Temenos Journal II

June 18, 2011

On Speaking Truth to Power


I was spellbound by the Anita Hill hearings regarding the Clarence Thomas nomination to the Supreme Court. I watched it every minute that I could be in front of the TV. To me, it was a bizarre drama that was being played out live in front of the entire nation (this was before “reality TV”). I knew this was was an important moment in our society.

I admit that I became fascinated with the cartoon-like drama being enacted by members of the senatorial committee, and the whole event had a big impact on me.

The senators were being confronted with having to deal with a woman who was not going to back down from her assertion of the truth. It was as if they had never confronted a situation quite like this before. And Anita came across with such dignity, intelligence, and grace… that the contrast caused the senators to come across as cartoon-ish caricatures of themselves.

Only Joe Biden stood out as human and real, from my perspective. If only he had been a stronger, more powerful influence in those days…

Orrin Hatch came across as sinister and adversarial, and Arlen Specter could have been cast as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham–he had that creepy vibe (at least on camera).

I remember thinking to myself, “These are our nation’s leaders??” What a bunch of pompous clowns. I couldn’t believe there was so much drama and posturing. I wondered why they just didn’t put on their white wigs and robes and admit that they were just going through the motions to make it appear as if they were giving Anita Hill a fair hearing. The decision had already been made by the powers-that-be to discredit her.

Anita Hill came across as real. She remained consistent and solid and her testimony rang true. I believed her then and I still do.

I remember when Anita Hill appeared at a big fundraising event in Cleveland in 1992. She appeared on the bill with Gloria Steinem and Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop chain. My then teen-aged daughter Melody and I went downtown to the Cleveland Music Hall to hear these prominent women speak.

They were all inspiring. But Anita Hill’s message was the most specific: “Speak out about your truth.” She said things would never change if we allow the truth to be swept under the carpet. “Speak out,” she kept saying. “You may pay a price, but the price is worth it.”

It was an important affirmation for me, as I was beginning a big transition in my life (although I did not know it at the time). I think Anita’s influence may have had an impact on my daughter, too, who courageously continues to speak out about the truth.

I was so impressed by Anita Hill that I bought a bumper sticker for my car, “I believe you Anita.” I didn’t know how else I could support her other than by sharing some of the heat.

Six years after the hearings, my hero wrote a book, Speaking Truth to Power. The book is about her experience before, during, and after the hearings. It goes a long way in helping the public get to know Anita Hill, and to better understand her motives in standing up for the truth, despite the punishment she had to endure for bucking the white male system (at the time).

She came forward with information that she, as a citizen, felt was vital in assessing Clarence Thomas’s character. If only Clarence Thomas had come forward with (something like): “I understand how my actions may have been construed as offensive or disrespectful. I will make amends for those past actions and I will be more conscious of being more respectful moving forward.” But, of course, he denied any responsibility at all. Even worse yet — Clarence Thomas, along with the senatorial committee — tried to get him off the hook by bullying the witness and trying to discredit her character.

Many of us can identify with Anita Hill. Our confrontations with denial systems may be on a much smaller scale, but the courage required to stand your ground despite punishment and attempts to discredit you is just as real. It astounds me to see the lengths to which some people will go to defend their version of reality, and how threatened they feel when challenged.

I am grateful to Anita Hill for telling her story, and for inspiring others to have the courage to stand up for their own truth.

I caught Anita on “Bookwatch” on C-Span when the book Speaking Truth to Power
came out in 1997. The interviewer asked her if she could ever forgive Clarence Thomas. She paused thoughtfully, then answered, “I’m not necessarily looking for an apology, but I would like some sort of acknowledgement that he understands what he did to my life by calling me a liar in front of the entire nation.”

I believe you, Anita.

1 Comment »

  1. […] On Speaking Truth to Power (temenos2.wordpress.com) […]

    Pingback by Justice Thomas Caught Up In Yet Another Ethical Tangle « The Fifth Column — June 18, 2011 @ 7:14 pm |Reply

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