Clarence Thomas’s Grandfather

Cite this Article
Elizabeth Nowicki, Clarence Thomas’s Grandfather, Truth on the Market (October 02, 2007),

I would have to think long and hard about writing a book titled “My Grandfather’s Daughter.â€Â  If I wrote such a book, you see, I would feel compelled to do justice to the memory of my grandfather(s) with the book.  The book would need to be incredibly well-written, well-researched, and respectful, to reflect positively on the memories of two men who had impeccable moral fiber, character, and work ethic.  My mother’s father was a hard-working immigrant, who came to this country as a teenager with no money and no English language skills.  He worked two jobs for most of his life, he was promoted to a supervisor position in his blue-collar job where he was known for his kindness, fairness, and good nature, he raised four wonderful children, he lived an honorable life, and, when I reflect on him and all he stood for, I am motivated to work a little harder, be a little kinder, and love a little more.  My father’s father was a first generation American with little education, who worked his way up at GE to be a head foreman with GE’s Schenectady, New York, operations.  He, too, was known to be an exceedingly good manager, with a strong backbone and sense of fairness and justice.  He gave up his hard-earned position with GE and moved the family across the country to Arizona – no questions asked – when my father’s asthma proved unmanageable in the Northeast.  Years later, when the family was finally able to return to the Northeast, my grandfather spent his nights for an entire year building a home with his own bare hands for his family, after laboring long days in the factory.Â

My reverence for my two grandfathers is what underpins my … shock at Justice Clarence Thomas’s decision to take cheap shots at Anita Hill in Thomas’s new book titled “My Grandfather’s Son.â€Â  Perhaps I am misunderstanding – perhaps Thomas viewed his grandfather as a man of weak character, with a propensity to hurt others and err on the side of needless, small-minded jabs.  I have not read Justice Thomas’s book, so I do not know.  But somehow I doubt he thought ill of his grandfather.

And, for that reason, the media quotes I have read that indicate Thomas revisits Anita Hill in his book to refer to her work as mediocre and her character as immature baffle me.  Why bother, Clarence Thomas?  Why take the opportunity to sling mud?  Why revisit Anita Hill personally?  The confirmation hearings for Justice Thomas were of historic import, and I certainly understand Thomas’s desire to memorialize the events.  What I do not understand, however, is Thomas’s choice to revisit negatively Anita Hill’s character and professional performance, and I think Thomas’s choice in this regard reflects poorly on him and, given the book’s title “My Grandfather’s Son,†his grandfather.

My father has a quote from his father that I cannot help but call to mind in light of Thomas’s comments about Hill.  The quote is:  “The other guy has got to live.â€Â  I have always taken this quote to mean “cut the other guy some slack†or “just let it go.â€Â  When I am in a position where I am in the right, and I can go in for the jugular, but I would have to do it at the expense of someone else who is just struggling to do the best they can, I stop, and I tell myself “the other guy has got to live.â€Â  Were I in Thomas’s shoes, writing my autobiography, angry as I might be about the Anita Hill hearings even 15 years later, I would like to think that I would look seriously at the opportunity to slam Hill in my book but I would ultimately conclude “the other guy has got to live,†and I would pass up the chance to speak ill of her personally or professionally.  That is what I was raised to do; that is what my grandfathers would have wanted me to do.  I would like to think that I would have the strength of character to take the high road and err on the side of largess.

For that reason, even though, as a Catholic, Republican, conservative, I am perfectly teed up to favor Clarence Thomas, I cannot begin to understand why, in a book titled “My Grandfather’s Son,†Thomas would choose to take cheap shots at Anita Hill instead of taking the high road.  (Note that, because the book is not yet available, all I know about the book is what the media has written and Thomas himself has admitted.)