Let's take this a step at a time. First of all, the person Williams is referring to is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Secondly, the use of the word "influential" can be taken to mean influential in a good way or a bad way. Williams suggests it in a good way.
Now...the reaction Williams notes from a lot of people is to simply call Thomas - and Williams by this association - an "Uncle Tom." I totally understand that response. When I was reading this article I had to stop several times as my blood boiled. But I think its also important to take this kind of argument apart and demonstrate why it is so wrong. So I'm going to give it a go.
Williams uses Thomas' words to suggest that government policies that attempt to alleviate the effects of racism are actually based on an assumption of African American inferiority. For example:
“After all, if separation itself is a harm, and if integration therefore is the only way that blacks can receive a proper education, then there must be something inferior about blacks,” he wrote in his concurring opinion in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995). “Under this theory, segregation injures blacks because blacks, when left on their own, cannot achieve. To my way of thinking that conclusion is the result of a jurisprudence based upon a theory of black inferiority.”Its almost as if Thomas and Williams never heard of things like separate and unequal, redlining, or sundown towns. That speaks to the heart of what both men completely ignore...the reality of systemic and/or structural racism. When we confront the reality of disparities for black people in everything from education to poverty to housing to health to criminal justice, we are left with a question of why those disparities persist. We can answer that question in one of three ways:
- Black people are inherently inferior
- The remedies to racial bias create the disparities
- Systemic/Structural racism creates the disparities
The second answer became the foundation of much of Nixon's "Southern Strategy" (IOW, a way for people to deny their racism was fueled by #1 above). We see it today when people like Rep. Paul Ryan suggest that there is a "cultural" problem in inner cities (i.e., with black/brown people) and when President Reagan coined the term "welfare queens" or Mike Huckabee talks about "roach motels."
Never mind that the majority of people who receive government benefits are white (significantly more than their percentage in the general population), this becomes an excuse to blame people of color for the disparities. It also totally ignores that those disparities were both present and significantly worse before the government began intervening. As just one example, we now have our first Latino Supreme Court Justice who graduated summa cum laude from Yale Law School precisely because of Affirmative Action. If policies like that were the problem rather that the solution, Sonia Sotomayor would be trapped in her own inferiority.
And so, we're left with systemic/structural racism. There have literally been books written about that one, but it basically comes down to the way in which white supremacy has been structurally built into our educational, housing, health and criminal justice systems. The disparities of federal sentencing guidelines on crack/cocaine (or even the whole "war on drugs") are but one example of how racism is baked into the cake of our criminal justice system. Contrary to what people like Williams and Thomas suggest, government policies and programs designed to remedy and/or compensate for those systemic issues are what they are so casually dismissing.
I'd suggest to Juan Williams that he needs to go elsewhere to find America's most influential thinker on race. He could start by listening to Jay Smooth.