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Justice Thomas: Americans More Race Conscious Now Than In '60s

This Yahoo News report is causing some conversation today:

"Americans today are too sensitive about race, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told a gathering of college students in Florida on Tuesday."

Yahoo's Chris Moody reports that at Palm Beach Atlantic University, a nondenominational Christian school in West Palm Beach, Fla., Thomas said:

"My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Ga., to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up. ...

"Now, name a day it doesn't come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn't look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I'd still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them — left them out."

"That's a part of the deal."

Thomas also observed that "the worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites."

It's long been known that Thomas, the second African-American justice on the court, is a conservative jurist who would like to bring an end to affirmative action.

MSNBC's liberal leaning The Maddow Blog writes Wednesday that "Thomas' broader point about Americans being more conscious of racial issues may be true, though it's not entirely clear why he, or anyone else, would consider this a discouraging development."

On the conservative National Review's The Corner blog, the case is being made that Thomas isn't correct about one thing — that "northern liberal elites" have treated him the worst. "The worst treatment of black people who think for themselves comes not from southern rednecks or northern liberal Chablis drinkers, but from ... racist Southern blacks," The Corner declares.

For its part, Palm Beach Atlantic doesn't discuss Thomas' words about race in its report about his appearance at the school. It does write, though, that:

"Thomas was asked what he sees as the biggest threat to the U.S. republic. Too often, people are disinterested in knowing about their government, he said.

"Also, he said, there is less emphasis today on the responsibilities and sacrifices involved with political freedom. 'When last did you hear a national or political leader tell you what was required of you? They tell you what you should get, what you are entitled to, but what's required of you?'

" 'What have we done to deserve to live like this?' he asked. 'We need to focus on that. What have we put into the kitty of liberty?' "

Yahoo's Chris Moody, a graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic, tells us he monitored the justice's appearance via a live webcast that was available to the school's alumni. He's hoping to get a transcript and video.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.