Corey Robin in Jacobin:
Nikhil Singh said that more than any other figure in the African American canon, Malcolm X is someone who everyone thinks they know. Clarence Thomas, I’ve discovered in the past six months, is also a figure who everyone thinks they know. In the interest of dispelling that expectation, which I suspect many of you share, I’d like to present five facts about Clarence Thomas that perhaps you didn’t know.
1. The first time Clarence Thomas went to Washington, DC, it was to protest the Vietnam War. The last time that Clarence Thomas attended a protest, as far as I can tell, it was to free Bobby Seale and Erikah Huggins.
2. Clarence Thomas does not believe in color-blindness: “I don’t think this society has ever been color-blind,” he said in 1985, in the third year of his tenure as head of the EEOC. “I grew up in Savannah, Ga., under segregation. It wasn’t color-blind and America is not color-blind today … Code words like ‘color-blind’ aren’t all that useful.” Or, as he told Juan Williams in 1987, “There is nothing you can do to get past black skin. I don’t care how educated you are, how good you are — you’ll never have the same contacts or opportunities, you’ll never be seen as equal to whites.”
3. When Clarence Thomas was in college he memorized the speeches of Malcolm X; two decades later, he could still recite them by heart. “I’ve been very partial to Malcolm X,” he told a libertarian magazine in 1987. “There is a lot of good in what he says.”
4. There’s a law review article about Clarence Thomas that’s called “Clarence X?: The Black Nationalist Behind Justice Thomas’s Constitutionalism.”
5. Clarence Thomas resents the fact that as a black man he’s not allowed to listen to Carole King.
Now, the truth is that there’s nothing all that surprising about the fact that Clarence Thomas is black and conservative. There’s a long tradition of black conservatism in this country. And from Edmund Burke to Ayn Rand, conservatism always and everywhere has been the work of outsiders, men and women who hail from the peripheries or margins of the national experience.