An Open Letter to the Only Black Supreme Court Justice From an Angry Black Woman


Dear Justice Clarence Thomas,

It appalls me that you, a black man raised in Jim Crow's South, could rule parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. De-legitimizing Section 4 of the VRA dismantles the entire legislation. That gives policymakers and the Justice Department no legal authority to enforce Section 5, the core of the document. You and your comrades have opened the floodgates to polling discrimination again. It is breathtakingly disappointing to know that a black man like you could be misguided enough to support that.

Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, "Our country has changed." But it hasn't. The times are different, yes. But racism, while not written explicitly into our laws, is stealthily disseminated through the most covert channels: political rhetoric, media coverage, you name it. And the Court cannot just ignore that.  

I'll tell you something. I too am a Southerner, Justice Thomas, and the summer before my freshman year of university I was also a McDonald's cashier. Although I have since forgotten the ins-and-outs of that fast food joint, two encounters stuck with me.

The first was with two white men. For some reason I could never count change as fast as the other cashiers. And as I collected his, dwelling on every penny, the first man caught my eye and said, "You know how to do math?" This would have been funny, had I sensed wit in voice and not a snide contempt for me. He turned to his counterpart and laughed. The counterpart issued a cackling reply.

The next encounter was with a black woman. It was morning, after the early coffee rush. She inspected the menu, ordered an Egg McSomething, then said to me, "You don't go to school, right?"

These comments were tiny, yet stung. And not because they reflect me at all. I count fine. I am a university student. But they are still unnerving to think about because this rhetoric reflects how Americans still view blacks in this country. And if you took off those judicial robes of yours and walked down a street where no one knew your name, you'd face the same America and nonsensical characterizations the rest of us are up against.

In our America, a cashier at McDonald's cannot also be a Princeton undergraduate. I am instead the welfare queen; you are the dope boy. I'm the baby momma; you're the thug. You're the high school drop out. You are the man destined for prison. You are the one who knows no better but to be violent. You will kill, you will steal, you will lie, and you will cheat. And when you do, America will say, "I told you they were all like that."

Our America is not yet willing to stereotype blacks as we truly are: interesting intellectuals and leaders. They want to talk about gang culture and not the millions of students who want to make a difference in this world. Or the millions of black parents who raise their children with dignity.

We cannot continue this delusion that America is a post-racial society. 400 years of slavery and its psychological consequences have not been suddenly obliterated in the 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement. As Justice Ginsberg so insightfully wrote:

"The sad irony of today's decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the [Voting Rights Act] has proven effective ... Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

How could you kill a legislation that has so truly helped give blacks a political voice, a voice they had long been barred from having? The more you disregard these struggles, the more you become a disgrace to your people and your own legacy.

In friendship, despite everything,

Uchechi Kalu