Speaking on Clarence Thomas at the University of Washington

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.



  1. Blinkenlights der Gutenberg April 24, 2014 at 11:21 pm | #

    This conference is out of my area. However, I’d be very interested in reading your paper, if you would post it here.

  2. Jim Brash April 25, 2014 at 12:37 am | #

    I’m also interested in reading your paper. Thomas is a very interesting subject. Supporter of state rights. Against affirmative action, though it helped him early on. He reflects the mind of a lot of professional and historically wealthy African Americans. He also mirrors the religious right and the tea partyers too. Culturally, he comes off as being whiter than OJ. Fyi, I’m African American as well.

  3. NathanH April 25, 2014 at 5:39 am | #

    I don’t want to sound rude Professor but I’d rather go hunting with Dick Cheney than listen to someone talk about Clarence Thomas.

  4. John Maher April 25, 2014 at 12:13 pm | #

    A complex psychological portrait. Too easy and racist to dismiss as mere Stockholm Syndrome or the lasting effects of racism on emotional and intellectual development itself. Thomas is sort of an anti-Iago and thus a compelling figure for drama. His self-imposed code of silence during Supreme Court argument is itself a Freudian in the extreme. Hope to hear more about this topic as what you write is on target as to Thomas’ intellectual pathway and its inherent contradictions.

  5. Linnaeus April 25, 2014 at 5:16 pm | #

    I happen to be in the area (btw, Nikhil Singh used to be on my advisory committee), so I should mosey on down.

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