It’s October of 1991. Can you walk or talk? Has your mother given birth to you yet? For those who do not know who Anita Hill is — aside from the woman Kerry Washington is playing in Confirmation — she left a legacy that gave women a voice in the workplace. Her testimony against Clarence Thomas gave women the courage to come forward with their experiences of sexual harassment, and as a result, the number of sexual harassment cases almost doubled within just two years. This is why Anita Hill’s testimony still matters:
1. In 1981, Clarence Thomas Hired Anita Hill
Ten years before Anita Hill’s testimony against him, Clarence Thomas, then chairman of the Department of Education and EEOC, hired Anita Hill as his personal assistant. In an interview in 1991 with NPR’s Nina Totenberg, Anita believed Thomas hired her because they shared a similar background.
2. In the '80s and '90s, the Republican Party Dominated the White House.
Two terms of President Reagan were followed by a single term of George Bush senior. Aren’t you glad you barely remember this? For those who weren’t alive yet, lucky you.
3. Clarence Thomas Was Extremely Unqualified When He Was Nominated to Replace Justice Thurgood Marshall
When Justice Thurgood Marshall retired, George Bush appointed Clarence Thomas to take his place. Thurgood Marshall was the first African American Supreme Court Justice and an accomplished leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Marshall won the victory over Brown vs. Board of Education among a laundry list of civil rights victories. Clarence Thomas, by contrast, is very conservative (he opposes affirmative action and gay marriage) and had only been a federal judge for just over one year.
4. Anita Hill Was One of Many Women Clarence Thomas Sexually Harassed
In the summer of 1991, NPR’s Nina Totenberg had heard rumors of sexual harassment from Clarence Thomas when he was at the EEOC from several women, but could only confirm these allegations once she had Anita’s affidavit. In her interview, Anita’s description of her experience working for Thomas is terrifying. According to Hill, while Thomas never touched her and never threatened her job, she was worried she would suffer professionally if she did not submit. Speaking of the pressure Thomas placed on Anita to have sex with him, Hill said,
“I felt as though I did not have a choice, that the pressure was such that I was going to have to submit to in order to continue getting good assignments, being able to work and be comfortable in the work environment, which If I had submitted to his pressure I would not have felt comfortable anyway, but I felt that that was part of the bargain.”
5. Current Vice President Joe Biden Supported Clarence Thomas- Wait, what!?
When Biden was a Judiciary Committee Chairman at the White House, he did vote against Thomas, but went out of his way to support his character.
“I believe there are certain things that are not an issue at all. This is about what he believes, not who he is.”
6. History Repeats Itself
Clarence Thomas criticized his legal battle with Anita Hill as a “high tech lynching,” meaning he was being targeted as a man of color against an all-white judicial system.
Before Anita Hill came forward, in March of that year, Rodney King was brutally beaten on camera by L.A.P.D. officers who never suffered legal consequences. Hill’s legal battle was followed by the L.A. riots in 1992, and in 1994 came O.J. Simpson’s televised trial.
In the latest episode of Another Round with Heben and Tracy, co-host and Buzzfeed writer Tracy Clayton explained her experience as a 13 year-old girl when O.J. Simpson was brought to trial. Speaking of her initial support of Simpson, Clayton said,
“Black people had been fucked over so often. It wasn’t about O.J. It was about black people finally winning vs. a really corrupt justice system that’s very clearly stacked against them. Here was another black man being persecuted in the white man’s court.”
She later stated that Comic View, a stand-up show on B.E.T., acted as a safe space to side against Simpson in the private sphere, but that some comics still supported him.
“In moments where black comedians got on stage and were like, ‘He’s innocent, he didn’t do it,’ blah blah blah, that is an expression of the anxieties that black people felt at being so helpless in a case like this.”
7. Sexual Harassment Wasn’t Taken Seriously in 1991 and It Still Isn’t in 2016
Anita Hill only came forward publicly when Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, because she feared (rightfully) that she wouldn’t have been taken seriously.
“Here is a person in charge of protecting women’s rights and other groups in the workplace, and he’s using his position of power for personal gain,” said Hill of Thomas’ nomination.
In 1991, the Supreme Court Justices were mostly men . After Hill’s testimony, more women were appointed to the judiciary committee, many women came forward with their experiences of sexual harassment and workplaces began to implement rules protecting women from sexual harassment.
However, the stigma within women publicly coming forward against their abusers in the workplace persists. Just look at the current case brought forth by Kesha.
Anita Hill has left a legacy for women in the workplace. Her fear and bravery in coming forward publicly against Clarence Thomas shows not how far we’ve come, but how much there is still to be done.
still image from Confirmation via npr.org
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