I thought this opportunity to be particularly interesting in light of the controversy once again surrounding Professor Anita Hill, Justice Clarence Thomas, and now his wife Virginia “Ginnie” Thomas.
These young women had no clue what these three people once meant in our socio-political-cultural discourse back in 1991. Yes, they had all heard something about the lone black Supreme Court Justice’s wife going rogue by leaving some law professor a voicemail, but that was about it. They truly had no clue and no context for what those of us who were over 35 and speaking to them were trying to impart about the issues we as black women have faced in the workplace and those that we still face even in a 21st century “post-racial” world.
Of course, these young women would be totally disconnected from the events of twenty years ago. It makes perfect sense to me, as many of them were just being born or at best learning how to walk and speak their first words in the fall of 1991. For me, and my thirteen black classmates at Washington & Lee University, School of Law in Lexington, Virginia, however, our first semester of law school is one we will never forget.
That semester was marred by the public specter of two accomplished black professionals, one man and one woman, sitting in the hallowed halls of the United States Senate for all the world to see, being questioned by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, then Senator Joe Biden, Senator Arlen Specter, and a cast of others who delved into the unthinkable on a national stage. It was the most stunning thing I have ever witnessed on live television.
What I remember most about the hearings was the way in which Anita Hill was vilified as at best a “woman scorned” as Senator Howell Heflin suggested in his deep Alabama accent, or as Utah Senator Orin Hatch tried to suggest that she was possessed by something akin to The Exorcist for testifying under oath that then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had made unwanted sexual advances and made crude comments to her.
It was surreal when I look back because I was but 23-years-old, and excited to be a law student at a prestigious law school, and to see this accomplished black female lawyer vilified as a lying, bitter, scorned woman picking on a nice black man married to a white woman was just jaw dropping. But the worst of it, was how we as black female law students were treated. Professors would stop and say, “You going to grow up and be like that? Racial epithets were left on our study carrels, and worse. I chronicled this all a few years after I transferred from W&L and finished legal training in my very first Washington Post outlook piece, titled, “A Black Law Students’ First Trials”. I will never forget it as long as I live.