Justice Thomas talks about the lasting influence of the man who guided him through his years at Holy Cross and why he's not a beneficiary of affirmative action.
Why do you think some people are so eager to cast you as a beneficiary of affirmative action?
That was the creation of the politicians, the people with a lot of mouth and nothing to say and your industry. They had a story and everything had to fit into their story. It discounts other people's achievements. Ask Ted [Wells, a black classmate] how many all-nighters he pulled. It discounts those. It's so discouraging to see the fraudulent renditions of very complicated and different lives of people who were struggling in a new world for them. Everything becomes affirmative action. There wasn't some grand plan. I just showed up.
How is the world different for college kids today?
You don't go to college to be a decoration. You're not there to please other people. You're there to do better in your own life. The only answer I'm interested in is to the question: Are these kids better off for having gone to a college? If they are, how? Ask that question about the first black kids who went to Holy Cross and the answer is a resounding 'Yes.' Yes, they are better off. Ask yourself that today. What's the attrition rate? It used to be up around 40% or something like that. There was no attrition in my class.
Is it solely because of a mismatch of students and the schools that admit them?
I tried for years to get focus on why you actually went to school as opposed to diversity and multiculturalism. I didn't go to school for any of that stuff. I went to school to learn and get on with my life. I wasn't there to prove or disprove anybody else's point. I've thought a lot about these things, and I've spent the bulk of my life, beating my head against a wall, trying to get people to see that they can have their grand theories but, in the end, you can't impose them on other people's kids. How many kids do you have? They're different, aren't they? If your kids are different—and they're all yours—what about just some kids who happen to be different shades of black, different degrees of Negro? They're all from different family settings—some two parents, some no parents, some raised by grandparents. Come on. How can you just all of a sudden treat them as all the same?
Were you treated the same?
There was no requirement that we all be the same. There were faddish things, like you wear an Afro. Father Time takes care of the Afro. Holy Cross never once required us to be anything other than ourselves and good people.
Doesn't every college want that?
Oh no. I think there are different points of views that are not acceptable. I go around this country and the poor kids who want to dissent from a prevailing point of view have no room. There's no room for them.
Because of political correctness?
Oh yeah. Come on, that's obvious. You don't even have to ask. That's obvious. Otherwise, there are people who have set notions of what blacks should think. But I rejected that years ago. I rejected that back when I was considered radical.
Is it harder to be an African American heading to college these days?
I don't know. I'm not going to dissect these schools now. I'm just glad I went when I went, before everybody had all the answers and theories about blacks. I'm sure it was hard to make your own way but maybe it worked better that way. Maybe it made us better, stronger people.