A Tale of Two Thomases

It was the worst of Thomas, and it was the best of times.

The worst, (Justice) Clarence Thomas, once again smearing Anita Hill in an attempt to hustle his book and polish his rep. The best, Ms. Hill reclaiming her dignity.

The worst, (basketball executive and former playa) Isaiah Thomas saying that while it’s always wrong for a white man to refer to a black woman as a “bitch” or a “ho”, it is no such restriction on a black man. The best, the Knicks and Mr. I. Thomas getting socked for $11.6 million in damages for sexual harrasment.

Orlando Patterson wrote a thoughtful piece in the NYT in the context of the Jena 6 case (and OJ, again), in which he says

…something that has been swept under the rug for too long in black America: the crisis in relations between men and women of all classes and, as a result, the catastrophic state of black family life, especially among the poor….a fact of life for too many black women who must daily confront indignity and abuse in hip-hop misogyny and everyday conversation. What is done with words is merely the verbal end of a continuum of abuse that too often ends with beatings and spousal homicide.

Gentlemen do not talk to ladies like the two Thomases did, or like Don Imus has. We need to expect better of our men. All of the time.

Fighting Words

Don Imus has been pushed off of the table. Along with the me-too media furies, and, of course, the tsk-tsk over that “rap music language.”

But as the dust settles there are still some very accomplished young women at Rutgers–and all across the country–who will be degraded tomorrow. Some simply because they are women, and some simply because they are women of color.

Three weeks ago, before the Rutgers/Imus/CBS media frenzy, the 12-year old relayed a conversation at his small school. One of his friends, a 13-year-old African-American boy, asked another of their friends, the only African American girl in her middle-school grade, “Why don’t you act black?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, you’re not like a bitch or a ho’,” he replied.

The following day, I saw the two moms of these kids talking in the parking lot. I wondered if they were talking about their kids’ exchange. And I wondered if they had a solution. They walked away with their arms around each other. Embracing each other as they were fighting against crappy images, self-hate, and words that, as they are repeated, take stronger hold over our thinkings. Or so I imagined.

And today I wonder, was the girl reminded about her classmate’s question in the wake Imus’ crass remarks? Did this honor student, musician, on her way to high school girl with her first contact lenses uncovering her beautiful eyes, see herself in the sad faces of the basketball players during their press conference?