Be Angry With Purpose
Updated: May 28, 2019
A woman has come forward stating that a Supreme Court nominee assaulted her in the past. Take in that sentence. When did this happen? 1991 or 2018? How about both?
Both. Twice this has happened, except now, in 2018, there's a chance for everyone to do the right thing. If you've been paying any sort of attention to the news in the last few months, then it's highly likely you've heard the names, Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. If you haven't heard their names or you're not quite sure why I'm bringing them up, I suggest reading this article by Elizabeth Kiefer to catch yourself up:
Now that we're all on the same page; here's the purpose of my post. You may have noticed the names Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas in the article you just read. You may have also seen a stream of posts surging through social media recently, regarding Anita Hill and people, especially WOC, saying the phrase "I still believe Anita Hill." The significance? Nearly 26 years ago, Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately for all of us, Thomas was still nominated and STILL sits on the Supreme Court today and Hill's character was picked apart, while being personally vilified by both the public and the courts. Anita Hill and her story are being circulated in the media today, in order to remind people of what happened in the past and how to avoid making the same mistakes aka believing Ford without question and disqualifying Kavanaugh as a nominee. While it is refreshing to see people realize the complete lack of human decency that was extended towards Hill and wanting more for Ford, I strongly believe that in order to be successful in removing Kavanaugh and granting Ford an FBI investigation, one must learn and understand more about the Anita Hill case.
Anita Hill, 1991
Are you thinking...what's the point? The point is that circulating posts about believing women and re-tweeting statistics can only do so much, in the grand scheme of things. They're temporary to a certain extent, in that once you've read them and shared them... what have you accomplished? Apart from giving more people access to that little information, what are you personally gaining from doing it? The pride of a job well done? You've done your part in helping a woman out? It's not enough and I know that's going to make people angry. It's not enough to just mindlessly repost to your story because you can. And YES, some people don't have the means to do more but for the rest of us, there are no excuses anymore. While the marches, the feminist t-shirts and the badges and all the personal experiences of the #MeToo movement HAVE helped this country take leaps and strides towards the right direction, it's still not enough. One more way to help, is to truly understand why the Anita Hill case proceeded the way it did. It's not enough to say you believe her, without knowing what she went through for you. Because she did do it, for you. Whether or not it was intentional, she did it for all of us. Both Hill and Ford have and are having their names dragged through the mud because of something awful that happened TO them, not because of them. And it's about time that the men in question, stop being rewarded inspite of their dastardly deeds.
My two-cents? Educate yourself. Change the way your core thinking works so you can passionately and rationally explain to people, why things occur the way they do. It's not enough to say it's not fair. It's not fair if it rains on your wedding day, that you planned outside, on the beach. That's not fair. What's happening to Ford and what happened to Anita Hill is WRONG. And what do people hate the most? Being wrong, that's what. So without getting angry or forcing, what someone believes is just your "opinion," down their throat, learn what the issues are. We may not know all the solutions yet, but so much more can be done when you understand the way discourse works. We are shaped by our environments and more often than not, our environment limits what we know. We've heard Hill's name because of this incident with Ford and Kavanaugh but what else do we know? What else have you learned about Hill's case, apart from the fact that Thomas won despite her testimony? It's important to know because it's not all similar to today's events and a lot of it has to do with race, politics and then gender.
I have two books I recommend reading in order to gain some insight into what the heck is going on in this country and how it got to this point. The first is "The Periodic Table of Feminism" by Marisa Bate.
This is your introduction to all people feminism. It does not and cannot include every single person that had/has a hand in making feminism what it is today. BUT it does give you an incredibly solid overview of a lot of the people involved. Whether those people fell short in their work or tho,se people made way for intersectional feminism to become a thing, they're all significant. I suggest this book because it leads you on a journey all over the world and illustrates how different women achieved different accomplishments and will better help you understand the next book I recommend: "Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality" by Toni Morrison. Just like the title, this book is smart, complex and definitely not a light read BUT it will change the way you think about your daily decisions. I'll talk more about this later on in the post but for now, let's get onto what the book is about.
The book is a collection of essays from distinguished academics; both black and white, male and female, all discussing the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas case. It was edited and has an introduction by Toni Morrison. The blurb explains most eloquently, what I can't - the essays,
"powerfully elucidate not only the racial and sexual but also the historical, political, cultural, legal, psychological, and linguistic aspects of a single and revelatory moment in American history"
aka the case of Hill and Thomas and Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court. The most dreadfully fascinating thing about the snippet of a sentence, is that it could be talking about Ford and Kavanaugh. When it comes to race, it may seem like it's not a big factor in today's occurrences BUT it should be noted that Ford is getting what seems like more understanding from the media and the government, in comparison to what Hill received (although neither received enough). And that could have everything or nothing to do with race or the fact that it has been 25+ years and maybe things are changing for the better. Then again, Ford has to deal with all the negatives of social media and all the outlets that people have, to terrorize her. Does it matter who was worse off? Does it make sense to compare Hill and Ford? Is comparison just another distraction from justice? I'll leave it up to you to decide.
