On Saturday, May 3, I’m going to be presenting a paper on Clarence Thomas at the University of Washington. It’s part of a conference on African-American Political Thought: Past and Present. The conference has an amazing line-up: Michael Dawson on Marcus Garvey, Nikhil Singh on Malcolm X, Cedric Johnson on Huey Newton, Lawrie Balfour on Toni Morrison, Melvin Rogers on David Walker, Naomi Murakawa on Ida B. Wells, and many more.
My paper is called “Smiling Faces Tell Lies: Pessimism, Originalism, and Capitalism in the Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas.” Here’s the nut graf:
It’s not surprising that Clarence Thomas is black and conservative. From Burke to Ayn Rand, conservatism has been the work of outsiders and upstarts, hailing from the peripheries of the national experience. And black conservatism has an especially long, if unstoried, history in this country. Nor is it surprising that Thomas’s conservatism should draw from the Black Nationalist tradition. That confluence also has a long, if less unstoried, history in this country. What is surprising about Clarence Thomas is that he’s a Supreme Court justice who has married the bleakest vision of the black past to a document that is not only the fountainhead of that past but is also, on his account, the source of an alternative future—not, as Thurgood Marshall and other liberal constitutionalists would have it, because it is a “living Constitution,” but precisely because it is dead. That is indeed surprising, and worth puzzling over.
Come check it out. Details and schedule here.