Remember the 1970's sitcom, Good Times? Set in the housing projects of Chicago, it starred the young black comedian Jimmy Walker as "JJ," and made "dy-no-mite" a catchphrase for a generation. In some ways, though, the most interesting character was JJ's kid brother, Michael. Studious and conservative in dress and manners, Michael cared about ideas and politics, and his dream was to follow in the footsteps of Thurgood Marshall and become a justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Imagine that Good Times had been reality. Imagine that Michael went to law school, and after years of hard work now stands among the nine Supreme Court justices — a lifetime appointment to the highest judicial body of the most powerful country on earth. This would be a rare and great achievement for any American, but especially so for an American Black who overcame poverty and racism. You might think that black organizations would honor such a man as an example of what others like him might accomplish.
Then again, if you worked at Ebony magazine, you might not.
The May edition of Ebony lists the 100 most influential Black Americans in 2001. To be sure, some worthy names made the list: Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Kweisi Mfume, Charles Rangel, Michael Jordan, and Oprah Winfrey are among the 100. Whatever one thinks of these individuals, there can be no question that they all wield great influence.
But then there is Clarence Thomas, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, came from a background of poverty and a broken family, and now sits on the U.S. Supreme Court. And he happens to be black. But Ebony magazine thinks Justice Thomas is not among the most influential Black Americans.
Scanning the pages of Ebony, one is struck by the fact that Justice Thomas' name does not appear. Anywhere. He is not even mentioned in the article preceding the list of the 100. It's as if he does not exist. Which of course is exactly the point.
For the liberal editors at Ebony, Clarence Thomas simply is not "black." Neither is Eloise Anderson, William Allen, Janice Brown, Ward Connerly, Roy Innis, Alan Keyes, Star Parker, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Armstrong Williams, or Walter Williams. All of these Black Americans have had an influence that has touched millions, black and non-black alike. But what unites them, and what disqualifies them from Ebony's list, is their patriotic love of country, and their defense of America's first principle: human equality. Each of them, in their own way, has attempted to teach their fellow citizens the color-blind principles and industrious practices of freedom. For this service, Ebony has chosen to ignore them.
Their conspicuous omission points to an important but often misunderstood way that liberals have transformed American political language. According to an older understanding of things, the word "black" used to mean, in this context, a person of black African descent. But today the term "black" has little to do with skin color. Rather it is a code word for acceptance used by the political Left. Thus Toni Morrison could announce with a straight face in 1998 that Bill Clinton was America's first black president. In the parlance of modern liberalism, Bill Clinton is "black" because he supports the modern liberal welfare state.
Such a distortion of language is not only disingenuous, its purpose is to attack and discredit the highest thing in America. From the point of view of the principle of human equality, distinctions of skin color ought to play no role in our civil rights, thus encouraging Americans to view each other first and foremost as equal citizens and neighbors, if not friends. This is possible only if we believe, along with Justice John Marshall Harlan in his famous dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, that "our Constitution is color-blind," and that "the law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved."
For the folks at Ebony, any black American that adheres to the principles of color-blindness and human equality — the principles championed by Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and, today, Clarence Thomas — is not in fact black.
Rejecting those principles and their most prominent defenders of all colors, the editors at Ebony are left in the shameful and ridiculous position of saying that Edward Darnell (the Imperial Potentate of the Nobles Mystic Shrine, for those who don't know) is more influential than a sitting justice of the Supreme Court. The message Ebony is sending to young Michaels in America is clear: If you wish to be judged by the content of your character and not the color of your skin, don't bother. You don't exist.