The Morrison book is intricate and may seem like a whirlwind you're not ready to jump into but I promise, it is worth pushing through it. In order to help (hopefully), I picked one of the essays in the book and have explained what goes on in it, in order for you to learn something new and maybe even encourage you to want to read more. I also hope that if you can't or don't want to read more, you gain something from my points below which should allow you to change the way you think of political events like these. And think of new ways to teach one another and come up with long-lasting solutions to issues involving sexual misconduct, specifically. By no means does the essay or this post encompass everything that can be said about the current political climate or women's rights - but it should give you another point of view.
Essay: Clarence Thomas and the Crisis of Black Political Culture
by Manning Marable
The essay discusses why Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court and supported by the majority of African Americans at the time, despite Anita Hill's testimony against him.
It also explains the securing of Thomas' position at Yale Law School because of its "aggressive affirmative-action program," only for Clarence to criticize affirmative action - the very thing that helped him - less than a decade later.
The argument that Anita Hill waited 10 years to speak up and therefore was lying is stunningly counteracted by the fact that there were few, if any, ways for Hill to legally report the happenings. It wasn't until 1986 that the "Supreme Court ruled sexual harassment in the workplace as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act." Before that, judges saw sexual interest or intimidation at the workplace as "bad manners".... What even?
Anita Hill's actions were taken in the context of a criminal trial by Joseph Biden - which was an error; no one filed criminal charges against Thomas. Anita Hill's charges of sexual harassment by Thomas were testimony that was supposed to determine the suitability and qualifications of Thomas being nominated to the Supreme Court. Marable's argument is that there was already more than enough evidence to decline Thomas' nomination, even if Anita Hill did not exist OR doubts could be established on her testimony. The whole essay is focused on how race is prevalent in political culture and the disregard from both white and black Americans, concerning Thomas' very questionable character.
The essay also gives three key factors that can explain why Thomas was so heavily supported by African-Americans, despite Hill (also an African American), testifying that he had sexually harassed her.
1. The first factor stems from the detail that when Thomas was selected by Bush to take the seat on the Supreme Court, most African-American leaders and organizations such as the NAACP were strongly opposed to the idea and saw Thomas as unfit for the position. This is because of Thomas' open hostility towards the civil rights movement and affirmative action. Nonetheless the initial polls showed a willingness of African Americans to support Thomas' appointment. Why was this the case if we consider what we just learned about Thomas?
Marable calls it "neo-accomadation" (71). Republicans recognized that they would need to increase their electoral support by about 25%, to regain control of the Congress and win presidential races, no matter who the Democratic candidate was. So regardless of Regan's rhetoric against the civil rights community and other black officials, the Republicans built a "black-middle-class agenda" which involved things such as government support for black-owned banks, support of all-black male public schools and the promotion of black spokespersons in national media: including Clarence Thomas. All of above allows us to see this: Clarence Thomas now represented a group (African-Americans), that liberals could not afford to offend.
2. Thomas claimed that HE, as a result of Anita Hill's accusals, was the victim of a political "lynching" because of his racial identity. A fundamental contradiction he had going for him was the notion of "symbolic representation" aka the idea that the professional success of a single African-American man, somehow benefits the entire black community. Pre-Civil rights period, this was a possibility because "the burden of exploitation was commonly experienced by all." However, post this period, the obligation between well-off African Americans and their economically marginalized peers, began to fade. Why? It became possible for upwardly fluid African Americans to live in the white suburbs and never come into close contact with the most oppressed parts of the black community. Therefore, the argument of "symbolic representation" becomes obsolete, because the professional success of the African-American elite such as Clarence Thomas, no longer benefitted the entire black community because of class differences, cultural identities and personal histories etc. (75). Another term to explain the black support of Thomas is "liberal integrationism," which argues that if individual "African Americans are advanced to positions of political, cultural and corporate prominence," than the entire black community will benefit. An example that Marable gives is the idea that if a black professional becomes a police sergeant, that the black neighborhoods will become safer and/or police brutality will be reduced. But this term requires some kind of racial solidarity within the entire African American community which, as already mentioned above, was no longer the case. Consequently, Thomas, who already had a questionable history, should technically not have been appointed to the Supreme Court. But unfortunately, as Marable said "old beliefs die hard and liberal integrationism prevailed.
