Clarence Thomas vs. paternalistic racism

Race Issues
by Marvin Olasky

Posted on Saturday, February 21, 2015, at 1:30 pm

Last night a family-oriented cop show, CBS’s Blue Bloods, had a subplot about a police executive pulling strings to help a grown son avoid the consequences of his actions: Was that wise or foolish? Sure, when small children act irresponsibly, we bind up their wounds while trying to help them learn a lesson, and we’re bad parents if we neither bind nor teach. But what about those in their 20s and their 30s capable of standing on their own feet yet living rent-free in their parents’ basements?

A column by Juan Williams in today’s Wall Street Journal discusses that question writ large. Under the headline “America’s Most Influential Thinker on Race,” Williams profiles Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. 

“The principal point Justice Thomas has made in a variety of cases is that black people deserve to be treated as independent, competent, self-sufficient citizens,” Williams notes. “He rejects the idea that 21st-century government and the courts should continue to view blacks as victims of a history of slavery and racism.”

Williams says Thomas (along with an increasing number of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and immigrants) “cheers personal responsibility as the basis of equal rights. In his concurring opinion in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena (1995), he made the case against government set-asides for minority businesses by arguing that ‘racial paternalism and its unintended consequences can be as poisonous and pernicious as any other form of discrimination.’”

Paternalism is essential when dealing with small children: Dads who aren’t paternal are either practitioners of malign neglect or child abusers. This year, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the American abolition of slavery, and some paternalism toward ex-slaves may have been warranted in the late 19th century, since they had no experience of living in freedom. (Even then, though, it had some negative consequences.) But paternalism 150 years later—what Star Parker and others call “Uncle Sam’s Plantation”—is as destructive as treating an adult son like a toddler.

Thomas calls some liberal court decisions “jurisprudence based upon a theory of black inferiority.” Ironically, some parents who decry irresponsibility are the biggest enablers of it, and some politicians and pundits who vehemently decry racism are the biggest racists.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism. Marvin resides with his wife, Susan, in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

Read more from this writer
ADVERTISEMENT