Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stirred up a hornet’s nest yesterday when he said Americans today are too sensitive.
Speaking to college students at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla., the court’s second black justice 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, Georgia, 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.”
I’ve never been a fan of Clarence Thomas, and there’s a world of difference between the life experience of a black man and a suburban white woman. But I agree with his observation. We’ve become an overly sensitive society.
Of course, the outraged reaction to his comments — whether genuine outrage or the faux outrage required when one wants to appear politically correct — just proves how right he is. These days no one can say anything even remotely controversial about anything without being instantly attacked as a racist, a bigoted, insensitive, politically incorrect hatemonger. And not just where race is concerned. It’s gotten so bad that you risk being attacked for declaring the sky is blue. On Halloween, if you dress as a silly chipmunk, chipmunk lovers are likely to come after you for demeaning chipmunks. It’s ridiculous.
Thomas will be pilloried for his statements about race, of course, because it’s expected. And people will probably ignore or forget that he also mentioned “… differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something.” There was a time when people didn’t take offense and overreact at every opportunity. There was a time when people felt some constraint, when they didn’t feel so free to react with anger, or even violence, to every perceived slight.
I don’t know how we got here. I don’t know how we devolved to the point where so many people now think it is acceptable to attack someone, verbally and often physically, for a word, a look, a slight, imagined or otherwise. These days we run cyclists off the road for not moving over, or chase down and assault someone for honking at us on the highway, or shoot someone for throwing popcorn in a movie theater or playing loud music in a parking lot. We’ve enacted Stand Your Ground laws that actually encourage such behavior.
Justice Thomas is right. We have become far too sensitive, too politically correct, in part because it’s convenient. It’s a convenient excuse to indulge our worst impulses. It’s convenient to be the victim. It puts the blame on the other guy for hurting or offending and relieves us of responsibility for our reactions.
That needs to change.