Allegations against Kavanaugh bring back memories of Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill

Left: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Left: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

When I heard that Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was at risk due to accusations that he sexually assaulting a woman decades ago, I thought of another Supreme Court nominee — Clarence Thomas.

In the early 1990s, during Thomas’s Senate confirmation hearings, Anita Hill, who had worked for Thomas, said Thomas harassed her with images of pornography and pubic hair in the workplace. Thomas — a black man — not only denied the charge. He claimed the fallout from the accusations amounted to a public lynching.

In those days, racism was a dirty word, but sexism was not. So Anita Hill was castigated, Clarence Thomas was confirmed, and the man who used his blackness to fend off accusations of sexual harassment went on to help make what I believe to be some of the most anti-black rulings in recent Supreme Court history.

Now Brett Kavanaugh is facing accusations more serious than those Thomas overcame. Kavanaugh’s accuser, a California professor named Christine Blasey Ford, has offered to testify at his confirmation hearings. If Republican senators allow her to do so, Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court bid could be in trouble, because this is the age of #MeToo, and accusations of sexual harassment and assault are costing powerful men their careers.

The accusation against Kavanaugh goes all the way back to high school in the 1980s. That’s when Ford says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her during a party attended by teenagers.

Ford, who shared her accusations with the Washington Post and California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said Kavanaugh and a friend were drunk at a party when they forced her into a room. She said Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and groped her. Then, she said, Kavanaugh tried to pull off her clothes while trying to force himself on her, and when she tried to scream, Kavanaugh covered her mouth. Eventually, she was able to escape, Ford said, and she kept the secret for years.

Like Clarence Thomas before him, Brett Kavanaugh says his accuser is lying. And though I have no love for Kavanaugh, because I believe putting him on the Supreme Court will mean a rollback of voting rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and more, I believe there’s a deeper lesson in this for all of us. That’s especially true for teens.

The lesson is simply this: Be careful what you do.

If Brett Kavanaugh, a man who was a lock for the Supreme Court just days ago, can lose that opportunity based on allegations from high school, the actions of our young people matter.

No matter how things turn out for Kavanaugh, that’s what we all must learn. That’s especially true for a generation whose every triumph and mistake is immortalized on cell phone video.

Be careful what you do on social media, where the world can make a permanent record. Be careful what you do in the streets, where cameras record your every move. Be careful what you do in school, where administrators keep written records. Be careful whom you call your friends, because everybody’s not in your corner.

Our teens can’t afford to disqualify themselves from opportunities. So I would tell your children the same thing I’d tell my own. While you’re in high school, have fun, live life, but every once in a while, think about the future. And when you’re about to do something that could come back to haunt you, be careful what you do, because it just might cost you everything.

Listen to Solomon Jones weekdays from 10 am to Noon on Praise 107.9 FM

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.