was clearer, such that if I worked hard and believed in myself, in America I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be.”

It sounds as though Justice Jackson’s parents may have been of similar mindset about that as Justice Thomas himself, since this quote resembles his philosophy.

For decades there have been many criticisms of Justice Thomas from the left, many of them quite vicious and personal. And yet his story and achievements against great odds would be legendary . . . if only he were a Democrat rather than a conservative.

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]


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rabid wombat | July 9, 2023 at 7:53 pm

Thank God for people like Clarence Thomas!

The comparison of Justices Thomas and Brown sound like the comparisons of the post war boomer generation and those that followed; the “boomers” knew of hardship and valued hard work, and don’t really trust the government, while later generations, particularly those that produced the leftists that infest academia and government, and worse, the likes of pantifa and BLM, live relatively rich lives, and believe that they are entitled to government largesse, free higher education/loan forgiveness and “reparations.”

In short, Thomas represents the American free market with rugged individualism and a good work ethic, while Brown represents the left’s divisive Marxist views on everything, including a socialist government and freebies for everything.

My only regret is that Brown will likely outlive Justice Thomas, and we will be left with a justice that can’t honestly define what a woman is.

    AF_Chief_Master_Sgt in reply to Dimsdale. | July 9, 2023 at 10:41 pm

    KBJ knows what a woman is. She’s equipped with a vagina and tits.

    Her problem is that she was nominated by a mendacious mental defect, supported by an American hating political party and ideology, rapidly embracing the reprobates in the QWERTY movement.

    She did not want to admit what a woman is, because to do so would force her to admit that her ideology is as fupped duck as the people who nominated her.

    CommoChief in reply to Dimsdale. | July 10, 2023 at 8:11 am

    Hippies were boomers. Those who avoided service in Vietnam were boomers. Yuppies were boomers. Boomers are largely still in control of our institutions, especially academic institutions and they certainly allowed the crazy to run wild in those institutions, Gen Milley as an example. Boomers were participants in the sexual revolution. Boomers were the first generation with large scale access
    to higher education as a cohort.

    The members of the ‘lost’ generation and ‘greatest’ generation which birthed the boomers absolutely understood hardship having gone through WWI, the depression or both. By contrast the boomers were the beneficiaries of the post WWII economic expansion aka golden era. Leading edge boomers entered the workforce in this age. The middle of the pack got stuck with recessionary ’70s though they and the late cycle boomers shook that off under the Reagan economy.

    Boomers had the opportunity to buy homes at what we now consider ridiculously cheap prices; my boomer Parents had a $92 mortgage payment in 1967 which was less than 15% of their household income. Boomers had the opportunity to ride the escalation in real estate prices and the stock market. Most boomers still have traditional defined benefit pensions v defined contribution (401K).
    Most boomers will still get a Social Security check and many have gotten one for a decade or more. Boomer Social Security payments will likely be protected though their contributions at modern rates didn’t start until ’86 when many were in their 30’s and some in their 40s before they paid full freight. Overall, boomers were, as a group, in the generational economic sweet spot. Individual results may vary but as a generation the boomers had it easier economically in comparison to other generations.

      Edward in reply to CommoChief. | July 10, 2023 at 11:18 am

      You are correct, The defining difference is the parents of those born during the war or just after. Some parents gave their children everything and the children came to expect the free ride. Others had a different agenda. I started working after school (i.e, a regular job where I had FICA withheld from my $0.50/hr wages) when I was 14. I was required to contribute to the household finances. Years later I learned that my contribution was paying the rent. I drew unemployment once in my working life. Were the breaks I managed in employment due to hard work, intelligence, a combination or just plain luck? I can’t say, I’m too close to the issue. Now I’m old and life is fairly easy for my wife of 56 years and I, so we worry about the children and (mostly) the grand and great-grand children. Most are doing fine, working hard and staying out of debt. But the country seems about to go to hell in the proverbial handbasket.

      gonzotx in reply to CommoChief. | July 10, 2023 at 12:02 pm


      JohnSmith100 in reply to CommoChief. | July 10, 2023 at 3:30 pm

      Staying out of debt is so important, is was free of debt by about 35. Also, since I had little in common with other children, I hung out with old people, and absorbed their frugal ways. Most of them could fix just about anything, Men and women alike. Hardship builds character, my first dose of that came from the recession in early 70’s. I was never caught off guard again.

Jackson had a more advantaged background than I did, and probably more than most Americans.

