aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Toobin on Thomas on Hill
In his book, My Grandfather’s Son, Clarence Thomas weighs in on his former accuser, Anita Hill, saying “my worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia, but in Washington, D.C., where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony.”
Throughout much of the book, especially the first half, Thomas paints an unsparing portrait of the way he conducted his personal life. Well into adulthood, he was incapable of managing his financial affairs. In one excruciating scene, which takes place when he was the director of the E.E.O.C., he stands at a rent-a-car counter at Logan Airport, in Boston, while the clerk, after running a check on Thomas’s credit card, is directed to cut it into pieces on the spot. Nor does Thomas make many claims for himself as a husband to his first wife, whom he met at Holy Cross and had separated from before he started at the Department of Education. Most notably, Thomas portrays himself as something close to an alcoholic. From the Ripple wine he drank in his youth to the Scotch and Drambuie he abused as an adult, Thomas frankly admits to using alcohol to deaden the pain and anger that dominated his life. (He writes that he stopped drinking cold turkey during his tenure at the E.E.O.C.) In a brief aside, he admits to discussing pornography while he was a law student.
This candor is in striking contrast to his discussion of Anita Hill. Thomas’s portrait of the woman he calls his “most traitorous adversary” is venomous and implausible. When she became a public figure, Hill was widely portrayed as demure, God-fearing, and politically moderate. According to Thomas, she was none of those things. In his initial interview of her, at the Department of Education, in 1981, he claims, Hill said that she “detested” Ronald Reagan, but Thomas hired her anyway, as a favor to a friend. She followed Thomas to the E.E.O.C., and left in 1983. It was during this period, she later alleged, that Thomas made his unwelcome remarks to her. ("Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?” and the like.) Thomas denies these claims, and dismisses the extensive corroborating evidence for them-including the fact that three friends of Hill’s recalled her complaints about him at the time, and that another subordinate of Thomas’s at the E.E.O.C. described similar behavior. But it’s worth noting that many of the incidents took place at a time when Thomas was, by his own admission, drinking heavily, single and dating, and generally in despair about his personal life. By the time Thomas met his second wife, Virginia, in 1986, with whom he has clearly been very happy, Hill had left the agency to teach law at Oral Roberts University (an unlikely destination for someone who was, as Thomas has it, a godless, partisan Democrat). Even on the evidence presented in his own book, Thomas engages in characteristic overstatement when he writes of Hill’s accusations, “I was one of the least likely candidates imaginable for such a charge.”
Thomas’ choice as UGA grad speaker riles faculty
The Georgia native will be the graduation speaker up the road at UGA. Some faculty are not pleased:
Some faculty members said they were outraged that the university would ask Thomas to speak when UGA has been facing criticism that administrators have been slow to address sexual harassment complaints filed against faculty members.
“What a slap in the face this is to everyone who has been working to bring to light the realities of sexual harassment, and to establish appropriate methods and offices for addressing this significant problem on our campus,” Chris Cuomo, director of UGA’s Institute for Women’s Studies, told The Red & Black student newspaper.
UGA spokesman Tom Jackson said Thomas has a close relationship with the UGA School of Law and has visited campus several times to give lectures.
“We’re honored to have an associate justice of the Supreme Court bringing our commencement address,” Jackson said.
Via Think Progress.
A whole lot of love for the Fag Bug!
Anyone remember Erin Davies? She’s the Albany woman whose Volkswagen Beetle was defaced with “fag” and “u r gay,” and instead of fixing her car - she decided to take action. She kept the slurs on the car as a way to start conversations and to raise awareness about queer issues and homophobia.
Davies says, “Fag Bug has become much more than when it started. And to be able to transform it into something positive, rather than have people look at my car and be upset and hurt, I’d rather they look and see how bright the colors are, see something fun and playful instead of something hurtful.” Davies is also has a book and movie in the works. Awesome!
What to think of the guy? I always liked him though I didn’t really tune in. For example, I didn’t even know the details of the Pound Cake speech.
I do after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ terrific profile in the May Atlantic:
Cosby’s rhetoric played well in black barbershops, churches, and backyard barbecues, where a unique brand of conservatism still runs strong. Outsiders may have heard haranguing in Cosby’s language and tone. But much of black America heard instead the possibility of changing their communities without having to wait on the consciences and attention spans of policy makers who might not have their interests at heart. Shortly after Cosby took his Pound Cake message on the road, I wrote an article denouncing him as an elitist. When my father, a former Black Panther, read it, he upbraided me for attacking what he saw as a message of black empowerment. Cosby’s argument has resonated with the black mainstream for just that reason.
The piece goes on to parse the Black conservative political and intellectual tradition in America.
Cosby’s an important figure; I find him far more complex and interesting than he’s often been portrayed by those of us on the left.
I’ll be interested to watch discussion of the article.
RELATED: Romenesko points to Philly Mag Daily Examiner’s Stephanie Twining quoting Coates that his Atlantic piece only briefly mentions sexual assault allegations:
“Yes, I’m sorry about that. I really am,” he says. “I think that is an extremely valid and fair criticism to make. I would certainly cop to that, because I think that’s a significant issue that has not received much media play. And if you want to say, ‘Well, Ta-Nehisi, you just had 7,000 words and you gave it about 40?’ Yeah, that’s probably problematic.”
How to improve black college grad rates? Try harder!
The Chronicle on a report by Education Sector, a Washington-based research group, that finds colleges already know how to close gaps in the graduation rates of black and white students. The problem is too few have been willing to take the steps needed to do it:
“While more research in this area is certainly needed, the biggest challenge in better serving minority college students is not creating new knowledge about how to help them; it is creating new incentives for institutional leaders to act on the knowledge that already exists,” says the report, written by Kevin Carey, Education Sector’s research and policy manager.
“If there is a single factor that seems to distinguish colleges and universities that have truly made a difference on behalf of minority students, it is attention,” the report says. “Successful colleges pay attention to graduation rates. They monitor year-to-year change, study the impact of different interventions on student outcomes, break down the numbers among different student populations, and continuously ask themselves how they could improve.”
Two of the models it cites are in the south. Florida State University and the University of Alabama, both of which now actually graduate a slightly larger share of their black students than their white students within six years:
In the case of Florida State, the report credits much of the university’s success to its decision to have a single office, called the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement, coordinate both its state and federally financed programs aimed at improving retention. In addition to being overseen by Florida State’s vice president for student affairs, the center also reports to the university’s vice president for undergraduate educationâ€”a recognition, the report says, of the reality that improving student retention is fundamentally an academic undertaking. And, whereas many colleges focus their retention efforts on freshmen, Florida State’s center monitors students’ progress all the way to graduation.
The report says the University of Alabama has been able to greatly improve its retention of black students by setting up an early-alert program that closely monitors the progress of freshmen during their first six weeks and seeks to ensure that those who are academically struggling get help quickly. The university’s placement of freshmen in “learning communities,” where groups of about 25 students take courses together, helps students by giving them access to individualized instruction and encouraging them to give each other academic support, the report said.
Other strategies cited by the report as effective are “intrusive” counseling-an approach that calls for counselors to actively watch over students and not simply wait for them to ask for help-and providing state-financed scholarships to academically promising low-income students to prevent money worries from complicating their educational pursuits.