The Corner

There Is Absolutely No Evidence That Kristen Clarke’s Racist Letter Was Satire

Kristen Clarke, President Biden’s nominee to be assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, speaks in Wilmington, Del., January 7, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It seems quite likely that Clarke lied to Congress — with the help of a number of people in the media.

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Yesterday, Texas senator John Cornyn asked Kristen Clarke, Joe Biden’s nominee for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, about a letter she wrote promoting pseudoscientific racist theories in The Harvard Crimson back in the 1990s. Clarke claimed she was merely “holding up a mirror” to the “racist theory that defined the Bell Curve book.”

“But this was satire?” Cornyn asked.

“Absolutely, senator,” said Clarke.

Cornyn moved on quickly, but was still skewered by the usual characters. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell asked: “Why can’t Texas senators hire staff who save them from their public idiocy?” Vox’s disinformationist, Aaron Rupar, mocked Cornyn for being “seemingly oblivious to the fact it was satire.” Cornyn had “performed a spectacular ‘‘Gotcha!’ fail,” a reporter at Mediaite noted.

All of this mockery was contrived, of course. Yesterday, a New York Times editorial-board member already declared that “the letter was a satirical response to ‘The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.’” Weeks ago, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin argued that Clarke was “attempting, in Jonathan Swift fashion, to mock race-based claims to superiority.”

As I noted yesterday, if her contentions were Swiftian, it was certainly odd that Clarke not only invited notorious anti-Semite and black supremacist quack Anthony Martin — whose racist theories happen to comport perfectly with the ones she presented in her letter — to speak at Harvard, but also praised his intelligence and the veracity of his work. In her letter, Clarke specifically points to a doctor named Carol Barnes to claim “melanin theory” is what gives “Blacks their superior physical and mental abilities.” In those days, bigoted pseudo-intellectuals such as Martin and Leonard Jeffries were quite popular on campuses.

Indeed, there is not a single shred of contemporaneous evidence that the letter was satire. Quite the opposite. Subsequent pieces in the Crimson specifically point out that Clarke refused to concede that she wasn’t serious. The Harvard Crimson staff, in fact, demanded a retraction and noted that it had “searched in vain for a hint of irony in Clarke’s letter.” In another response, a columnist argued that “Clarke refuses to explicitly deny the theories” and accused her of “disseminating racist theories.”

Again, believing stupid things when you’re young is no crime. (Though Clarke still supports the occasional Farrakhanite.) But it seems quite likely that Clarke lied to Congress — with the help of a number of people in the media.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun