I’ve just finished reading My Grandfather’s Son, Clarence Thomas’s autobiography. It is certainly the most inspiring autobiography I have ever read. The short version is that Clarence Thomas was born a desperately poor black child in Jim Crow-era Georgia and grew up to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. In his speech after being nominated by George H. W. Bush, Thomas stated “only in America…” After having visited numerous countries on every continent of the world except Antarctica, I firmly believe this is true.
There are many aspects of this book which deserve mention, but the one which stands out most auspiciously is the degree to which Thomas comes to believe that, perhaps more than any other ethnic group, black people in America ought to be conservative. To Thomas, it becomes self-evident that the conservative virtues of self-reliance, hard work and determination are truly the only way for black people to improve their lot. Further, the type of nanny-statism offered up by the left only serves to undermine those very virtues and trap black people in a state of second class citizenry.
Thomas and his younger brother came as young boys to live with their grandfather in Savannah after their parents had divorced. “Daddy,” as Thomas called him, was an illiterate, hard working, irascible man who took it upon himself to impose an austere regimen on his new charges. Though ostensibly a Democrat, Daddy’s temperament and philosophy were profoundly conservative. He worked his fingers to the bone on their farm and delivering fuel oil in a beat up old truck, and wouldn’t be happy accepting anything from anybody that he didn’t earn. He worked hard to instill these virtues in the Thomas brothers, often to their great consternation.
Thomas, who attended Holy Cross and Yale Law School in the 60s and early 70s, was initially a Black Panther-admiring radical, as all young black men of the time were supposed to be. Starting slowly at Holy Cross, however, and over a long period of time, Thomas began to see things through the prism of his grandfather’s experience. He came to realize that the solutions offered up by the left to solve the black underclass problem were exactly the wrong remedy. He saw how policies, from racial preferences at his own schools, to welfare in Savannah, sapped his friends and colleagues of their determination and relegated them to poverty on the government dole.
I think about Thomas’s grandfather, and wonder what he would have thought of Barack Obama’s online election-year vignettes, The Life of Julia, describing all the wonderful benefits that the Federal Government can bring to a person throughout his or her life. I think he would have been appalled.
Reading the book, it makes me wonder two things. First, it makes me wonder why there aren’t more black conservatives. The argument which Thomas makes – vindicated by his very existence – is so compelling that it makes me wonder how to get the story more widely read. It might make people scratch their heads a bit and wonder.
Second, it makes me seethe that Thomas is so vilified by the left. It makes me think that many parts of the left, far from being open-minded and liberal (the old kind), are narrowly dogmatic, irate that a black man might dare hold views antithetical to the party line. In their words and deeds, they constantly subject him to a “high tech lynching,” to use Thomas’s own words. It is loathsome.
Sadly, a good part of the end of the book is consumed by the Anita Hill affair. It is a shame, but I suppose it had to be. Thomas needed to have his public say about the whole thing. Thomas makes a reasonably compelling case that Hill was acting in bad faith for political reasons. Whatever the truth, it tarnishes an otherwise uplifting and educational story.
Even though you’ve got to slog through the Anita Hill affair, Thomas’s story is quite simply incredible. I urge you to go read it, and pronto.
PS: I am off to purchase that other autobiography with an eerily similar name, penned by a famous American black man, Dreams from my Father. Check back for another review coming soon!
Note: Since this is a book review, I have double-posted this is Contemplarscion, where all my book reviews live.