We must face certain stark sociological realities: in our increasingly female, work-centered world, most of our relationships, including intimate ones, are initiated in the workplace; gender relations, especially new ones, are complex and invariably ambiguous; in our heterogeneous society, the perception of what constitutes proper and effective male-female relations varies across gender, class, ethnicity and region; and in keeping with our egalitarian ideals, we take pride in the fact that the WASP boss may legitimately desire or want to marry his or her Puerto Rican aide or chauffeur.To summarize, Thomas was usually very correct with female colleagues, but with Hill he was sometimes much cruder, because he wanted to bond as two black people from the South operating in a white world, and because he was hot for her. Unrequited desire is always ugly. But like Patterson I do not think that banning all non-professional behavior from the workplace is any kind of workable solution.
One revealing feature of these hearings is the startling realization that Judge Clarence Thomas might well have said what Prof. Anita Hill alleges and yet be the extraordinarily sensitive man his persuasive female defenders claimed. American feminists have no way of explaining this. They have correctly demanded a rigorously enforced protocol of gender relations in the workplace. But they have also demanded that same intimate bonding that men of power traditionally share, the exclusion from which has kept them below the glass ceiling. There is a serious lacuna in the discourse, for we have failed to ask one fundamental question: how is nonerotic intimacy between men and women possible?
Clarence Thomas emerged in the hearings as one of those rare men who, with one or two exceptions, has achieved both: in general, he rigorously enforced the formal rules of gender relations, and he had an admirable set of intimate, nonerotic relations with his female associates.
And yet, tragically, there is his alleged failing with Professor Hill. How is this possible? While middle-class neo-Puritans ponder this question, the mass of the white working class and nearly all African Americans except their intellectually exhausted leaders have already come up with the answer. He may well have said what he is alleged to have said, but he did so as a man not unreasonably attracted to an aloof woman who is esthetically and socially very similar to himself, who had made no secret of her own deep admiration for him.
With his mainstream cultural guard down, Judge Thomas on several misjudged occasions may have done something completely out of the cultural frame of his white, upper-middle-class work world, but immediately recognizable to Professor Hill and most women of Southern working-class backgrounds, white or black, especially the latter.
Now to most American feminists, and to politicians manipulating the nation's lingering Puritan ideals, an obscenity is always an obscenity, an absolute offense against God and the moral order; to everyone else, including all professional social linguists and qualitative sociologists, an obscene expression, whether in Chaucerian Britain or the American South, has to be understood in context. I am convinced that Professor Hill perfectly understood the psycho-cultural context in which Judge Thomas allegedly regaled her with his Rabelaisian humor (possibly as a way of affirming their common origins), which is precisely why she never filed a complaint against him.
Besides the questions about men and women at work, which my readers know I have long pondered, Patterson also considered Thomas and Hill through a lens of racial change. He was fascinated that American politics for a brief while fixated on two successful, professional black people, and that people's reactions to them were much more about gender than about race:
One great good to come out of the hearings was the revelation to the average white American that, superstar athletes, news anchors and politicians aside, not all African Americans are underclass cocaine junkies and criminals, which is an understandable delusion in any white person whose only knowledge of African Americans comes from the press and television.
Above all, they saw in Judge Thomas and Professor Hill two very complex, highly intelligent persons who knew how to get and use power in the mainstream society, and were role models for black and white people alike.
However, perhaps the most remarkable feature of the hearings is the response of the public. Here again, liberal expectations were at odds with realities. It was thought that racism would be reinforced by these hearings -- which is one simple-minded reason given for criticizing them -- but in fact what has emerged is not only the indifference of the white public to the racial aspect of the proceedings but the degree to which white men and women have identified their own interests and deepest anxieties with the two African American antagonists. Indeed, the only aspect of these hearings likely to have increased racism was the journalists' shrill and self-fulfilling insistence that the nation is exploding with racism. This is one of those cases where the messengers deserved to be shot.