Clarence Thomas: Slavery Didn’t Strip African-Americans of Dignity

Note: This story originally appeared on my blog on June 26, 2015.

A few hours ago, I heard the news about the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down gay marriage bans across the country. After I got done celebrating and applauding the US’ s increasing progressiveness surrounding gay rights, I logged onto the internet to read about how “social conservatives” are losing their collective shit.

Most of the “arguments” were laughable. But one, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent, pissed me off just a little bit. I’ve decided to quote it in part below:

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved…The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

Is he fucking kidding?

He’s right on one count; the government cannot bestow dignity upon people and the government most definitely did not bestow it upon enslaved Africans. But guess what? If that very same government allowed those Africans to be bought and sold as property, then allowed those Africans to be egregiously abused and exploited with impunity, then the government most definitely took away that dignity.

Yes, enslaved African-Americans did their absolute best to maintain their dignity under very trying circumstances. Slave narratives like The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacob’s Incidents In The Life of A Slave Girl are chock full of examples of slaves who fought back, talked back, ran away and otherwise resisted dehumanizing treatment. But the ferocious attempts of slaves to maintain their self-respect do not mitigate their masters’ (and the government’s) very real actions designed to strip it away.

Jesus! Sometimes I wonder if Clarence Thomas is nothing more than a racist-ass white man wearing black face. If he’s not, I have to say that he does a very good job of creating that impression.