By: Matt Rosenberg
After widespread racialized condemnations of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for support of a controversial majority ruling that turned abortion back to the states, black conservatives and moderates have issued a national Open Letter urging restraint and sobriety. They are calling out those who made “racist, vicious, and ugly personal attacks” on Thomas after his supplemental majority opinion was issued.
The letter writers and signers make an important point: Public dialog has been coarsened and racialized, and this has to end. We’d add this: To fail to do so means losing focus on the issues which in fact affect black Americans the most. Those include failing urban schools and criminal court systems, and growing crime which threatens black communities. In the end, the tone of public dialog must move away from cheap cries of “racism” or “sell out” every time a white or black participant veers away from elite-sanctioned analyses and remedies.
You already know that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot earned broad national coverage by publicly and crudely insulting Thomas after the abortion ruling. Our issue was with Lightfoot disgracing her office and publicly losing control of her temper for at least the fifth time – a type of failure which the University of Chicago has noted lies behind too much of the city’s deadly violence. Implicit in this is the bargain we all must strike for public discourse on tough issues. We need to be civil so we can figure out how to be smart.
The letter organizers and signatories are saying that the liberal values of diversity and tolerance cannot be selectively applied, but must be extended to all. The letter is backed by signers including no less than ten black Illinoisans, including Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Stephanie Trussell. One of the letter’s organizers is Chicago South Side native Glenn Loury, also a Brown University economist, and prominent author and talk show host.
Let’s get deeper into what actually happened to provoke the issuance of the open letter. Then we’ll hear from one of the Illinois signatories. She is a young black stockbroker and financial advisor named Patricia Easley from Chicago’s Austin neighborhood on the city’s West Side.
With co-organizer Robert Woodson of Washington, D.C.-based Woodson Center, Loury and the letter’s signers are pointedly critiquing a barrage of demeaning racial insults from celebrities, the Twitter-verse, and others to Thomas. Many implied that by joining a court majority whose ruling angered many abortion rights advocates, he was not actually black.
For days after the court ruling, the Twitter hashtag #UncleClarence was trending and is still being used. The hashtag was meant to evoke the phrase “Uncle Tom,” a long-standing epithet used mainly by blacks against other blacks whom they want to portray as subservient to whites. Black actor Samuel L. Jackson joined in the #UncleClarence chorus. Other unconscionable Twitter posts rounded up by justthenews.org suggested Thomas should be assassinated, or that the Supreme Court be burned down. One of the Twitter arsonists – note that many of the posts have now been removed – was a reporter for the respected tech publication Engadget, according to justthenews.org. That’s how permissible such rhetoric has become.