In a nasty, racist rant captured by a Fox affiliate in Arizona, former Star Trek actor-turned-gay rights activist George Takei lashed out at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, calling him a “clown in black face.”
Takei’s explosive verbal diarrhea, which can be witnessed in full here courtesy of Newsbusters, was prompted by Thomas’ dissent to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling which declared gay marriage to be a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. Here is the excerpt of Thomas’ dissent that led to Takei’s meltdown:
Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which
this Nation was built.
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. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.
Because he is a simple man with a simple mind incapable of basic reading comprehension, Takei took this to mean that Thomas was denying the indignity of slavery. So how did Takei respond? Like this:
TAKEI: He is a clown in black face sitting on the Supreme Court. He gets me that angry. He doesn’t belong there. And for him to say, slaves have dignity. I mean, doesn’t he know that slaves were in chains? That they were whipped on the back. If he saw the movie 12 Years a Slave, you know, they were raped. And he says they had dignity as slaves or – My parents lost everything that they worked for, in the middle of their lives, in their 30s. His business, my father’s business, our home, our freedom and we’re supposed to call that dignified? Marched out of our homes at gun point. I mean, this man does not belong on the Supreme Court. He is an embarrassment. He is a disgrace to America.
Oh my. Rather than somehow defending or dismissing the institution of slavery, Thomas actually elucidated the logic that formed the foundation of the abolition movement to end American slavery once and for all: that humanity and dignity come not from government, but from God, who makes all men in His image.
It is this fact — that we are all created in the divine image of our Creator — that demands that government recognize the rights of all people, regardless of their color or creed. Government, after all, does not create natural rights. It is merely granted the authority to safeguard them. What Thomas noted was that while slave owners could demean and degrade their slaves, they could never wrest from them the dignity inherent in being a child of God. Far from minimizing the evils of slavery, Thomas was highlighting the revolutionary truth that led to America’s founding: “that all men are created equal, [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
Takei, however, did not grasp this fairly elementary historical point. Rather than taking Thomas’ logic and asserting that it requires the right of marriage to be available to all people — Takei’s preferred outcome — Takei went in the exact opposite direction and basically called Clarence Thomas a race traitor for having the audacity to have an opinion not handed down to him by the government. I’m not old enough to remember what life was like when the government thought black people were not entitled to their own opinions, but Clarence Thomas certainly is. Unlike George Takei, Thomas didn’t just read about or observe vile, state-sanctioned discrimination against African-Americans; Thomas experienced it first-hand.
His critics might not be moved by his political arguments, but his memoir gives them a man, not a caricature, to attack. Justice Thomas faced enormous obstacles in life. His deadbeat father, referred to only as C, abandoned his family to a life of poverty so extreme that the children did not put sugar on their cereal. Daddy, whose small fuel-oil business provided a modest income, sent Clarence to Catholic schools, but the harsh racial environment in Georgia put enormous pressure on black children trying to move further than their parents.
As one of only two black students at his seminary school, Justice Thomas experienced panic, followed by “a constant state of controlled anxiety.” The fear of failure haunted him in a way that no white child could understand, or black parents either, accustomed to living behind the walls of segregation that were now falling down.
Thomas was a teenager by the time his hometown of Savannah was desegregated. He almost certainly remembers separate water fountains, movie theaters, schools, and buses. He didn’t just hear about Jim Crow laws; he lived under them. To Thomas, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t just a brave man on the television, he was the preacher around the corner preparing to change American history forever. Savannah, after all, is home to the church where King, Jr. first practiced his historic “I Have A Dream” speech.
As disgusting as Takei’s comments are, they almost certainly spring from the popular belief among many gay rights activists that the gay rights movement is the rightful heir of the Civil Rights movement, and that those who are attracted to members of the same sex have experienced the same struggles and suffering experienced by African-Americans. As a result, by disagreeing with Takei on whether a right to gay marriage can be found in the Constitution, Thomas is also denying the necessity of the Civil Rights movement. In this regard, perhaps it is Takei who needs the history of anti-black discrimination in America explained to him.
To put things into perspective for a moment, black men and women were kidnapped from their homes, separated from their families, and shoved in the cargo holds of boats. Those few who survived the voyage across the Atlantic were then chained and marched to the top of a platform where they were sold like cattle. They were beaten, raped, and enslaved. The United States government denied their very humanity. And even after the United States fought its bloodiest war in history in order to acknowledge and ensure their freedom, they were treated as foreigners in their own land for another century. They were denied the right to vote, the right to sit on a jury, and a right to defend themselves from violence. They were forced to endure show trials where they were judged not by their peers, but by individuals who believed their skin tone was their destiny. To this day they continue to be profiled not by their actions, but by their mere appearance.
I do not doubt for a moment the struggles and hardships experienced by homosexual men and women in this country, but it strains credulity to compare those struggles to what millions upon millions of black people were forced to endure for centuries. Out of one side of his mouth Takei claims the mantle of the American Civil Rights movement, while out of the other he spews vicious racial slurs and accusations of racial treason at a man who remembers what it was like to have the boot of Jim Crow on his neck.
Clarence Thomas does not need George Takei to patronizingly explain to him how hard life was (and is) for many black people. Thomas may not have legions of Facebook followers clamoring for his next pun or picture posted by an army of comedic writers on his payroll, but he is one thing that Takei is not: a black person with a God-given right to his own opinion. And maybe that fact is what makes Takei so angry.