On this day, the officially recognized day to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we celebrate another courageous African American, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Thomas’ book, My Grandfather’s Son, was our favorite book last year and won the innaugural, On Life and Lybberty Book of the Year Award.
Frequent readers of OL&L may recall that Thomas’ book prompted this post about Rudy Giuliani, abortion, and the Supreme Court.
In honor of MLK Jr. and Clarence Thomas, we post the following excerpt from Thomas’ book. This section, regarding his personal philosophy and “adverse impact” theory is fascinating. Like Dr. King, Clarence Thomas has the courage to break with popular opinion and stand up for what he believes.
In the seventies you rarely had to look very far to find a theory, or a black person on whom it was being tried out. Like every other black law student, I was uncomfortably aware that blacks failed to pass the bar exams at a much higher rate than whites, and that the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund had filed lawsuits alleging that the exams they took were racially discriminatory. Lani Guinier, one of my classmates, was involved with the Legal Defense Fund, so I asked her to supply me with information about the extent of the problem and the strategy that the Legal Defense Fund was pursuing. At first I assumed that the disproportionate black failure rate was conclusive evidence of racial discrimination, but the more closely I looked at the facts, the more apparent it became that I was wrong. At that time each question on the bar exam was graded separately by a different scorer and each completed exam identified solely by number, thus making it impossible for the graders to tell which examinees, if any, were black. Some claimed that blacks wrote in “black English” and thus could be identified from the syntax of their responses, but in addition to finding that unlikely, I didn’t think it unfair to expect lawyers representing their clients in a court of law to be able to write in standard English. IN any case, the inability of a black law student to write and speak English properly wasn’t evidence of discrimination by the graders–it was an indictment of the quality of the education he had received. This left only one argument, the Legal Defense Fund’s “adverse impact” theory, which held that if a neutral examination produced disparate results among the races, then it could be considered discriminatory. But I didn’t buy that, either, knowing that no measurement of any part of our lives ever produced identical results for all racial or ethnic groups. To argue otherwise, I thought, diverted attention from the real culprits, the people who were responsible for the useless education these young people had received.
The problem with my analysis, of course, was tht it was of no help to those black students who had already finished school and now found themselves unable to pass the bar exam. But the adverse impact theory had its own built-in problem, which was that its advocates appeared to be suggesting, knowingly or not, that blacks could never catch up with whites. Neither alternative was attractive to me, and I had no easy solution of my own to offer, but at least I’d thought the problem through for myself instead of jumping to a quick and easy conclusion that might be emotionally satisfying but failed to fit the facts. This, I decided, was the right way to approach any problem that excited my passions, and if it led me to disagree with the solutions that were generally accepted, or to advocate positions that would make me unpopular–especially when it came to matters of race–then so be it.
(Thanks to our brother who read the book after we did and marked some of the best parts–including this one)
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We suggest you purchase and read My Grandfather’s Son to celebrate.
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