Wednesday, October 3, 2007

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has lived a life that should serve as an example for today’s youth — one of hard work, self-discipline, academic achievement and moral conviction, conservative blacks say.

“We need more Clarence Thomases, quite frankly,” says Donald E. Scoggins, president of the think tank Republicans for Black Empowerment.

“He’s an African-American who has achieved greatness,” says Michael S. Steele, Maryland’s former lieutenant governor. “He’s an example of success and leadership … personal achievement and perseverance.”

Radio talk-show host Mychal S. Massie says that Justice Thomas “perfectly exemplifies the character and morality I share [with] my son and young people as a whole.”

“Just think of the damage done to our youth by pronouncing Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur [as being] good and representative of the black culture,” Mr. Massie adds.

In his new memoir “My Grandfather’s Son,” published by HarperCollins, Justice Thomas describes a childhood of hard work and strict discipline under the tough but loving care of his grandfather, Myers Anderson, in Pinpoint, Ga. — a dirt-poor life set in a segregated society that was hostile to blacks. Through perseverance, education and helping hands, he was able to forge a professional life as a lawyer, a federal official, a federal judge and a Supreme Court justice.

But Justice Thomas has come under fire from critics who say his opposition to affirmative action betrays his race and ignores his success under it. He says affirmative action stigmatizes achievements by blacks as something that is given to them solely because of their race.

Mr. Steele differs with Justice Thomas on the issue. “There’s some truth to that [stigma],” he says, noting that a few whites have expressed that view to him.

Affirmative action was created to level the playing field and redress past discrimination, Mr. Steele says.

“My hope is that there will be a day when it won’t be needed, but that day has not yet come,” he says, adding that affirmative action should be based more on economic need and not solely on race.

The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a black Los Angeles minister and founder of Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, fully supports Justice Thomas’ contention.

“Affirmative action implies that blacks … are not mentally or physically capable of succeeding on their own through hard work,” he says. “It also taints the success and achievements of those who would succeed regardless of government programs. Race-based affirmative action is racist within itself.”

Mr. Peterson, whose group aims to help men and families via personal development programs, says that Justice Thomas has shown that blacks can succeed without government help.

“All the civil rights bills will not instill character and a strong work ethic,” Mr. Peterson says. “Justice Thomas has shown that he’s not beholden to the liberal civil rights establishment and that it’s OK to leave the liberal plantation.”

Mr. Scoggins agrees.

“At what point will blacks be considered as having got to where they are based on their own merits?” he says, arguing that affirmative action creates an inferiority complex in the minds of blacks, who use the policy as a “crutch” to compete in the world. “When you see an Asian person [succeed], do you think they got there by affirmative action? No.”

Mr. Scoggins says that certain “cliques” in black communities dominate the debate in those areas, contributing to a devaluation of education in black neighborhoods.

“What does it say about the mind-set of a people who are surprised that hard work, discipline and appropriate behavior in conjunction [with] a sound education would breed success?” says Mr. Massie, who also is a columnist for, an online news-and-opinion site.

Lee H. Walker, president of the New Coalition for Economic and Social Change and a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute, says that affirmative action was conceived in the 1960s as a racial remedy for past discrimination but lost its efficacy in the 1970s when women used it to achieve professional and political gains. “White women have suffered many things, but racial prejudice is not one of them,” he says.

Mr. Walker, who says he became friends with Justice Thomas in 1980, shares the justice’s conservative views, adding that many blacks have a similar point of view.

“Most blacks are conservative, if you scratch below the surface,” he says, citing opposition to same-sex “marriage,” among other issues. “But the term conservative — it’s a social term, not a political one.”

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