Clarence Thomas being Clarence Thomas

I guess George Takei, well known to Star Trek fans, as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, the helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise, got himself into some hot water recently. In reaction to Clarence Thomas’ dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Takei reportedly said,

He is a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court. He doesn’t belong there. For him to say that slaves had dignity? Doesn’t he know that slaves were enchained? That they were whipped on the back…they were raped! And he says he had dignity as slaves?

My parents lost everything that they worked for in the middle of their lives, in their thirties. Their business, their home? We’re supposed to call that dignified? Marched out of our homes at gunpoint? He is an embarrassment. He is a disgrace to America![1]

Takei later apologized for using the term ‘blackface’ but as the controversy continued, William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, reportedly tweeted, “I am positive that George is not a racist. Let’s stop the spin doctoring.”[2]

As a white male, I would never have used the term that Takei did and that Takei apologized for. That said, I think it is worth remembering that Thomas was approved by an all-white male Senate committee (before being confirmed by the Senate) that not only heard and discounted Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment but added to her abuse. Thomas is what some might call an ‘honorary white,’ fairly consistently voting to uphold wealthy white male hegemony against all other claims.

I am told that Thomas actually is an intelligent man, that he has written intelligent decisions. Perhaps. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision rests heavily on the concept of dignity as central to human rights and I suspect the Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges may ultimately be more important for this recognition than it is even on the topic of same-sex marriage. Thomas’ dissent writes that the majority decision “rejects the idea–captured in our Declaration of Independence–that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government.”[3] He writes further,

Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.[4]

Thomas should be ashamed of himself and not just for the reasons Takei states. It is well known that the Declaration of Independence is not binding. It is, at best, of sentimental value and of zero legal value. So even if Thomas is correct—and in fact he misunderstands the social construction entirely—about the origin of dignity, his reliance on the Declaration is simply absurd. This alone warrants a characterization of Thomas as a ‘clown.’

It is my wish that the Black community would stand up and repudiate people like Thomas, like Condoleezza Rice, like Bill Cosby, like Ben Carson, like Herman Cain, like Barack Obama, who attain high positions in white hegemonic society, and then use their positions to uphold the power structure rather than to help subaltern people, and often instead help to keep subaltern people down. To behave as these powerful people do is a profoundly repugnant hypocrisy and it demonstrates the folly of voting for someone just because of the color their skin or, as appears to be at issue in the 2016 presidential race, their gender.

  1. [1]George Takei, quoted in Omar Rivero, “Watch: George Takei’s EPIC Takedown Of ‘Clown In Blackface’ Justice Thomas,” Occupy Democrats, July 1, 2015,
  2. [2]Douglas Ernst, “Shatner backs Takei in ‘blackface’ flap: ‘Stop the spin doctoring’,” Washington Times, July 3, 2015,
  3. [3]Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al., N.p. (2015).
  4. [4]Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al., N.p. (2015).

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