Clarence Thomas tells what it feels like growing up, and his experience wasn't mine. My childhood was pampered. His was hard knocks. I was a Jewish princess. He was an invisible man to someone like me. He suffered the slings and arrows of racism, and I never had a conversation with a black person who wasn't a maid or a janitor until I went off to college. In trendy academic criticism, we would have been each other's "Other."
But there was something in our backgrounds, something in the haze of memory suggested by his memoir "My Grandfather's Son," that led us both to think as cultural conservatives with a desire to restore the path to the American dream.
The path to growing up is toughest when you suddenly discover that what you believe is not necessarily shared by the people you know best. This memoir of Justice Thomas is an astonishing document -- one that's not so much about politics as it is a personal story of maturing with an eye for reflection, a realistic look at the cast of characters and the events that shaped his thinking and behavior. It's about what he takes with him and what he leaves behind. If this were a novel, Clarence Thomas would be cast as Huckleberry Finn.
You wouldn't get this from most of the reviews; the mainstream media want to dismiss it as something polarizing. (Unlike, of course, many of the media themselves.) "My Grandfather's Son" has its share of villains, but they're almost archetypal as part of the larger theme: As Huck himself eloquently put it, "Human beings can be awful cruel to one another."
The Thomas confirmation hearings where Anita Hill emerges to point her finger at the judge reads more like satire than reality, although his account did in fact happen as he describes it. You had to be there -- and I was -- to believe that United States senators actually asked a grown man, nominated to the highest court of the land, whether he, as a callow college student, had ever watched or talked about pornographic movies. "These were the days when 'Deep Throat' was one of the most talked about movies in America," he writes, "so much so that it became the code name of the then-unknown informant who helped break the Watergate story." The inquisitors and their supporting claque were usually the same people who complained bitterly about the government entering a person's bedroom to violate his privacy.
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