Culture

Clarence Thomas: Disappeared by the Smithsonian

Justice Thomas in a 2005 official portait (Photo via Reuters)
The curious case of The Smithsonian v. Clarence Thomas

What is the Smithsonian Institution?

It is a depository of national treasures and a national treasure in and of itself. It is the world’s largest system of museums — 19 museums, nine research centers, 138 million items in the archive, etc. — and it is a trust established by Congress, the original bequest from the British scientist James Smithson having been squandered through — one suspects this history will repeat itself — a bum investment in Arkansas bonds, which the state defaulted on.

It is also corrupt.

The Smithsonian has opened a new National Museum of African American History and Culture, a long overdue addition to its offerings. And in this version of African-American history and culture, black conservatives do not exist.

Specifically, the life and career of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas have been — forgive the term — whitewashed from the record. Anita Hill, an obscure functionary who achieved for herself a moment of fleeting fame when she advanced the interests of the Democratic party by smearing Clarence Thomas with lurid, flimsily documented allegations of sexual harassment, is presented as a major figure of the 20th century.

The scholar and jurist who actually sits on the Supreme Court? Clarence Thomas is an invisible man, so far as the Smithsonian is concerned.

There are two possible explanations for this. The first is the Hanlon’s-razor (never attribute to malice what may be adequately accounted for by stupidity) explanation: The dons of American history simply goofed and overlooked Justice Thomas, as though the new museum were a picnic and each of its curators thought the other guy was bringing the potato salad. Because we tend to have warm feelings toward the Smithsonian, we may extend maximum charity in our analysis here. But even at the limit of that charity, we could conclude at best that the Smithsonian is managed by incompetents, that its management should be decimated or more than decimated, and that Congress should use its purse-string powers to effect this.

The second and more likely explanation is that the Smithsonian is corrupt.

The Left is committed to its Long March through the Institutions, with a special emphasis on cultural and educational institutions.

This would not be surprising. The Left is committed to its Long March through the Institutions, with a special emphasis on cultural and educational institutions, the commanding heights of public discourse. The Left corrupts everything it touches, and it subordinates everything it touches to politics. That is true of everything from the public schools to labor unions to Catholic seminaries. If you are a high-school sophomore in Lubbock, Texas, that might mean receiving an account of American history which consists almost exclusively of the Great Depression, Jim Crow, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, as I did. If you are a family of modest means that has saved its pennies for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to our nation’s capital with the intent of exposing your children, however briefly, to the best that has been thought and written in the American context, that means a museum of African-American history in which a major figure in African-American history has been airbrushed away like a Soviet apparatchik fallen into disfavor.

If you were looking for a figure who personified the humiliations and triumphs of black Americans, you could hardly do better than Clarence Thomas, the son of a poor, Gullah-speaking family on the Georgia coast, a man who was not quite fluent in anything that would pass muster as English until his adulthood — who, nonetheless, found his way into college, into the Yale law school, and the Reagan administration, whose shortcomings and errors he admonished fearlessly. When he was elevated to the Supreme Court, the Democrats — who hate a black conservative more than they hate anything on this good green Earth — concocted every manner of dishonest attack to try to do to him what they had successfully done to Robert Bork not long before. But Clarence Thomas prevailed over what is by now a familiar attempt by the Democrats, the party of Bull Connor, to keep a black man in what they imagine to be his place.

His place is in the Supreme Court. In a sane world, it is also in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

If the Smithsonian intends to conduct itself like a political organization — one in which “black” is an ideological descriptor rather than a racial one — then Congress should treat it like one and redirect its funding toward some more worthy and more intellectually defensible cause. Its director, David J. Skorton, might find a useful and profitable role on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign — but, if this is the best he can do, he does not belong on the payroll of an institution nominally dedicating to the pursuit and preservation of knowledge.

We are owed an explanation. And if the Smithsonian cannot provide a convincing one, then it no longer deserves public support. It cannot function as a trust if it is untrustworthy.

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