A profile of Anita Hill, the African-American lawyer who challenged Clarence Thomas' nomination to the US Supreme Court and thus exposed the problem of sexual harassment to the world.A profile of Anita Hill, the African-American lawyer who challenged Clarence Thomas' nomination to the US Supreme Court and thus exposed the problem of sexual harassment to the world.A profile of Anita Hill, the African-American lawyer who challenged Clarence Thomas' nomination to the US Supreme Court and thus exposed the problem of sexual harassment to the world.
Clarence Thomas speaks without a regional accent too but his statements are far more forceful and inflammatory than hers. He denies outright that any such exchanges took place. And, unlike Hill, he "plays the race card," as they say. "This is a high tech lynching." I hate that phrase, but that's what he does. It's a trump card. It frightens people and they back off. It changes the structure of the inquiry from the work harassment of Anita Hill to a racist attack on Clarence Thomas.
Nobody kisses Anita Hill's ring and some of the questions sound not only adversarial but actually hostile. "Why did you wait so long to bring this up?", is a reasonable enough query. But, "Do you see yourself as a symbol of black womanhood and liberation?", is a bit much. So is, "Do you like the attention you're getting?" So is, "Are you a woman scorned?" Of course her answer will be "no," but it's the kind of question that gives the anti-Hill folks a handle to hang their dismissal on.
She volunteered to take a polygraph test and passed. Four female witnesses supporting Hill waited in the wings to be called but were ignored. Female witnesses were called on Thomas' behalf. The judgment of the Judiciary Committee as to his being qualified were split, 7 to 7, and the nomination was sent to the Senate without any recommendation, which was rare.
After the questionable exchanges and requests for dates, she accompanied Thomas to his next job and spent another two years working for him. She claims that it was in a field she wanted to work in, the exchanges had apparently ended, and she didn't have a job waiting anywhere else.
Frankly, I don't care much about Thomas' having made some questionable remarks to her. A lot of men are raunchy and some raunchy men are clumsy in their jokes with women.
But that exchange -- the one that people like me remember -- is a minor point. The attacks on Anita Hill continued after the investigation was closed. Thomas went on to become a Supreme Court Justice. Hill wound up at Oral Roberts University. Hill had become a tenured professor. Moves were made, according to her, to get her fired. When that didn't work, the Dean of the university began receiving threats. Years later, the wife of Clarence Thomas left a voice mail message for Hill, asking that Hill apologize for her testimony. Hill turned it over to the FBI who found it authentic.
The impression left with the viewer is that the committee were anxious to discredit her, close the investigation quickly, and end the publicity. What actually went on between the two is unknowable.
In my judgment, I don't find myself sobbing because of Anita Hill's mistreatment. If that's the worst problem one has at work -- a boss joking about pubic hair and asking you for dates -- it's not much of a problem. We've all had much worse. But Clarence Thomas has turned out to be a complete nonentity. He votes reliably in a predictable way and years passed without his ever asking a question from the bench. (That's not in itself a bad sign but it leaves us blind to his reasoning.
Her academic career has been an unqualified success. After graduating as valedictorian from Morris High School, Hill enrolled at Oklahoma State University, receiving a bachelor's degree with honors, in psychology 1977. She went on to Yale Law School, obtaining her Juris Doctor degree with honors in 1980. After her penal servitude at Oral Roberts, she taught at Berkeley and is now at Brandeis University. Thomas' education is equally impressive.
The film presents her as a heroine of epic stature, a sacrificial victim almost, in a patriarchal and conservative society. I don't. I see her as another woman who was addressed in questionable ways by a boss and testified about it without being anxious to do so. Personally I wish her testimony had had more impact. Thomas was a fan of Ayn Rand, which I'm not.
- Jul 30, 2015