An Open Letter to Anita HillOctober 21, 2011
Dear Professor Hill,
When I told friends about my weekend trip to New York to attend the conference in your honor — Sex, Power, and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later — many of them did not know who you were. And who can blame them? Many of us were just 3 years old, or perhaps not even alive, when your name came into America’s living rooms in 1991, and my high school history class wasn’t exactly focused on women’s issues.
So I was curious. What happens when my friends or others go looking to find out who you are and how you changed the course of history?
Well, they’ll go to Google, and they will enter in your name or something about the confirmation hearings. Then they’ll click on the first link that comes up — Wikipedia — and get a tiny education in the story of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings
Wikipedia doesn’t mention that the Senate Judiciary Committee tried to move ahead with the confirmation vote without considering known charges of sexual harassment, and it forgets about the seven gutsy congresswomen who marched to the Senate Democrats’ caucus meeting to demand that you be allowed to testify, not taking no for an answer.
Both entries fail to document how the all-white, all-male Senate committee treated you with outrageous disrespect and judgment. Watching your testimony is both sickening and amazing. Some of the questions were so frustrating, so Kafkaesque. And yet you responded with grace, dignity, and patience, qualities that surely helped you become a pioneer for black women in law.
None of this comes through in the story Wikipedia tells. Nor does the story indicate the painful tears in the black community as it struggled with race, gender, and politics in choosing whom to support in this ugly fight. Nor does it indicate how Thomas has in many ways betrayed his civil rights background and ruled against free speech, tolerance, rules for good business practice, the list goes on.
In Wikipedia’s defense, it gets a couple things right.
It pays tribute to your career, highlighting that the confirmation hearings were a historical event, but just that. This is not your story. It does not define you, and it has not stopped you. You faced fear and hate with bravery and dignity, and in the aftermath, you soared to great heights.
Wikipedia also acknowledges that your testimony helped launch “modern-day public awareness of the issue of sexual harassment in the United States.” Your words, broadcast over evening television, broke through the silence around sexual harassment. You, Professor Hill, started a song that has been growing louder ever since.
For this and more, I want to thank you.