Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Our Regards to Anita Hill

This morning began with the announcement that the TIME Magazine Person of the Year is actually the group of silence-breakers (mostly women) who have captured our collective attention since October over the issue of sexual harassment/abuse in the workplace. By mid-afternoon, a friend was taking a FB poll to inquire the path forward for embattled Sen. Al Franken amidst more allegations of inappropriate sexual advances.

Y'all, this is not going away.

So I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe to Professor Anita Hill, the woman who brought forth allegations of sexual harassment against her former boss, Clarence Thomas, during his Senate confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court. Her effort was unsuccessful and would have been largely forgotten, but as we now see, it was her public sacrifice so many years ago that has helped to pave the way for this moment.

By the time anyone reads this, it is possible that Franken would have decided to resign his seat. It is also quite possible that by the time a decent number of people have read this, Al Franken would not have resigned, but Roy Moore would have given a defiant and smug victory speech. Or maybe Al Franken would be gone, Roy Moore would have lost, and Melania Trump would have spoken out against bullies and we finally believed her sincerity.

None of that matters, though, because the winds of change are blowing and the days when unacceptable and inappropriate behavior in public spaces is tolerated in order to keep things moving are coming to an end. It might not end tomorrow, or next week, or even by the mid-term elections next November. But change is coming.

I was a college student in 1991 when Clarence Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court. I remember how initially, there was a cautious mood about that choice because President Bush had nominated a black conservative to replace the legendary Thurgood Marshall. I caught the irony of his selection but did not fully grasp the stakes of this maneuver until the allegations came from Professor Hill. And suddenly, it felt like we were caught between the prospect of seeing Marshall's seat go to someone else (white), or have it 'maintained' by a black man even if his ideology was problematic, all because she had the audacity to dredge up the past.

I thought about this situation anew when I responded to my friend's post on FB about Franken. I thought about the fact that there have been plenty of situations where women have been asked to remain silent, or have been told to stay quiet, or it has been demanded that we shut the fuck up. Assign your own historical analogies to each one of those statements, but I distinctly remember how my righteous young Morehouse brethren argued that the seat being vacated by Marshall had to be filled by another black man, regardless of his disturbing flaws. Some questioned whether Hill had been harassed or if this had been an office romance gone bad. Others suggested that she was just mad because Thomas' wife was white.

In hindsight, the seeds were sown. Her complaints would not bear fruit, and we've had all the proof we need that Clarence Thomas was not a worthy successor to Thurgood Marshall. Yet, we know that for every young impressionable woman like me who witnessed her public humiliation and his elevation at her expense and spent the last 25+ years watching this cycle rinse, wash, and repeat; for those of us who have wondered whether our silence/tolerance in fact made things worse for this next generation of young women if nothing has changed; and for the women who realize that every concession made for the sake of keeping the peace, political expediency, waiting our turn, etc. is BULLSHIT--yeah, it's time to clean house.

Al Franken can go. He can endorse a woman to replace him, and then campaign on her behalf. He can write her speeches. He and Garrison Keillor can sit by Lake Wobegon and think up a quirky new show for satellite radio. Save the arguments about taking one for the team, or the unfairness of it all if the President gets to stay in office. This isn't about the Trumpet right now, but trust that his day is coming. This isn't about fairness is about justice.

Anita Hill was seeking justice when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and it was denied to her and every other woman in the workplace until this recent wave. If she had been taken seriously, then powerful men might have known how intolerable certain behavior is and maybe we wouldn't have to endure this painful moment of watching so many fall from grace. Justice for Anita Hill in 1991 might have meant that all these men whose careers we are eulogizing now might have unfolded quite differently.

Anita Hill doesn't need to be featured on the cover of TIME or named the Person of the Year. Justice is so much better.

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