Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The consensus among all concerned is that Christine Blasey Ford will be treated a lot differently than Anita Hill was when she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991. And she will be, and the reason quite simply is race. It was easy for the mostly white male Senate Judiciary Committee nearly thirty years ago to take big shots at Hill. It started even before she set foot in the hearing room. The committee gave her almost no time to prepare. And then proceeded to batter her from pillar to pole with a mix of disbelieving at best, and blatantly hostile at worst, questions.
The Hill mugging was so savage that nearly three decades later then committee chair Joe Biden is still trying to do his mea culpas for allowing the Hill bash. Of course, Biden is giving loud hints that he may challenge Trump in 2020, so how much of this is a tormented conscience speaking versus crass political expediency is one for the divines to figure out. By contrast, Thomas was treated with kid gloves. That opened the door wide for him to shamelessly play the race card in his near tearful rebuttal; all capped by him lambasting the Committee for conducting a “high tech lynching.”
The irony may have been lost on the senators, but it was irony nonetheless, that here was a black man accusing the senators of using a black woman to whipsaw him. But it worked for one reason, Hill came into the committee lugging a train station full of racial and gender stereotypes that had been honed over decades. The loose, lascivious, sex tempting, chronic charity, poverty, and welfare case image of many black women drilled into much of the public’s minds by the endless media negative depictions of them. It was only a short step for the committee members to see not, a learned, erudite, well-respected attorney, and academic in Hill, but that same loose, profligate black woman of the ancient racial and gender typecast.
Ford won’t have that problem. The proof is everywhere. First, her anonymity in blowing the sexual whistle on Kavanaugh was scrupulously protected by California Senator Dianne Feinstein. Her name only became a real name when the inevitable, and feverish media ferreting began to find out just who the sexual whistleblower was.
Next, Blasey Ford in the company of a battery of attorneys initially told the committee to take a hike when it scheduled another rush in and out the door hearing for her to testify. That ignited the word of words between her and the GOP committee chair, who blustered, bloviated, and threatened to shut it and her down if she didn’t take their timetable deal. Their back and forth brought just enough time for her to capture the attention of the nation, make the endless 24-hour news cycles, and to get legions of women mad enough to pen letters and testimonials backing her.
In an even better sign of the sea change difference, Blasey Ford’s coming out and her defiance of the committee actually swayed public opinion. Polls showed that a majority of Americans now opposed the Kavanaugh confirmation. And maybe even more telling, it also forced Trump to attack her by name, and then claim that he wanted to hear what she had to say. In between, the usual Trump bluster about going to the barricades with and for Kavanaugh, there was just the faintest hint that there may be some vague second thoughts within the White House about ramming Kavanaugh through.
Now it is true that Blasey Ford benefited mightily from the changing times, the #metoo movement, and he implacable loathing of Trump by many women. However, the brutal reality is that she is she is one of them. By that, I mean, she is not just a respected academic, and college professor, Hill was that too. She is a white middle-aged, suburban, middle class woman, that apart from a mild identification with a protest over Trump’s immigration policy, pretty much stayed within the quiet confines of academia and suburbia.
So, when the ideologically warped GOP members of the judiciary committee look at her across the table in chambers they will look at a woman who could very well be there next door neighbor, a woman who could very well be the woman who attends their son or daughter’s PTA meeting, and the woman who outside of the visceral threat that she poses to their guys confirmation, is someone who could be just another homeowner on their block.
The racial edge Blasey Ford has over Hill may not be enough to derail the Kavanaugh confirmation. However, that edge has already worked wonders that Hill’s committee crucifixion decades ago couldn’t do. That is, it has forced a committee, the media, the nation, a President, and a potential SCOTUS judge to sweat hard over the compelling issue of sexual harassment and abuse committed by men at the top.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of WhyBlack Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.