Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Christine Blasey Ford and the historical fallacy

tags: SCOTUS, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author (with Emily Robertson) of “The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools.”

Related Link What historians are saying about the Kavanaugh nomination 

Across history, men have subjected women to sexual violence, abuse and harassment. When women have objected, they have routinely been ignored, dismissed or blamed by men.

And that’s precisely why we need to hold Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to account for assaulting Christine Blasey Ford when they were in high school. And it’s why we need to believe Ford as well as Deborah Ramirez, who went public over the weekend with charges that Kavanaugh waved his penis in her face at a drunken college party.

Right? Wrong. Call it the historical fallacy: Because something happened many times before, it’s happening again. But a general historical pattern can never speak to the truth of a particular case, which has to be judged on its own terms.

And if you think otherwise, I’ve got two words for you: Clarence Thomas.

The allegations about Kavanaugh have brought renewed attention to Thomas’ explosive 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings, where Anita Hill charged that he harassed her when he was her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But most of these recollections have missed the key point: in defending himself, Thomas invoked his own version of the historical fallacy.

Thomas argued, correctly, that African-American males had long faced discrimination, abuse and violence amid false charges of sexual misconduct. But that didn’t speak to the truth of his testimony, any more than the historical fact of male sexual domination establishes the veracity of claims by Christine Ford or Deborah Ramirez.

“This is a circus,” Thomas told the Senate Judiciary Committee, after Hill leveled her sexual-harassment accusations. “It is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to the old order ... you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree.”

Got that? In American history, black men have been unjustly brutalized after charges of sexual misconduct; Clarence Thomas is a black man, charged with sexual misconduct; therefore, Clarence Thomas is being unjustly brutalized....

Likewise, defenders of Christine Blasey Ford are absolutely correct about the historic pattern of sexual abuse of women by men in the United States. That history requires us to listen to Ford’s story of abuse at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, with a respect and seriousness that have too often been denied to female victims.

But it doesn’t require us to believe her or Deborah Ramirez, any more than the fact of racism required us to believe Clarence Thomas....

Read entire article at NY Daily News

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