anita hill: 20 years later


i remember the 1991 supreme court confirmation hearings vividly. my father rigged a video camera up to record the tv screen and kept the channel on all day--an activity reserved for special events like when mandela was freed from prison or lady diana was killed.

i was only ten-years-old then, but this black woman in a blue suit at the center of it all held my attention. she gave a detailed account of how she'd endured years of sexual harassment--the first time i'd ever heard that word--working under the justice-to-be. he told off color jokes, she said, put a pubic hair on the lip of a coke can. it was tawdry stuff, and i imagine the only reason my father let me watch was because it aired on public television and everyone onscreen was in a suit.

but even at ten it struck me as odd that this justice-to-be, clarence thomas, could still be sworn in under the weight of such reasonable doubt of his character. i imagine that, even then, i understood the american justice system to be a contradiction in terms.

two weeks ago, hundreds gathered for the anita hill: 20 years later conference at hunter college, co-sponsored by hedgebrook, among others. when the tickets sold out, i tried to volunteer, but no such luck. thankfully, though, the entire thing is available online at cspan.

watching and reflecting on it, i marvel at the ability of people in power to manufacture alternate truths--out with a new memoir, thomas's then-girlfriend lillian mcewen says: "I have no hostility toward him. It is just that he has manufactured a different reality over time. That's the problem that he has."

i thank ms. hill for her courage. it's not lost on me that my life as i knew it changed unutterably with her testimony, creating a workplace in which sexual harassment is recognized and dealt with. not to say that it's a perfect system, or that it does not perpetuate itself in spite of legal protections, but that her speaking out was a step in the right direction, for which i am grateful. -- AL.

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