What's the point of all knowing all this? Well, the people who did believe in the overall representation of African-Americans through the individual, ended up expressing their support for Thomas. The idea of "symbolic representation" also seemed to justify Thomas' claim about being politically "lynched" and equated lynching to Anita Hill's charges against him. Because he was seen as one, representing the many, his comment manifested a guilt within the whites and he was able to "swing millions of undecided black votes," who started to see Hill as someone who was accusing a "brother" and "lynching" the entire black community - this leads to the third factor.
3. The third factor, explains Marable, is the "quasi-black-national sentiment" among African Americans, that spurred support for Thomas. In short, black nationalism held the belief that "race" is more important than gender or class, when it comes to determining political outcomes. With the permanency that comes with a judicial appointment, people gave Thomas the benefit of the doubt and believed he would come to embrace the progressive views of other African Americans. Furthermore, the support for Thomas came from a fear that if he did not win, Bush would simply put up a white replacement.
Another issue was the assumption that Thomas was consciously working on behalf of African Americans as an oppressed minority, when in fact, he was working to promote his own career. Even if Thomas felt a connection to the achievements of African-American leaders of the past, the difference between him and them is significant. Marable explains that the difference lies in a "rupture between race and ethnicity." By government definition and societal recognition, Thomas belongs to a specific racial group. Ethnically however, Thomas has "ceased to be African American," especially in the world of political culture, social values and ideals and collective interests such as affirmative action. The importance of knowing this, is seeing how Thomas was an easy choice for the conservative whites - he was racially black but in all other matters, seemed to be in complete opposition to his 'brothers and sisters'. But this did not affect his support from African Americans because of the "black national sentiment" that was already in existence.
This essay by Marable, in particular, is focused on black political culture that led to Clarence Thomas winning the appointment to the Supreme Court. His success occurred despite Anita Hill's accusations of sexual assault. This piece does not begin to go into feminism, or Anita Hill's place as a Republican, African American working-class woman, but it gives us so much insight into how many things are in play, during political races and nominations and sexual harassment trials. It should also be noted that Anita Hill did not play the typical victim or act with emotion or even bring up race to help her case. And in part, this is a huge reason people chose not to believe her - because she did not behave in a way that a victim of sexual harassment is "supposed" to act in their eyes and therefore, people couldn't understand her discourse. It's really as simple as that.
A few quick points about Hill versus Thomas
Anita Hill was smart, articulate and an ambitious Republican; she stayed cool in the face of extreme difficulty. Meaning, because she did not play the race card, she could not be a victim.
Hill became invisible and NOT an agent worth understanding.
People wanted her to breakdown and be emotional.
Hill refused to play the gender/race stereotype.
She fit no obvious stereotypes that made her “understandable” and appealed to no historical narrative that made people feel guilty or sympathetic.
She was not supported by her community because by “bringing down her brother,” she severed her ties to her cultural history.
Given the racism of the Suffrage Movement and lack of inclusion in Second Wave Feminism, Hill didn’t neatly fit in the category of “outspoken feminist,” either.
Whereas Clarence Thomas:
Used racial stereotypes to rise in power and prestige, in conservative circles.
Played the race card against his family, friends, and culture, including his own sister.
Because he represented his group to whites, he was taken to be accurate.
Poorer members of his communities became those who "didn’t work hard enough".
Once he occupied the category of oppressed black male, nothing else mattered.
As soon as Thomas used the lynching metaphor, the game was over. He had become a victim and a victim that – given the cultural history of lynching and white guilt – was (almost) impossible not to see as anything else, but a victim.
All of the above and everything that happened, both during the trial and since then, is absolutely necessary to understand; especially when it comes to similar occurrences that are happening in 2018. Anita Hill's name has been popping up everywhere as an example of a women whose narrative was ignored and whose attacker was awarded a position on the Supreme Court, despite being accused of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, a similar circumstance has occurred in today's world in which Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, has been accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford.
In Morrison's introduction, she exclaims, How unbelievably sad is it, that this is one of the few moments of hope, in a book written in 1992. It was an actual belief, 25 years ago, that a white man would be disqualified right away if accused of sexual misconduct, but today we are literally watching the public debate Kavanaugh's despicable act and if he'In Morrison's introduction, she exclaims, "An accusation of such weight as sexual misconduct would probably have disqualified a white candidate on its face. Rather than need for "proof," the slightest possibility that it was publicly verifiable would have nullified the candidacy, forced the committee members to insist on another nominee rather than entertain the necessity for public debate on a loathsome charge." How unbelievably sad is it, that this is one of the few moments of hope, in a book written in 1992. It was an actual belief, 25 years ago, that a white man would be disqualified right away if accused of sexual misconduct, but today we are literally watching the public debate Kavanaugh's despicable act.
