In the minds of most Americans, the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings were an odd political spectacle and the kind of thing you only remember in a tough game of Trivial Pursuit. For me, they were riveting political theater, where I was, whether I liked it or not, a captive audience. During the summer of 1991 my family drive across the midwest to visit Mt. Rushmore, and since there is little or no decent radio once you get outside of Omaha, Neb., we spent most of the Dakotas listening to National Public Radio coverage of the Thomas hearings.
After listening to hours of testimony for days on end the car was split. My mother clearly thought Thomas was guilty of sexually harassing Anita Hill. My dad, being smarter than most men, decided he didn’t have an opinion rather than disagree with my mom. And me, being a kid who didn’t know much about the nuances of an adult workplace, was just sure that Anita Hill was lying. Twenty years later, a bit older and wiser, I, like most other people with common sense, realized Hill was telling the truth and Thomas was a harassing pervert. Which makes the report this week that his wife, Ginni Thomas, called Anita Hill asking for an apology either the peak of arrogance or revisionist history.
George Bush knew that nominating Clarence Thomas, an extremely conservative Black man to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court would baffle weak-willed Democrats on the Senate Judiciary committee. He correctly guessed that the fear of their progressive bigotry being exposed by rejecting a Black nominee would trump their disgust with his ideology. What he didn’t expect was Senate Judiciary chair Joe Biden to dig up the testimony of four women, Angela Wright, Rose Jourdain, Sukari Hardnett and most famously, Anita Hill, who each reported that Thomas sexually harassed them at work. Each spoke of harassment by Thomas, and threats to their work if they rejected his advances or did not play along with his constant comments about pornography or women’s anatomy. Hill was the only woman brave enough to testify publicly and although Thomas was still confirmed, her testimony opened up a public debate and led to workplace policy changes about sexual harassment.
So when word got out last week that Ginni Thomas, Clarence’s wife, found Anita Hill’s phone number, called her and left a message asking that she call back and apologize for “what she had done,” I was amazed. I have commented many times that Ginni Thomas is the worst kind of bored housewife. When she started a Tea Party organization last year after essentially taking patronage jobs for decades, it was a clear sign that she had nothing better to do and that her husband cared nothing for conflict of interest in his position. But to call Anita Hill 20 years afterwards to ask for an apology for something her husband did at best smacks of the initial stages of mental illness and at worse the most glaring example of White woman privilege since Sandra Bullock’s biracial adoption. Even if we assume that Ginni doesn’t believe her husband did anything he was accused of, what makes her think that she’s owed anything? How had she in any way suffered or continued to suffer for Thomas’ actions almost 20 years later.
In 2007 Clarence Thomas spoke at Howard University about his confirmation process and his book “My Grandfather’s Son” and one of the audience members had this to say:
“His book had a sense of anger about that whole process, that led me to believe he still carries a grudge, as if he had been victimized somehow, and as if he hadn’t won,” she said. “It was almost as if he were not on the Supreme Court. Like he was kept from it.”
That quote was from retired Judge Lillian McEwen, who has written a memoir about her life, which includes her years of involvement with Thomas prior to the court hearings and her recollection of his porn obsession and misogynistic treatment of women. She captures perfectly the arrogance of Ginni Thomas and the lack of remorse from Clarence. Even after essentially winning the biggest prize of all, a husband with a lifetime appointment to the most powerful court in America, and the ability to play political dilettante whenever she wants, Ginny Thomas still wants more. Perhaps when Lillian McEwen’s book comes out Thomas will call her for an apology too, but if she’s smart she’ll leave this confession tour in the past and just be happy that her sexually harassing pervert of a husband gives her a lifestyle that allows her such pointless hobbies.