In this excerpt from the just-published “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” by Michael Pack and Mark Paoletta, the Supreme Court justice reflects on changes in his hometown, Savannah, Ga. The book is based on more than 30 hours of interviews Pack conducted with Thomas and his wife Ginni for the film of the same name; 95% of the book’s material is new, including this excerpt.
Michael Pack: You have talked a little today about how life in the black community has not been improved by many well-intentioned social programs. Do you think, in some sense, it is worse than when you grew up?
Clarence Thomas: It’s a disaster. When I grew up, you had family, you didn’t have drugs, you didn’t have gang-banging. You could walk down the street.
There was a change in our society. I think that these programs certainly had an impact. Just go back to Savannah and take a look around you. Our worst fears were realized. We didn’t want to be right; we wanted to be wrong. It wasn’t about winning an argument. No, we wanted to lose the argument. We did not want the damage to occur; that’s why we were involved. I don’t particularly like public life; I never wanted to be in public life. I’d like to go to football games. I’d like not to make decisions about other people’s lives, but what drags you into it is when you see these principles being undermined, which leads to such destruction. The policies destroy people, and, ultimately, I think, we’re going to destroy the very thing that allows us to have liberty and to have a free society.
MP: So the heirs to those movements, like Black Lives Matter, focus on other things: mass incarceration, police brutality. What do you think of the current movements for racial justice?
CT: I don’t really follow the movements du jour. I don’t quite understand them. It’s fascinating to me that the radical groups in the sixties, that we all were aware of and fond of back then, like the Black Panthers — that’s kind of mainstream now. But we knew they were more marginal back then. I don’t know what to say about this. But if you look at some of the things that still are problematic, like bad education, unsafe neighborhoods, drugs, alcohol, breakdown in families, it seems like these are things that we warned about back then. We were told, basically, take a long walk on the short pier. And I understand that. I understand people not wanting to hear an opposing view. But at the same time, we’re not taking ownership of these policies’ having a significant role in the damage that’s been done.
MP: You’ve made many trips back to both Pin Point and Savannah. When you return, do you reflect on your life? Do you reflect on how it is now?
CT: I don’t reflect a lot about these sorts of things. A lot of this is depressing, and it didn’t have to happen. The Savannah that I return to is not the Savannah I grew up in. There are good parts, you’re free to move about. You don’t have the segregation, but you’ve got pathologies that we didn’t have before. You’ve got the crime we didn’t have before. You’ve got the disintegration of families that you didn’t have before, disorder you didn’t have before. And they were things that were avo…