    AF_Chief_Master_Sgt in reply to Valerie. | July 9, 2023 at 10:42 pm

    Black privilege at it’s finest.

    AF_Chief_Master_Sgt in reply to Valerie. | July 9, 2023 at 10:46 pm

    Follow up

    You have to admit that KBJ’s privilege also kept away some guy who would lie like a rug about finding her pubic hairs on his Coke can.

    It also prevented her nominator Joe Biden from performing a public lynching on her like he did with the other black nominee.

    alaskabob in reply to Valerie. | July 10, 2023 at 12:37 pm

    Thomas earned his position, Jackson’s was bequeathed. That which is not truly earned is not appreciated.

chrisboltssr | July 9, 2023 at 9:43 pm

Growing up in the Jim Crow south doesn’t mean anything. It’s an attempt at looking for some grievance to attach to.

Also, I love how it mentions Jackson’s parents went to segregated public schools, but don’t see the irony of them going to historically black colleges (i.e. segregated schools). I expect that irony was lost in them.

    alaskabob in reply to chrisboltssr. | July 10, 2023 at 12:39 pm

    In Macon, Georgia in the 60’s… schools were “segregated” by sex. Separate schools for boys and girls… which even some feminists would like today.

If it was difficult for slaves to grow up and live in the antebellum south — and no doubt it was — why didn’t they all leave? after they were freed? After the Civil War ended.

If it was so difficult to grow up and live in the Jim Crow south for the descendants of slaves — and no doubt it was — why didn’t they leave?

The American West never had slavery, never had Jim Crow laws, and it was wide open.

To this day, the highest concentrations of descendants of slaves are in the deepest south. Where American slavery is considered to have been most brutal.

Idk it seems kinda curious. Like , if you wanna see how people react to real severe institutionalized prejudice and brutality it seems we could look at images from Afghanistan after Taliban re- took power a year ago.

Or idk take a look at how the South Vietnamese reacted to conquest by the communist north. Like — they dropped everything, grabbed their children , and jumped into boats. And many died. And last I checked the ones who lived ,they’re not going back.

You ever see someone on a video trying to escape from North Korea? Or from communist East Berlin? THAT is what “fleeing oppression” looks like.

Am I missing something?

    Flatworm in reply to Mr. Fred. | July 10, 2023 at 8:49 am

    If it was so difficult to grow up and live in the Jim Crow south for the descendants of slaves — and no doubt it was — why didn’t they leave?

    Well, many did, of course. Enough left that it became known as The Great Migration.

    Did they all leave? No. But neither did the South Vietnamese.

    GWB in reply to Mr. Fred. | July 10, 2023 at 10:43 am

    Where do you think all of the black populations of places like Detroit and Chicago came from?

      Mr. Fred in reply to GWB. | July 10, 2023 at 11:20 am

      The “great migration” refers to a period five decades after slavery ended.

      The factories of the north sought out workers from everywhere on earth. The American south. Eastern Europe. At one point in the 20th century more Americans could trace their roots to Ellis Island than to anywhere else.

      To this day, most descendants of American slaves choos to live where slavery was considered most brutal. They never left.

      Most people had tough lives back then. I just think it’s kind of interesting perhaps worthy of some thought idk

      JohnSmith100 in reply to GWB. | July 10, 2023 at 3:40 pm

      Look at what they have done to Chicago & Detroit, and many other cities, most of which are shit holes today,.

blacksburger | July 10, 2023 at 6:41 pm

Years ago I heard a story about Justice Thomas which impressed me very much. A few years after he became a Justice, he agreed to address a junior high school class. I have no idea what he said, but the fact that he didn’t consider it beneath him to give a talk to young teenagers amazed me.

BierceAmbrose | July 10, 2023 at 9:26 pm

How much do we want designated winners, really?

The progressive, a creature of The Apparatus, Kabuki-decries all the burdens of the system, all the while knowing she couldn’t get anywhere without it. Gotta have quotas to gun for.

Meahwhile, the conservative, who succeeded despite The Apparatus at the time, is perfectly comfortable aiming for a system where The Appratus does less. Give peole a shot at the ladder, n let them climb as they will.

Sadly, it does no-one any favors when you promote them for affirmative action.

The level of scholarship in their opinions makes it clear which one worked hard to get there and which was simply appointed based on sexual and racial preferences. She can’t even claim to be the token black or token woman on the Supreme Court. Well, maybe she can claim…

Another of the great things about Clarence Thomas is that, like fine wine, he gets even better as he ages. This decision he wrote was Scalia-esque. He made old Antonin proud.