A few quick points about what's happening with Christine Blasey Ford:
Ford has stated that she will not attend a hearing, this coming Monday, until the FBI investigates her claim against Kavanaugh.
The Republicans and the White House are claiming that they are giving Ford a platform to tell her story, either publicly or privately, this Monday, as an act of good faith. BUT they are also saying if she doesn't take the opportunity, then the vote will proceed on Monday.
Ford quite rightfully says that without an FBI investigation, there can't be a full hearing on the accusations.
Essentially a narrative has been created for Ford, in which if Ford does not come forward and tell her story on Monday, when she is getting a platform from the Senate Republicans to do so; then she is not taking an opportunity to defend herself. The narrative becoming that she is a less than credible source because she isn't taking the very kindly given chance to tell her story (please sense my sarcasm). If she doesn't play into the narrative she is given or is supposed to take, then she automatically isn't a victim. Sound familiar?
Anita Hill's case is being brought up, 26 years later, because Clarence Thomas was appointed as a Supreme Court Justice, after being accused of sexual harassment in the workplace by Hill. And Hill was dragged through the mud, because she didn't have "proof" and she didn't act the way a "victim" is supposed to act.
This country's commitment to addressing acts of sexual violence against women, has been disappointing to say the least. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about Anita Hill's case in 1991, BUT we do have the chance to learn from it and from the sacrifices she made when she spoke out. Calling yourself a feminist is one thing and voting during elections is another but education is where the change also lies. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know zilch about Anita Hill until 2 years ago, when I took a Philosophy and Feminism class in University. Learning about the case, about Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, about gender biases, race and politics, completely changed how I make my daily decisions. My whole thought process has been re-wired for the better because I now have the tools to understand why things are the way they are and why someone like Kavanaugh has not been removed as a nominee. Be angry. But be angry with purpose. Learning of these tools has allowed me to skip the relentlessly angry responses to experiences like Ford's and head straight to the ability to understand WHY it is happening and how it can be changed. It can be changed by learning. It can be changed by seeing past mistakes and correcting them because you know WHY they were made. It is heart-warming to see people posting about Anita Hill and the number of women who came out in support of her. But you also need to know about all the women that didn't. Those are the people you have to get to. And you can only get to them by learning about why people think the way they do and then teach them how there are other ways to think and see the same situation.
It's daunting. Morrison's book is daunting as are all the essays in it, as was the Anita Hill case, as is the current case with Dr. Ford. If you want to do more, you can. I encourage you to read the two books I have mentioned. The Periodic Table of Feminism and Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power. The first is an introduction into where the concept of "feminism" even grew from because it is a relatively new word. The book takes you through the years and shows the doings of women who worked hard to change society's view of them but also, where some women fell short and where intersectional feminism became. The second is complex but enlightening and just one of the most important things you will read. Even if it's not all applicable now, even if the Anita Hill case is over, EVEN IF, Morrison was incorrect in her statement about white men having their nominations taken away - it's still one of the most eye-opening reads out there and will change the way you think about everything. Like I said, it still affects my daily decisions. It has helped me process situations and relationships that would've otherwise destroyed me. It has allowed me to help other people in turn and write posts like this, which might just encourage one of you to do the same. This goes without saying but I'll say it anyway - this is for everyone, forget race, color, gender, religion, political ideology and whatever else we use to divide us.
I know this is long and probably not the most eloquently written, so thank you if you've read this far. I hope you got something from it and know that I write this with the best of intentions and the knowledge that it will one-day be possible for women to speak up about assault, without having to worry about proving themselves. That's a goal fam, a really freaking achievable one.
If you are interested in Morrison's book but are overwhelmed by the idea of reading the whole thing, here are a few of the essays that I think are a definite must read, at least for now :)
Introduction: Friday on the Potomac
An Open Letter to Justice Clarence Thomas, from a Federal Judicial Colleague: Leon Higginbotham, JR.
Clarence Thomas and the Crisis of Black Political Culture: Manning Marable
Hill, Thomas, and the Use of Racial Stereotype: Nell Irvin Painter
Black Ladies, Welfare Queens, State Minstrels: Idealogical War by Narrative Means: Wahneema Lubiano
Whose Story Is It, Anyway? Feminist and Antiracist Appropriations of Anita Hill: Kimberle Crenshaw
At the end of the day, I hope you never stop questioning everything. Ask yourself, why is this happening? Why is the world this messed up place? How did we get here? How did people become this way? Keep asking questions because that's how you win. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
P.S. There is a film called Confirmation starring Kerry Washington, in which she plays Anita Hill and is based on the proceedings but I haven't yet seen it. Just throwing it out there :)